By Matt Wickstrom
HARRODSBURG, Ky. (June 18, 2018) – While scorching temperatures had much of the crowd at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill for Saturday’s Well Crafted – Brews + Bands seeking refuge under the canopied shade of nearby trees, the musicians performing throughout the day fought the heat with a musical fire of their own. With Tyler Childers, who’d performed at each of the prior four years of Well Crafted, not on the lineup, the torch was passed to another promising crop of central Kentucky musicians for the festival’s 2018 rendition, led by Magnolia Boulevard, Grayson Jenkins and Joslyn & The Sweet Compression.
I arrived at Shaker Village shortly after 2 p.m., missing opening sets from singer-songwriter Chelsea Nolan and another from David Napier but just in time for red-hot Magnolia Boulevard. If you’re not familiar, the group released their debut EP on May 25 and earlier this month were flown out to Maryland to perform at PRS Guitars’ Experience PRS 2018, to which they received rave reviews. The group has sewn a tight bond and sound far-seasoned beyond their year-and-a-half lifespan, led by the combination of powerhouse vocalist Maggie Noelle and electric words of guitarist Gregg Erwin. Rounding out the group are Ryan Allen on keys, Todd Copeland on drums and John Roberts on bass.
The group kicked off their set with one of their newer originals “Newport” followed by “Ride,” a song with hints of psychedelic 60s rock and the single off their debut EP. The fast-paced “Ride” then transitioned to slowed-down, soulful “Jezebel,” which elegantly paired Noelle’s superstar vocals with Allen’s precise keystrokes. Magnolia mixed the remainder of the songs off their EP into their set led by “Together,” a drawn-out tune with a stop-and-go beat driven by Erwin’s guitar. The song is one of my favorite’s the group performs due to it often being one the band tends to experiment and explore often on, with Saturday’s set at Well Crafted being no exception. For this take Allen began with a frenetic solo on keys before Erwin took charge later with an escalating riff resembling a sprinting up a flight of stairs.
A cover of Susan Tedeschi’s “Little by Little,” with Noelle more than holding down Tedeschi’s commanding vocal spot, followed, sandwiched between “Together” and other EP cuts “Sister” and “Who Loves Ya,” which capped Magnolia Boulevard’s scorching return performance in the commonwealth.
Following an abbreviated set from Beattyville’s Monroe Land Way, Nashville four-piece Great Peacock took to the stage with an intriguing mix of rock ‘n’ roll, country and folk. Founded in 2013, Great Peacock has largely grown-up around Well Crafted, having performed at the festival’s first two gatherings in 2014 and 2015 prior to returning this year after a three-year hiatus. However, this time around the group came equipped with a new full-length album, Gran Pavo Real, out March 30 via Ropeadope. The group sported a palpable energy throughout their hour-long set, most noticeably between lead vocalist/guitarist Andrew Nelson and guitarist Blount Floyd. The highlight of Great Peacock’s set came during a performance of “Heartbreak Comin’ Down,” a song of sorrow featuring Nelson’s swooning vocals along with an unhinged solo from Floyd, with his long mane flowing in the wind.
Following Great Peacock’s performance the afternoon’s spotlight, or rather sunlight, began to again shine on Kentucky artists, starting with singer-songwriter and John Prine disciple Grayson Jenkins. Joined by Ryan Allen on guitar, the duo churned through a lot of material during their 30-minute set, including fan favorite originals “Lincoln” and “Junior Walker,” the later being about a series of conversations Jenkins had with a homeless man on the University of Kentucky campus during his time as a student. The guitarists continued their set with more from Jenkin’s 2017 release Cityscapes & Countrysides including performances of “Somewhere in Kentucky” and “Another Day.” Near the set’s conclusion Jenkins and Allen performed “Mockingbird,” a newer tune from Jenkins about having someone on your mind that you just can’t shake. Honoring on of his biggest influences, Jenkins closed his Well Crafted performance with a cover of John Prine’s “Paradise.”
Whether it be “Junior Walker,” “Mockingbird,” or any number of his other originals, Jenkins has a way of making the ordinary seem extraordinary, bringing distinct visualization and intrigue to what to many would appear as mundane everyday occurrences from afar.
Succeeding a main stage set from Kristofer Bentley and his new project The Phoenix Brothers Band, another duo of locally crafted singer-songwriters, this time The Local Honeys, took to the festival’s side stage for a set that featured old favorites and new surprises.
The Honeys have always been trailblazers. The duo of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs were the first women to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in traditional music from Morehead State University and continue to bring a fresh take to the realm of old-time, Appalachian music, fusing the best of the past with new age sass. This was most evident during a performance of “Cigarette Trees,” a song calling out the ill practices of strip mining that netted the duo first place in the bluegrass category of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at the 2017 edition of Merlefest in North Carolina, which also showcased the group’s tight, angelic harmonizing.
The Honeys also performed a handful of new tunes, including Stokley-penned “Red Headed Yodel #2 (Mainliner),” traditional acapella “Talk about Suffering” and “He Split the First Church of God,” written by fellow Kentuckian and multi-instrumentalist Don Rogers.
Wrapping up an afternoon of locally crafted delicacies was Lexington-based funk and soul caravan Joslyn & The Sweet Compression. After spending much of her musical career as a backup singer, Joslyn Hampton has emerged from the shadows as frontwoman of the Sweet Compression, with a voice that is arguably one of the most powerful musically in the Bluegrass state along with fellow Well Crafted performer Maggie Noelle of Magnolia Boulevard.
The seven-piece outfit drew jittery patrons out of the festival’s shady confines to bust a move during performances of originals “Sunday Driver,” “Love on the Double” and “Honey, Be,” the later being the group’s latest single.
In addition to local music, Well Crafted also featured some of the area’s most prominent and creative food trucks, and rightfully so. It was recently announced that Bravo’s Top Chef would be touring Kentucky to film its new season, proving that there’s plenty of culinary talent in the state to match the recent success of Bluegrass State musicians.
During my lunch stop at the festival, I visited the tried-and-true Roll ‘n’ Smoke. The truck features an assortment of barbecued favorites, but my item of choice was the barbecue tacos. I opted to get mine with pulled pork rather than chicken, which I smothered in Roll ‘n’ Smoke’s signature mild sauce over a mix of coleslaw and pickled onions. The result was a messy yet delectable mess, and one I recommend for a quick fix the next time you spot Roll ‘n’ Smoke’s red and yellow emblazoned truck in town.
Despite the unforgiving sun, Well Crafted showcased that while some of our state’s most cherished artists have moved onto a national stage there’s plenty of young, hungry and ambitious talent to take their place.