The HullabaLOU stage – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
So, it’s finally over. Louisville’s largest music festival at Churchill Downs was realized with over 78,000 people flocking to the downs to hear a wide range of solo artists and bands, spanning an eclectic mix of genres. And it all happened pretty flawlessly with only a small amount of snafus and just a few people being either arrested or escorted out of the event. The heat wave that struck the area kept temperatures hovering in the upper 90’s and heat indexes in the 100’s mostly. Those who braved the temperatures were treated to wide range of musical legends and pioneers, and plenty of Kentucky born and bred artists. That was probably the biggest accolade of the event. Show management didn’t forget that to throw the biggest music festival in Kentucky you had to get some of the biggest names in Kentucky. Mission accomplished.
Day 1 – Friday
Whiskey Bent Valley Boys
Whiskey Bent Valley Boys – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
This bluegrass/folk band from Pewee Valley, Kentucky performed on the Bluegrass stage, which of all places happened to be right in the middle of Churchill Down’s Paddock. The band features MSD lead guitarist Robbie “Mason” Dixon on Banjo, who made a point to thank Churchill Downs for dedicating an entire stage to the roots music of Kentucky during the festival. Agreed. Dixon then proudly proclaimed they would be playing some “good old-school mountain music that your grandma and grandpa used to play while sitting on their front porch.” That they did, and from that point on a jam session ensued. Their set was littered with plenty of “yee-haws” coming from both the audience and the stage.
The B-52’s Keith Strickland & Kate Pierson – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
Having missed the Athens, Georgia based B52’s performance, I did catch their post-show media press conference interview with founding members Keith Strickland and Kate Pierson. Strickland, the lead guitarist, was sporting a My Morning Jacket t-shirt and commented on the band almost immediately at the start of their questions. “They’ve (MMJ) got a lot of light in their music,” Strickland described. Strickland also commented on how he looks forward to seeing them (MMJ) perform again soon.
The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
The Northern California based Doobie Brothers drew a large crowd to the Fleur De Lis stage at mid-evening. During their set there was a faint aroma of a burning doobie blowing in the hot breeze which was quite funny. The Doobies, as they are often referred to by their fan base, have been playing together as a band for over 40 years, with a short stint in the mid-eighties. They’ve been known for amassing a huge biker type of following, but not on this night at Churchill Downs, although the crowd seemed just as rowdy and noisy. The Doobies took their audience on a journey through four decades of their hit singles including “Taken it to the Streets,” “Long Train Runnin,” and “Dixieland” of which they gracefully changed the lyric from “Mississippi moon” to “Kentucky moon” to make it little more personal for their fans. It sent the audience into a bit of frenzy every time they uttered the word “Kentucky” from that point on, which they did a lot.
With Tom Johnston – Photo by their roadie
Day 2 – Saturday
Brigid Kaelin and Peter Searcy – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
“This is why you should never date a musician,” Brigid proclaimed as she led off into one of her many fascinating and charming alt-country-roots-rock tunes that she happily performed in front of a sizeable audience. With Peter Searcy at her side on bass and Hog Operation’s Steve Cooley on guitar, the little Louisville-based music saw-ista even broke out a 26″ Stanley saw and artistically played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with a violin bow. She later broke out a pretty interesting take on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Kaelin has perfected her own little sassy style of music with lots of little red-head boozy lyrics. You just can’t help not wonder what she will sing or play next.
VilleBillies & The Twin Spires – Photo by Jason Ashcraft VilleBillies onstage – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
Having been on a musical roller-coaster over the course of their career as musicians, it was awesome to see one of Louisville’s favorite alt-rock-hip-hop-country bands perform. They opened their set with an instrumental version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and then right as you thought they were about to cover the song, Tuck, Dylan, and Demi ran onstage and led the band right into their own song “One Shot.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. These guys rock more then they rap. They even took time out to wish they’re mama a happy birthday. See, they’re good southern boys.
Even Big Bird made an appearance again – Photo by Jason Koerner
At their post-show press conference – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
At their post-show press-conference the VilleBillies announced an up and coming 3rd album with a yet-to-be-determined release date, but possibly by fall. As they joked about they’re own slight dysfunctionality as a band, they hinted the possible album title name as being Dysfunctional Family.The VilleBillie’s also commented on their recent audition and filming for their own reality TV show on MTV, which was to be titled “The Beverly VilleBillies.” In short the band described the entire process as the producers wanting to mis-represent their persona in a negative way. As Demi explained it, “If reality TV was actually ‘reality TV’ then we could have done the show. But it wasn’t and we said no.”
(ALSO: You can read my 2009 interview with the VilleBillies’ Demi Demaree here. )
Ben Sollee – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
The Lexington, Kenucky native Ben Sollee, was on hand at the Fleur De Lis stage. Having not been able to stay for very long to see all of Sollee’s performance, it was quite evident that the classical cellist also had a little rock-n-roll in his blood to. Sollee recently began an awareness tour called “Appalachian Voices” with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Daniel Martin Moore, that promotes awareness of the controversial mountain top removal process in the Appalachian Valley. If it weren’t for not missing the VillieBillies set starting just 15 minutes after Sollee’s set, I would have loved to stayed. This is one festival that makes you choose who your going to see.
