Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Kevin "Darth Fader" Johnson

It was a sunny autumn day ...

My friend Kevin Johnson was a big and friendly man, very round in spirit and girth. He had a heart as big as the great outdoors and a body to put it in. Kevin had a big smile, a big handshake, a big voice and had a knowledgeable laugh that had the patina of wisdom embedded in it.

Kevin knew a lot about recording and sound. We worked together often. I would demo my songs and recorded a couple albums with Kevin. He had a little recording studio at the time called Planet III, nestled in a garden right behind a little cafe. I had this idea of a radio show and wanted to run it by him. So, on this sunny autumn day I rang him up, met him at the Denny's on Nicholasville Road and told him what I had in mind.

"You're crazy, you know that," was his response. "Everybody else will think you're crazy, too."

Then he blinked a few seconds and said, "I'm in."

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "One of the blessings of good friends is that you can afford to be crazy with them."

So on that sunny autumn day we decided to be crazy, and thus was the birth of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. And, like he did with so many of his friends, he committed himself to it and donated the use of his little studio on Monday evenings so we can start producing this volunteer run show.

Let me be clear: Kevin was the best audio engineer in the state of Kentucky. Because of his size and booming voice I would joke to him about sounding like Darth Vader on STAR WARS. I watched him sit behind his audio board, moving the channel faders up and down and, soon enough, we had his nickname set for life: Darth Fader.

He loved that goofy name.

And show by show, week by week, artist by artist he proved he was the best. Famous musicians like Judy Collins, Exile, Bela Fleck, Ralph Stanley, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kenny Loggins, Neko Case and Brandi Carlile trusted his ear. New artists that no one ever heard of came on the show and bowed to Kevin's knowledge to make then sound good. Unknowns at the time like Nickel Creek, Jake Shimabukuro, The Kruger Brothers, Avett Brothers, Tommy Emmanuel, JJ Grey, and our friend Ben Sollee who came to WoodSongs as a scrappy, excited skinny 17 year old kid whose cello was almost as big as he was.

Wherever I was performing around the country on Sunday I would be back in Lexington on Monday for WoodSongs ... Kevin "Darth Fader" Johnson was always there, too.

Kevin volunteered his time, his Mondays, his heart and his wisdom to make WoodSongs grow and he was so proud of it. For over 700 shows Kevin's booming voice could be heard in the Kentucky Theatre and now the Lyric. His health and size didn't always allow him to celebrate the growth of the show but when WoodSongs went to Ireland this summer Kevin burst with pride for the one's he personally trained ... Bryan Klausing, Brandon Eaves and Jerome "Cyber Boy" Gallt who ran the broadcast in his place. Kevin was very proud of his friends on the WoodSongs crew.

I have learned over the years that people work harder out of passion than they do payment. And Kevin was a very passionate man. Loyal. Committed. Involved. I have also learned that a close sister to passion is stubbornness.

Kevin was, in fact, one of the most stubborn fellows I knew.

But "stubbornness" is the corner stone of "loyalty," so my friend was one of the most honest and loyal men I knew as well.

As a technical engineer he was brilliant and, like many engineers, long winded and totally incapable of a simple answer. "Kevin, can I plug this in" would be the question. "What kind of plug? Is it grounded? Is the cable shielded? How many cycles is the power source? Is it a clean line?" would be his response always ending with the same comment,  

"It's not that simple."

Well, dude, I just want to plug the ding-dang thing in, says I.

Kevin Johnson was my friend, my brother, musical partner. He was my chief critic, number one nemesis, shelter-in-the-storm and most dependable companion.

It was also a sunny autumn day on Monday, September 30th. It was 4 in the afternoon and I arrived at the Lyric Theatre, looking forward to seeing my big round friend walk down the aisle. He struggled so hard with his health this past year and we talked often about it. And after years of effort and disappointment, he was finally turning it around. He lost nearly 150 pounds this year. He looked better. He sounded better. His mood was tempered by the fact that he was finally feeling good.

