By Matt Wickstrom
LEXINGTON, Ky. — You already know (or should know) about Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, The War and Treaty and Charley Crockett.
Now get up to speed on some of the more under the radar artists coming to next weekend’s Master Musicians Festival, being held July 19 and 20 on the campus of Somerset Community College for the 26th consecutive year, in my rundown of the top ten performances I’m looking forward to throughout the weekend. Artists included range from Nicholas Jamerson (pictured above) to The Josephines and Senora May, who we begin our countdown with below.
Senora May – Friday, July 19 at 5 p.m. (Eastwood Records Stage)
Bringing warm, welcoming vibes to the early stages of MMF’s first day will be Irvine songbird Senora May. Long a hidden gem of Eastern Kentucky’s rugged music scene, Senora released her debut album Lainhart last year to widespread acclaim with it’s mix of raw intimacy featuring equal parts backwoods southern charm and forthright sass with a voice that sounds like it was crafted to echo throughout the mountains and vast wilderness of Appalachia. Joining Senora May will be backed by an all-star band that includes Kenny Miles (Wayne Graham) on bass, Hayden Miles (Wayne Graham) on drums and Josh Nolan on guitar.
Nicholas Jamerson – Friday, July 19 at 5:30 p.m. (Main Stage)
Now well over a year removed from his stint as one half of the Billboard charting Prestonsburg based duo Sundy Best, Nicholas Jamerson is making a name for himself as a solo artist, pumping about sincere and heartfelt stories of his own experiences and those around him in the heart of Appalachia. The artist already wields a wide catalogue of tunes four albums deep – the most recent being April’s 7-song Floyd County All-Star – all featuring the artist’s distinct, smooth as molasses southern drawl paired with an upbeat and charismatic charm. Joining Jamerson for his performance will be backing group The Morning Jays – comprised of Wes and Aaron Smith, Thomas Albert, Austin Webb and Lawrence Nemenz.
Chris & Jenn Shouse – Saturday, July 20 at 1:15 p.m. (SomerSessions Tent)
Chris & Jenn Shouse will bring their soothing harmonies and swift, yet soft instrumentals of Appalachian tales to MMF’s SomerSessions tent for an early afternoon affair. The duo, which will stretch to a five-piece for Saturday’s show, first began pursuing their musical endeavors in 2016 following Chris’s departure from Louisville-based 23 String Band. Switching out his guitar for mandolin, Chris plays behind wife Jenn, who wields a guitar in addition to her bone chilling lyrics. The group released their debut album Gray Space in June 2018 and have a habit of mixing in their reinterpretations of pop and rock hits such as Radiohead’s “Creep” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” among others into their sets to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Rounding out the group for Thursday’s show will be Owen Reynolds on bass, Cody Duggar on bass and Jamie Briscoe on drums.
The Handshake Deals – Saturday, July 20 at 1:30 p.m. (Main Stage)
Making their MMF debut will be The Handshake Deals, a trio hailing from deep within the Red River Gorge that incorporates elements of folk, polka and grunge to create a quirky yet compelling sound. The band is led by Casey Papendieck (standup bass, guitar, mandolin) and Laura Gregory (accordion, standup bass, drums), whom have performed in several groups over the last decade since meeting in Austin, Tx. in 2006, the most notable to Kentuckians being the Bloodroots Barter. The duo is rounded out by Cory Shenk (standup bass, guitar, mandolin, a green kazoo, fiddle) as they’re on the verge of releasing their debut album next month.
Chelsea and Josh Nolan – Saturday, July 20 at 2:45 p.m. (SomerSessions Tent)
Both accomplished singer-songwriters in their own right, siblings Chelsea and Josh Nolan will team up for an intimate duo set mid-Saturday afternoon at the festival, providing the perfect opportunity to seek out shade in the SomerSessions tent. The performance – sure to include solo turns and all out duets – will pair Chelsea’s sweet southern sass with brother Josh’s deeply poetic and genre-bending vocals. Each have a batch of new songs at their disposal, with Josh releasing his latest Kind Heart to Follow on May 17 and Chelsea dropping her debut LP Chelsea. on Oct. 12, 2018.
Mama Said String Band – Saturday, July 20 at 3 p.m. (Main Stage)
Pairing sassy lyrics with old-timey instrumentals is female-fronted Louisville based quintet Mama Said String Band. Comprised of Adlai Filiatreau on banjo, Kaitlen Farmer on guitar, Kaitlyn Caudill on upright bass, Steph Kidd on mandolin and David O’Neal on violin, the group has fixated on a tight instrumental groove behind their even tighter, interwoven harmonies at the center of what makes the group stand out amongst such a deeply talented crowd of performers at this year’s festival. The group is currently riding a wave of momentum from releasing their sophomore album Carry the Water on June 14 that has included a return to the John Hartford Memorial Festival in Bean Blossom, Ind., after finishing runner-up in the event’s band competition in 2018 and playing WFPK Waterfront Wednesdays in Louisville alongside Lucy Dacus and Darlingside and the recently completed Trash Bash in Livingston, Ky.