Ricky Skaggs with his band – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
Yes, the Cordell, Kentucky native and bluegrass/country music legend essentially headlined the Bluegrass stage in the paddock for the entire festival. Packing in the paddock with enough people as if a Kentucky Derby Champion was gracing the gardens, the grey haired Skaggs and his bluegrass orchestra fired up shortly after Skaggs announced “Nothing like being introduced”. With that Skaggs demonstrated his mastery of the mandolin backed by his 6 piece bluegrass instrumental ensemble. Skaggs even mangaed to playing a few “tear jerking” country tunes as he described it before I had to jet off 30 minutes after his set began to catch another legend on the back turn.
Ricky Skaggs – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
The lady’s man, Al Green – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
In case you were wondering whether soul-rock icon Al Green still has it or not, well, I’m here to say “yes” he still does. Green, now 64, still hasn’t lost his charm either as he strolled onstage royally 20 minutes late, and brought roses for the ladies too. He was the only dude in the entire festival decked out in a red and black three piece tuxedo. Did I mention he hasn’t lost his class either? Well he hasn’t. And just like he did back in the 70’s, Al hit every note in almost every key and at every decibel level he’s always been known for. The man is the epitome of soul music.
At 64, this dude can still dance – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
But then something unexpected happens. At about mid-set and mid-song Al became increasingly frustrated with one of his sound techs running the stage monitors he listens to the music from. Just as he finished a song, he turned and screamed to his sound tech “Hey mother-f**ker, you wanna walk home?” in obvious displeasure with the mix in his monitors. Damn, Al is passionate about what he does. Once that gotten straightened out, he was back to his happy and energetic self and busted a few dance moves in between throwing roses to all the ladies in the front of the audience. Now this may come as a surprise to most of my readers, but I’ll just say this right now. Al Green proved to be one of the surprisingly top performances of the entire festival.
Day 3 – Sunday
Hog Operation on the Bluegrass Stage – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
It was early and it wasn’t much of a surprise that after two days of intense heat, there wasn’t much of a crowd for one of Louisville’s homegrown bluegrass jam bands. Unlike his band mates, this was Steve Cooley’s second performance after he played guitar for Brigid Kaelin during the heat wave on Saturday. Even though the crowd was quiet, Hog Operation’s music wasn’t. They jammed out and threw in a few typical covers including a bluegrass version of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood.”
The Black Crowes
The Crowe’s Chris Robinson – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
Finally a performance in Louisville from the Black Crowes that was decent. Having come through Louisville pretty regularly over the past few years, the Crowes finally gave a performance that paid homage to songs they wrote in the early part of their career including “Remedy” and “She Talks to Angels.” The psychedelic-americana rock boys drew several thousand fans and was by far the largest crowd in the infield since the Derby. Without a doubt they deserved the main HullabalLOU stage as opposed to the Avett Brothers who only had a meager few hundred.
The massive crowd for The Black Crowes – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
If the Robinson brothers have more performances like this in store, they can tour Louisville all they want from here to eternity. And even though they usually turn down in-person media interviews. That being said, don’t be expecting to read any exclusive behind the scenes sh*t from me. They’re too big of rock stars for a little hometown publication like Louisville Music News apparently.
The Black Crowes – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
Dwight Yoakam & band – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
“We don’t got no God damn band. We don’t need to f*ckin’ practice Randy,” is what was going thru my head upon waiting for the Pikeville, Kentucky native Dwight Yoakam to take the stage. That’s a line from Yoakam’s character Doyle in the movie Slingblade. I know it’s totally stupid for me to think about that because it’s totally inverse from Yoakam’s onstage attitude and demeanor while he plays. Yoakam, the final performer for Fleur De Lis stage on Sunday night, was essentially the headliner for that stage. There was a huge crowd of people that flocked to the stage right before he began.
Yoakam, who practically helped create and popularize country music’s twang sound, blessed the audience with a set of all his classic hits like “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast as You”. This guy is probably one of Kentucky’s greatest country musical exports ever, and it was literally perfect that he would close the festival’s Fleur De Lis stage out, right after another Kentucky music great, Loretta Lynn.
Dwight Yoakam & band – Photo by Jason Ashcraft
Unfortunately one of the festival’s only blunders decided to happen during Yoakam’s set, with a power failure on the stage at mid-song. Good ole’ Dwight just kept on playing even though his band quit from the sudden silencing of their instruments. But Dwight just kept on playing and the audience applauded him for his effort. He may have finished the song, but I couldn’t really tell. Minutes later the power was restored and then shortly after that he broke out a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” which was nothing like the original version. He Yoakam’d it up a little and almost made it his own song had you not known the lyrics. Dwight is Kentucky to the core and his style of country was a perfect fit for Louisville’s largest music festival.