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 café 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,

Email me:


Scott Potter said...

Michael, this is Scott Potter - one of your old protege's. I continue to play from time to time and love to catch WoodSongs from time to time. It is truly a tremendous accomplishment. I'm currently volunteering with the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman, Ky. We've just added a luthier program and emphasizing the history of the dulcimer in the region. We're also producing multimedia presentations on our local artists. I Would love for you to come by sometime and check out what we're doing and provide you with a little more East Ky exposure. Keep in touch.

Scott Potter said...

Scott again. Thought you might want my contact info or

Steve Martin said...

Great bit of important music history. Thanks again.
Steve Martin , the other one