The Josephines – Saturday, July 20 at 4:30 p.m. (Main Stage)
Edgy Western Kentucky country rockers the Josephines will bring a thunderous transition into Saturday evening at MMF with a sound distinct from much of the remaining acts on the festival bill. Comprised of Brad Tabor (vocals, acoustic guitar), Zach Lindsey (electric guitar, vocals), Josh London (bass, vocals), Alex Lindsey (lap steel, vocals) and David Page (drums), the quintet comes to MMF on a break from touring with fellow Kentucky act Black Stone Cherry and Georgia’s The Lacs.
Baja Yetis – Saturday, July 20 at 5:30 p.m. (Eastwood Records Stage)
Bringing a flashy, jazzy flare to Saturday evening of MMF will be veteran Lexington troupe the Baja Yetis. While each of the band’s members have their shining moments, the glue holding the band together is its horn section led by trumpeter Shaun Owens and saxophonist Billy Underwood, who’ve been playing together for over 20 years after meeting while playing in the Eastern Kentucky University Jazz Band. They’re joined by Brandon Bowlds on guitar, Danielle Barkman on drums and Mark Falk on bass to conjure up a barrage of instrumental jazz, funk and jam fusion.
Sean Whiting – Saturday, July 20 at 5:45 p.m. (SomerSessions Tent)
After a career as a commercial truck driver fizzled out a few years ago, Sean Whiting turned his focus back to music, opting to dive into the world head on as a full-time artist. Following the release of his long-awaited debut Finally… The Beginning in 2017 Whiting teamed up with Louisville-based Eastwood Records to unleash High Expectations, an intoxicating mix of blistering blues, troublesome singer-songwriter ballads and high-flying southern rock. A Paintsville native, Whiting’s striking vocal performances often draw comparisons to Chris Stapleton, a multi-Grammy award-winning and internationally touted son of Paintsville himself who Whiting recalls attending high school with many moons ago.
Johnny Conqueroo – Saturday, July 20 at 8:30 p.m. (Eastwood Records Stage)
Mashing together elements of punk, psychedelia, 70s-era rock and sweaty garage vibes is youthful yet experienced Lexington power trio Johnny Conqueroo. Forming during their time in high school, the group is led by Grant Curless on guitar and lead vocals, Wils Quinn on drums and Shawn Reynolds on bass. Playing bars since before they were able to legally buy a drink, the trio have developed a tight and energetic groove that has earned them the reputation as one of Central Kentucky’s most sought after live acts. The group recently dropped their latest single “Calculations,” a tune with the band’s live aesthetic at the focus as it features meaty guitar riffs paired with a sublime touch of keys and chant-like lyrics to produce a modern day rock anthem. The single is the first track from the band’s new EP, expected out this fall.
Join me again next Monday, July 15, from 9-11 a.m. for episode 75 of Wick’s Picks on Lexington Community Radio. I’ll be joined by local doom/sludge rock project Forrest the first hour to discuss their new album out July 17 followed by Jessica Crockett, vice president of the Master Musicians Festival, in hour two to discuss the happenings at the event’s 26th annual gathering slated for July 19 and 20. Tune in on the dial at 93.9 FM or stream online at lexingtoncommunityradio.org.
- LIVE MENU: July 15-21
- SOUTHERN BELLES: Senora May and Joan Shelley bring intimate performance to The Burl
- LISTEN: Johnny Conqueroo pack nostalgia into rock anthem “Calculations”
- WICK’S PICKS: Ep. 67 (Whalerus and Sean Whiting)
- WICK’S PICKS: Ep. 55 – 2/11/19 (w/ Mama Said String Band and Brother Smith)
- WICK’S PICKS: Ep. 54 – 2/4/19 (w/ The Native Howl, NP Presley and Nicholas Jamerson)
- WICK’S PICKS: Ep. 48 – 12/17/18 (w/ Rachel Crowe and Senora May)
- WICK’S PICKS: Ep. 46 – 12/3/18 (w/ Coby Langham, The Helmuths and The Quinns)
- Wick’s Picks: Ep. 39 – 10/8/18 (w/ Chelsea Nolan, Dan Conn and Jen Tackett)
- ‘Baja Yetis’ explore unknown in ‘Gone Planet’