He did it because he loved his son Taylor and wanted to set the right example. How proud he was of his boy and Kevin beamed with pride when Taylor came with him to WoodSongs just a couple Mondays ago.

For over 732 shows Kevin was the silent pilot behind the board allowing the world to listen to what WoodSongs had to offer.

But on that one sunny autumn day he didn't walk down the isle of the Lyric Theatre as expected. Instead, I got a call from the Fire Marshal telling me that my dear friend was gone. Kevin's big heart ended its' journey on that sunny autumn afternoon.

To his dad Harry, his mom Peggy and especially his son Taylor ... he loved you all so much. And in turn you have so much to be proud of with Kevin.

Words do not come with ease right now. The world is so much smaller than it was a few days ago and words will not fill the silence that has fallen over everything at the moment. This week the show he helped start and nurture since day one, Kevin's friends and fellow crew members filled the theatre with applause in his honor ... and the audience gave you a standing ovation. You deserved it.

Emerson also wrote: "The only way to have a friend is to be one."

I believe life exists in the confidence there is a tomorrow ... and in the regret that we often miscalculate that. I hope I was as loyal and good a friend to you as you were to me.

This is a nice autumn day as I write this and I miss my friend. I will miss you always.

And yes, Kevin ... it's "that simple."

Michael Johnathon

DONATIONS NEEDED: our friend was rich in friends but poor in material things. Donations are needed to help pay for Kevin's funeral and, most especially, to set up a fund for his son Taylor. Can you kick in $5, $10 or more to help? In an age of dishonesty, I can understand hesitance so I am letting you all know that I am donating $150 because I know his situation to be true. Starting tomorrow morning please make a secure, easy donation to the KEVIN JOHNSON MEMORIAL FUND in person or by mail c/o Bank of Lexington, 761 Corporate Dr. Lexington, KY 40503 or call (859) 219-2900

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Toshi & Pete

It took me a day to reflect before I could post this. 

Yesterday TOSHI SEEGER, wife and companion of Pete Seeger, passed away.

She was at his side through every song, every trial, every book, every project ... every log he chopped and every child he fathered ... she was there. She was an eye witness to American music history. She knew Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson and Leadbelly. She marched with Martin Luther King. She heard Bob Dylan perform for the first time at the Newport Folk Festival and she was there when he turned electric. She sat in her kitchen cutting vegetables while Pete and some friends mused about how neat it would be to build a big wooden sloop that would sail the Hudson and bring people to its shore and help clean the river up. And while others rolled their eyes and scoffed, Toshi helped Pete organize the benefits it would take to raise the money and actually build the Clearwater.

And she was there when it sailed for the first time.

Toshi was an artist at heart but her life with Pete turned her into a manager, organizer, visionary, motivator and champion. And she worked hard at it. She navigated the oddities of Pete's thought process and the personalities of his friends. Artists are indeed an odd lot at times.  You have to be gentle and tough at the same time. Joan Baez said it best, to be married to Pete Seeger a woman would have to be a saint ... and Toshi ain't no saint :)

Even married to arguably the biggest folk icon on the planet, Toshi was a humble worker. Instead of taking her position of importance as the queen of Pete's world, Toshi would most likely be seen under a tent in the heat of summer cooking strawberry shortcake in a wood oven and serving it to folks during the Clearwater Sloop Festival.

And there's more ... Back in the 1960's Pete had this idea that going on TV would be a good thing. After all, he was blacklisted by virtually every network. So, might as well have your own TV show. He called up a small public television station in New Jersey, got himself a couple chairs and a picnic table and started his own little series called "Rainbow Quest." He would sing a song then invite his friends like Doc Watson, Jean Ritchie and others to sit around the table, chat a bit and share some songs. (Later on, I would steal the idea with Pete's blessing, add an audience of 500 people every week and called the thing "WoodSongs") Surely, Pete had some far flung ideas before, but this one was different. It took virtually all their savings to pull off, they never found a sponsor and the show folded after a short time.

