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Most fans of the Lexington-based Blind Corn Liquor Pickers know the bluegrass-influenced band for the mountain-soaked music they have produced for more than a dozen years. But for an important music video they created last fall, the seven-piece band abandoned that sound for a few minutes, turned up the electric guitar, and pushed out a hard-rockin’ rendition of Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart.”
The video was created for a Kickstarter campaign that helped actualize a project the band’s founder and banjoist, Travis Young, had been kicking around in his head for years: an outdoor festival focused on championing Kentucky music. Thanks in part to the 100-plus people who contributed to the online crowdfunding campaign, which met its goal by more than 150 percent, the inaugural Moonshiner’s Ball will bring together dozens of live music and spoken word acts, many from Lexington, for a weekend-long festival in Berea on May 9-11.
The Blind Corn Liquor Pickers are no strangers to bending and exploring new genres. Over the course of their career, they’ve shifted from a four-piece traditional bluegrass act into more of a collective, steadily incorporating elements of blues, psychedelia, jazz and rock into their sound. The ever-changing dynamic has served as a motivation for the band, inspiring its members to continue to shift and evolve.
“It’s one of the only things that really keeps us going,” said mandolin player Joel Serdenis, who is the only remaining original member of the band aside from Young. “If we were the same [original] four-piece, I doubt we would have lasted as long. Every time you reconfigure, you have to morph, and as long as something good comes out of that, you go on.”
With a lineup focusing almost entirely on acts that are either from Kentucky or have a strong connection to the state, the festival provides an opportunity for the band to reunite with many of its past members and friends they’ve made on the road.
Original BCLP front man and bass player Todd Anderson –– co-founder of the Paducah-based national touring rockabilly act Legendary Shack Shakers –– will perform with his western swing act, the Solid Rock-it Boosters. Fellow Shack Shaker frontman J.D Wilkes will be there as well, with his act The Dirt Daubers. Also on the bill are Vandaveer, a Washington, D.C.-based alt-folk act fronted by former Kentuckian Mark Heidinger (a college pal of Young’s), and the Greenville-based bluegrass/jam band Tonight’s Noise, which features another former bass player of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. Lexington writer Ed “Captain Kentucky” McClanahan –– a close friend of the band’s, whose 1970s Playboy article about Lexington character “Little Enis” was the inspiration for one of their early songs –– is among several Kentucky authors who will read on a literary stage curated by Holler Poets founder Eric Sutherland.
“The worst case scenario is that it’s an awesome party with all the people we love in one place,” Young said with a laugh.
With professions that range from teaching to tending bar to interpreting Japanese, Young and the other band members serve as the festival’s sole organizers. They’ve taken on roles that range from booking the line-up and designing the website, to coordinating volunteers and ordering official festival merchandise –– “stuff you don’t conceive of until you’re fully committed,” Young admits.
“There’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s good though –– it’s fun and exciting. It’s year one, so it feels like all the work is going to pay off.”
Playing hundreds of gigs over the years –– from hometown gigs at their favorite local venue, Al’s Bar, to national festivals with 30,000-plus attendees –– may not have fully prepared the band for all of the detail-oriented tasks they’ve encountered planning this event, but it has definitely informed one thing: the way they plan to treat the artists.
“If you were to look online on how to produce a festival, there’s information out there that basically says you book your headliners and then you book all the local bands to play for free,” Young said. “This is a proven strategy for festival design out there, and believe me, it’s well in practice.”
It’s a practice that BCLP has encountered several times as performers, and precisely one they don’t want to employ with the Moonshiner’s Ball.
“We want to pay every artist –– if not what they deserve in some Utopian world, at least something reasonable, something they can be happy to get,” Young said, “and then to provide them with an experience as a performer that they’re going to appreciate.”
“For better or for worse, we will probably always approach this as artists who have played festivals for so many years, which means we’re probably not very good businessmen,” he added with a laugh.
Weekend tickets and more information on the festival, which features live music and spoken word performances on Friday evening and all day Saturday, are available at www.themoonshinersball.com.