Through it all, Toshi supported, managed, promoted, stood by and plunged forward on behalf of her husband. Today, Rainbow Quest is a genuine archive of America's finest folk artists of that era.

But don't get the wrong idea, Toshi had herself a spine of steel. I remember sitting in their home one evening in Beacon, their home along the beloved Hudson River. In the kitchen was a big bowl full of salad, in the air cosmic conversation and a couple of banjos being passed around. As we were leaving later that evening Pete got up and started washing the dishes. Toshi looked at him, sighed and said, "You can stop that now, they're leaving."

She was always blunt, to the point. Never shy about cutting trough Pete's veneer but loyal to the bone none-the-less. I liked her. I admired her. I wished I had someone just like that supporting me. 

When I wrote my first book, it was Toshi and Pete that did most of the content editing and fact checking.  When she read something she didn't like, I surely did hear about it. I saved the manuscript with all their scribbles on it and followed all their advice. I could see then what a powerful force Pete had behind him. I could tell she was part of the history he made, a big part.

And so I wrote a song about her in the Woody Guthrie opera.

Toshi had been sick the past few years, Pete's health surpassing hers as time rolled on. Last time I talked with Pete, we were on the phone for nearly two hours and the American Masters PBS special was brought up. I told Pete one of the things I liked abut it was the attention it gave to Toshi and how nice it was to see him doting on her. Pete called out to Toshi and said, "Michael liked the American Masters film because of how nice it reflected on you!" Toshi grabbed the phone from Pete and said, "I was just being a good wife ..." and then handed the phone back to him.

Classic Toshi.

To place it in a single sentence, there would be no Pete Seeger had there not been a Toshi. I wonder what it is like for Pete to lose this friend of so many years. I wonder what it is like to watch your soul mate wither with age and leave. I wonder what it's like the next morning to wake and realize she is gone, the space in the bed next to you is empty.  The dress she wore, the little items she loved on the book shelf and the children who reflect her life in their eyes are without her spirit and touch. I'm sure, like any couple married for so long, they wondered about this moment. They talked about it, thought about it. Dreaded it. Wondering who would leave first and what it would be like.

And the clock ticked, and the days rolled by and the earth spinned 'round and the moment came. And now it's done.

"To everything, Turn, Turn Turn ... there is a season, Turn Turn Turn ..."

And such is time. Such is life.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why the WoodSongs Partner Program, Volunteer Crew ... and “Free” works:

I’m a musician.
I make my living touring and writing. But these days, an artist must have one hand on a guitar case and the other on a brief case. So, I decided to write about the one business principle I knew very well:

The American economy wasn’t built on money ... it was built on logical barter.

The music business, believe it or not, is a billion dollar global industry based on smart, logical barter.  The internet has created a worldwide economy generating several billions of dollars based on one simple word: Free. That word will cause the panties of most traditional, brick-and-mortar, business minded Ayn Rand-followers to bunch into a major economic wedgie. Here’s the truth: Barter is not free. When merged with capitalism, barter is the most effective form of economics.  ‘Free’ causes financial transactions to happen.

Need examples? Let’s look at Yahoo, AOL, Explorer, Google and Facebook.  They allow, no, they spend millions, trying to get the public to use them for free. FREE.  Why give their creation away for free?

Because … drum roll, please … loss makes money.

The business model is simple: the more people they can attract to their domain, the higher the odds are people will buy something. Whether it’s clicking on an ad link or responding to a pop-up ad, advertisers pay them dearly because of their audience. That's why I like Folk-Book, it's at least honest about what is happening. Free is the new business model of the global economy. Free works. But then it always has.

Consider your grocery store: Krogers buys milk at nearly $3 per gallon but sells it at a huge loss for $1.89. Why? If the board of directors looked simply at the profit-and-loss of the milk shelf they would have people fired. But they don’t because they are looking at the entire financial picture. Everyone needs milk and low priced milk draws customers into the store. Sure, they are losing money on milk ... but they put the milk in the far back corner of the store forcing customers to walk through a myriad of isles to get there. And what do they do as they journey through the store? Fill their carts with high profit items they didn’t realize they needed. The loss causes people to buy stuff.

That’s how loss makes money. Pepsi and Coke have done the same thing for decades. Anytime they have a new product, they set up a table at Krogers and what do they do? They give cups of it away for FREE. They call it “sampling.” Television networks have made billions by spending millions to get you to watch their channel … for free.

And, thus, the long standing business model of the music industry. An artist goes to a radio station for an interview, for FREE. The radio station is handed their new CD, for FREE. The radio station plays the song, for FREE. You tune in and hear the song, for FREE. Why? Because, eventually, if you hear a song for free long enough you’ll become a fan. If you’re a fan you’ll buy a ticket to the concert and buy the ding-dang album.

And that’s how FREE makes money. FREE is logical barter, and it works. FREE is the most powerful business model used to attract an audience. And where the audience goes, wallets follow.

WoodSongs was conceived, created and is broadcast as a global, free barter with the sole purpose of attracting the biggest audience possible. The crew works for free. I work for free. The engineers and stage crew work for free. Local hotels put up the artists for free. Local restaurants donate meals the day of the show. Highbridge Spring Water sends water for free. American Recordable Media burns and prints the CDs we send to radio for free. We give the show to WEKU and WUKY for free. The other 500+ radio stations get the show for free. American Forces Radio Network gets the show for free. Insight Communications gives us use of the TV cameras for free. We send the show to KET for free. Public television stations from coast to coast get the TV series for free. Heck, even most of the audience comes to the show for free.

The artists, whether Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Exile, Peter Yarrow, Judy Collins, Norah Jones, Blind Boys of Alabama, or Emmylou Harris come for free. FREE.

Any why? Because WoodSongs has nearly two million listeners, that’s why. Two million wallets a week listen to the show, and a lot of them buy the CDs of the artists on our stage. Most travel and we invite two million people a week to come visit Lexington, Kentucky. We tell two million people a week how beautiful the Lyric Theatre is.

“Free” has huge financial value. “Free” turned Facebook into a billion dollar company. “Free,” saves Lexington tens of thousands of dollars a year in marketing costs and generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. I’ve turned over emails and letters to the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau from fans all over the world who visit Lexington because of WoodSongs. I recently read a letter from a family who used to watch us on PBS-TV in Oklahoma and moved to Lexington because of it. One of our crew members, Mim King, moved to Lexington from San Francisco because of WoodSongs.

Sent: Sat, Oct 27, 2012 8:57 pm
Subject: My life on woodsongs

Hi Michael,
I'm at home listening to Woodsongs and I can’t believe how closely tonights show is woven into my life: I am a native of Grand Rapids, MI. About 2 years ago I began listening to Woodsongs on Bluelake Public Radio and just over a year ago I decided to undertake a life adventure and moved to the beautiful city of Lexington, KY, home of Woodsongs and the heart of the bluegrass. Thank you so much for such terrific music to me wherever I live.

Joe Wynia>>>

This business model has tremendous value to our new home, the Lyric Theatre. That’s why they wanted WoodSongs there, that’s why they partnered with the show …  and the packed theatre on Monday nights show it was a smart decision. This was accomplished even though the Lyric had been struggling, unfairly, with a less than positive public perception problem. The general public perception of the Lyric was:

• it’s a “black” theatre  
• it’s in a bad neighborhood
• it has no parking  
• it’s not part of downtown.

The truth is the historic Lyric Theatre is a state-of-the-art, multi-cultural community facility. The truth is the neighborhood is wonderful, friendly, well lit and anxious to serve as a positive part of Lexington. The truth is there is plenty of parking for our fans at the Lyric, over 250 parking spots within a couple blocks. The truth is downtown has grown and so, yes, the Lyric is now “downtown.”

Another truth is that the Lyric wasn’t thriving as hoped. It opened a few years ago with great promise … and has struggled since. They had little on their schedule. It accelerated the perception that no one was using the Lyric, no one wanted to go there, no one cared. Well, our all-volunteer run project cares. Our audience cares.

During the first few weeks of WoodSongs, we attracted over 2,500 fans into the main hall of the Lyric Theatre. Ninety-nine percent of them have never set foot in this beautiful hall. To a person, all have been amazed that their perception of the Lyric was nothing like the very positive reality it proved to be. The public loves the Lyric. This happy and impressed audience will change the negative perceptions plaguing this beautiful venue and help nurse it back to health. “People in the seats” will protect the $7.5 million dollar investment the City entrusted to rebuild this hall. Whereas: a dark stage is a surefire recipe for disaster.

Our partnership with the Lyric leans heavily in the Lyric’s favor because, unlike WoodSongs, the theatre can turn this relationship into cash. WoodSongs is helping make the Lyric attractive to national and regional presenters, who will, in turn, rent the theatre. WoodSongs is helping readjust the public perception of the theatre so the presenters have a fair shot of attracting ticket buyers to the shows they book.

And like I said, barter is not free. It cost our show thousands of dollars we didn’t have to move into the Lyric, and at great risk. We had to somehow overcome the negetive public perception of the Lyric and still get the audience to show up. We had no guarentee this would happen. Even so, WoodSongs delivers an advertising package to the Lyric Theatre worth well over $750,000 a year. The Lyric gets this marketing package and our audience for free at a time when it needs it badly. WoodSongs brings a marketing and public relations bonanza to the Lyric they don’t have to pay for. I’m certainly not getting paid. Neither does anyone on our amazing crew.

WoodSongs is taking a dark, unused theatre on the night they are normally closed and turning it into a goldmine for Lexington by attracting tens of thousands of fans each year through the doors of this beautiful concert hall.

Free is good for the Lyric because where there is an audience, there are wallets. And where there are wallets, there are concert producers and event organizers that will fill the Lyric’s schedule all year long. Soon, the Lyric will be the most popular theatre in central Kentucky. I would even expect  some smart entrepreneurs to open up stores, coffee shops and cafes near the Lyric side of downtown, taking advantage of this audience and helping downtown grow in that direction.

This is a good thing. And only by establishing an audience around the Lyric Theatre will that happen. Oh, sure, there’s some grumbling. Often it is from traditional business folks who see the packed theatre just convinced WoodSongs is rolling in money. They are unaware that the majority of the audience comes FREE. They are called WoodSongs Partners and it is the smartest plan we have ever put in place to fill our theatre on a Monday night.

To them I offer this:

WoodSongs’ partnership with the Lyric and our WoodSongs Partners is the ultimate “value-for-value” barter. WoodSongs is the “Rearden metal” of downtown. Heck, even Ayn Rand would be proud. Our partnership is based on the same model that made Facebook and Google successful. It works for the City, the audience, the Lyric, the neighborhood, the show, the artists, the Commonwealth and our volunteer crew. WoodSongs is uniquely positioned to offer a partnership like this, and the Lyric is uniquely engineered to make this partnership practical for WoodSongs.

The real winner, ultimately, ends up being the City of Lexington.

To be clear, if the Lyric and the City follow through on the opportunities our audience offers, this audience will help protect the $7.5 million dollar investment the City spent to reopen this historic, legacy theatre. Our audience is helping make the Lyric viable and exciting again. Our audience is proving the Lyric needs to be, deserves to be, preserved, seen and used by the community.

This is why I believe in the value of volunteers, of musicians donating a concert to a school now and then, for artists to step up and meet their audience, even if it's free. Because it works. Every artist should be willing to "sample" their songs and performances, yes even for free. These are often called "benefits" or promotional appearances. If any artist gets lost in the tiny world of "no pay, no play" they will soon lose their audience, in turn their market, in turn their living. Artists should be consumed with reaching their audience, not getting paid. Ultimately, that is the most financially rewarding market plan because, once you find your audience, you are, in fact, set for life.

And stay tuned: If WoodSongs successfully converts to high-definition television while still at the Lyric Theatre, this formula will more than double in value. Imagine Lexington hosting a worldwide broadcast seen in over 125 million USA TV homes across North America from the stage of the beautiful Lyric Theatre in historic Lexington, Kentucky.

And THAT would be something to sing about.

Michael Johnathon
folk singer – log cabin dweller

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

WOODSONGS - Lyric Theatre Parking

Gudness Grashe-iss ...

So many rumors and misconceptions abound. One of which is that the Lyric Theatre doesn't have parking. Why on earth would I move WoodSongs to a theatre if it didn't have any ding-dang parking??? lol

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away ... this was true. Before the Lyric was restored and remodeled parking was scarce. Today, over 200 cars can park in easy, close, well lit parking lots and spaces.

Truthfully, the Lyric has better audience parking than the Kentucky had.

Not complaining here, folks didn't mind parking in the Annex garage, travel five lights down a dark parking garage and walk a few blocks to the Kentucky Theatre. Folk do what folks will do. The Lyric is simply closer, safer and easier.

Here's a map of the parking areas. Hope it's helpful!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


MOTHER EARTH NEWS: my latest article for the magazine has been published (yes, this is a picture of my kitchen table)

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

WOODSONGS at the LYRIC - More Questions

So much positive energy!
First, the WoodSongs Crew have worked their tails off getting the Lyric Theatre “WoodSongs-ready.” Everything from programming the audio consoles, upgrading the lighting grid, creating the rigging for the WoodSongs sign and curtains to hang on stage, running TV cables in the ceiling so they aren’t on the ground around the audience, even preparing the green rooms for the artists heading to Lexington … the Lyric Theatre in downtown Lexington has been buzzing like a beehive with activity.

"I dip my pen in the blackest ink,  
because I'm not afraid of falling into my inkpot." 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sure, changing theatres was a big risk. And a lot of work. The Lyric staff have been outstanding in their helpfulness. Yetta Young, who opened the doors for us and has since moved to the west coast, left us in the capable hands of Rasheedah El-Amin as well as Jack, Terry, Sim, Maurice and Denise on the theatre staff.
"It's a shallow life that doesn't 
give a person a few scars." 
~Garrison Keillor

Of course, with any change, there are always those pesky rumors to deal with. Change can be wonderful … and cumbersome.  So, here is stuff the audience will want to know:
b)   HOW MANY SEATS ARE THERE? About 500, nearly 200 seats more than the Kentucky Theatre.
d)   IS THERE ENOUGH PARKING? Plenty. The Lyric is a wonderful theatre that has enjoyed several sold-out shows already. The audience has easy, close, well lit parking in a lot across the street from the entrance; another parking lot next door across Elm at the big UK Medical Offices; and scores of close parking spots along both sides of Elm and along 3rd (thank you, City of Lexington!) 
IS IT SAFE?:  Of course it is. We would never have moved the show if it wasn't. Let's talk about perceptions for a moment ... a few decades ago the neighborhood was different. Today, it is vastly improved and moving forward in a good, positive way. The Lyric has easy, free, safe, nearby parking with well light streets that, in my opinion, are even safer than what we had with the Annex Garage. For example: years ago, the north side of Lexington was not considered in a proud manner. Today it is the home of a multi-million dollar high school that hosts the incredible successful Spanish-immersion program, stores, shopping malls, cafes and more. Those who retain the perception of decades ago are losing the excitement of what is happening today. 'nuff said.
e)    WILL TICKET PRICES GO UP? Nope. Part of the benefits of the Lyric Theatre is that is well help ensure the WoodSongs Partners Program and the inexpensive public tickets to see outstanding artists will be protected.
f)     HOW DOES THE LYRIC IMPROVE WOODSONGS? The theatre was remodeled with modern technology, making our conversion to hi-def TV easier and less expensive.  There is a bigger, safer lighting grid for the crew to work with, and the audio system is digital helping the show sound better on the air.
g)    DO WE STILL MAKE RESERVATIONS THE SAME WAY? Yes, just call 859-252-8888. A nice thing about the Lyric is that it also has computerized and online ticketing so when we have special event broadcasts, like the 700th show with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, getting tickets will be easier and faster for the audience that want to attend.
h)   WHAT IS BETTER FOR THE ARTISTS: Aside from a bigger stage to perform on, the Lyric has brand new green rooms, the place where we serve visiting artists dinner (provided by our generous downtown restaurants) and coffee before the show. There are showers, make up mirrors and a place to safely store their gear. It makes for a more professional, hospitable way to welcome them to Lexington.

In short, the Lyric Theatre is newer, more modern, better equipped, has better lighting, nicer green rooms for the artists, it will sound better and it will help WoodSongs grow to the next level.

If ... if ... you show up. lol.

First show is January 21, 2013 ... come check it out.
And bring the kids :)

"Only those who dare to fail greatly
can ever achieve greatly." 
~Robert F. Kennedy


Saturday, January 05, 2013

WOODSONGS Move to the Lyric – FAQs


“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
President Ronald Reagan

And so it was one evening this past November, sitting in front of my fireplace at the log cabin, contemplating the dance of the flames while easing into my rocking chair, banjo in my lap and a little radio show on my mind, that the decision to move from our beloved Kentucky Theatre into a new home was made.

WoodSongs has a long, careful, patient history of changing. The idea of moving into a new home is not new to us. 

We started in Kevin Johnson’s little recording studio. It was a nice, cozy little place behind a cafĂ© called Flag Fork Farm off Broadway in Lexington.  It sat about 15 people in chairs, pillows and on the floor. Those 15 people seemed like a big crowd back then.

After a while, Kevin had to change the location of his studio and announced the news that he was moving into a bigger studio in Versailles. Versailles? Really? And the place sat 75 people. … that seemed way too big for WoodSongs to go. I wasn’t even sure 75 people even knew about the show, no less would sit in a seat during the taping. The day came for our first show taping at the new studio and, lo and behold, the place was packed and all 75 folding chairs where taken up.

And they kept coming.

About six weeks later I decided, against the opinions of many, we needed to be back in the center of the media market and the main population.  Lexington had to be our home. But where? How? One afternoon a friend told me that the Central Library downtown had a nice little theatre we should look at. And so I did. It had a good little stage … in a theatre of 125 seats. To us at that time, 125 seats seemed like a ding-dang arena.. “You’re crazy.” “You’re wrecking the show.” “You’re going to lose your audience …” were some of the more gentle of the opinions from friends, volunteers and respected professionals. But still, it seemed like the right thing to do. I simply had to trust the audience to show up.

And they did. I created the WoodSongs Reservation Hotline and the idea that the audience should make a reservation first before coming. The first show we taped at the Library Theatre had all 125 seats filled up.  The show began gaining other radio affiliates. More artists began pursuing a slot on the broadcast, folks like Rick Danko, founding member of The Band and others began making their way to Lexington to be on WoodSongs.

The show "reserved out" 57 weeks in a row.

Standing on stage one Monday, looking out at the packed theatre, it occurred to me that a decision was in place: Was this WoodSongs thing just a hobby ... or did I really want WoodSongs to work? With the help of David Lord, the head of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau (David came to Lexington from Texas, where he was part of the team that helped start the PBS show Austin City Limits) we convinced Kentucky Tourism to buy a little underwriting time with WoodSongs.

With that little bit of seed money, we purchased our own sound system and some recording gear, much of it used, and moved into the Kentucky Theatre.

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Woodrow Wilson

Not everyone was pleased we moved out of the Library Theatre. Many, when considering the size of the Kentucky … 325 seats, a mammoth coliseum compared to what we were used to … stomped their feet in horror at the idea.. “You’re crazy.” “You’re wrecking the show.” “You’re going to lose your audience …” were some of the more gentle of the opinions from friends, volunteers and respected professionals.

But I trusted the audience, and they showed up. So did Nora Jones. Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, Blind Boys of Alabama, Ralph Stanley, Nickel Creek, Judy Collins, Del McCoury, Chris Thile, Kathy Mattea, Richie Havens, Tommy Emmanuel, Peter Yarrow, Brandi Carlile, Jakob Dylan, Odetta, Neko Case, Blind Boys of Alabama, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Wanda Jackson, Billy Bragg and scores of other artists from around the world.

The Kentucky Theatre was WoodSongs’ home for ten years. Our all-volunteer crew learned every nook and cranny, every nuance, every oddity and each square inch of historic beauty that theatre had to offer. And the audience certainly loved it, filling it week after week. Every Monday night, in a downtown theatre during dinner time and rush hour traffic, hundreds of people would line up to get tickets to see artists they didn't know sing songs they never heard.

“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. 
And change has its enemies.”
Robert Kennedy

Time has a way of ticking past a good idea. The Kentucky Theatre served us well, but she needs some attention. WoodSongs is growing too. It’s growing fast. It’s like when you were in high school and you got your first little sports car to drive around in. You loved it. But after a while you got married and started adding a kid or two to the dinner table, and that little car that you love so much just isn’t practical anymore. It’s time for that mini-van, folks. 

And so it was this past November, as I sat in my rocking chair staring into the wood fire late at night, playing a simple melody on my banjo as my mind danced with the flames in my woodstove. WoodSongs needs to grow. This is either a hobby ... or I really, really mean to make this work. And remember, it's not like WoodSongs is the only project I have going on. I'm working on my next book, next album, we released two albums including my Woody Guthrie Opera this year, I started and working on my movie script about the life of Alice Lloyd (check out The more organized WoodSongs is, the easier it is to run, the more fun it is.

I believe: If you decide to do something - do it right or don't do it at all. I don't mind donating my time and working for free ... but it has to be right. I have to do it right because I don't want to waste my creative energies. I cant ask the WoodSongs crew to waste their time if we don't do it right. I can't ask multi-Grammy winners like Victor Wooten or Nora Jones to pay their own way to Lexington and appear on the show ... for FREE ... if we can't do the ding-dang thing right.

Doing it right is a big job. The show needs to convert to high definition television. To do that we need a theatre with a deeper stage, better lights, newer technology and more seats. WoodSongs would have to become its own sponsor, in a sense, so those extra seats are important. WoodSongs needs online ticketing and cleaner, comfortable green rooms for the artists when they come visit.

A few blocks away from the Kentucky Theatre was the newly restored Lyric Theatre. The Lyric has all the new technology that WoodSongs needs to grow, to take the next step as a worldwide media force. The Lyric has more parking for the audience, a bigger stage, digital-ready wiring, more lights, a safer working environment for the crew and an online box office.

On Mondays, when we tape WoodSongs, she is sitting there ... silent, dark and empty.

I put my banjo down that night and made a note that I placed on my wooden kitchen table that simply said,

“Things do not change. We change.”
Henry David Thoreau

The next morning I called the folks at the Lyric Theatre, who immediately welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm and support.  We met, and a couple weeks later they came to WoodSongs final show of 2012 with Wanda Jackson and Shemeka Copeland. We met again. It felt right to me. It felt right to them and all agreed that WoodSongs moving into the Lyric would be win-win-win for the Lyric, for downtown, and for the show. Members of the City Council like Ed Lane and Bill Farmer, the WoodSongs crew, folks at KET and WEKU and WUKY absolutely supported the idea of the Lyric becoming WoodSongs new home.

And yet, that very vocal minority is still out there ... beating those same drums:

“You’re crazy.” “You’re wrecking the show.” “You’re going to lose your audience …”

Well, I figure it just means they care, and that’s a good thing. Mostly. Passion has many colors and I welcome its entire rainbow. But sometimes an artist must put their head down, brace their shoulders and play straight into the firestorm. I mean, if you don't believe in what you're doing, why on earth should anyone else?

Anyway, in the next couple days I will post more about the Lyric, doofus rumours about the venue and neighborhood, facts about parking, pictures of the stage and lots more.

Bottom line: 
This is an exciting time and we want you to be part of it!

Folk on,

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