The musical new year of 2022 will begin with giving back. In doing so, he will tap into the enduring songs and inspiration surrounding one of the region’s most beloved favorite son artists through a pair of benefit concerts held at one of the most important live music venues in Lexington.
The two events are directly linked. The first night aims to help repair what 2021 left behind — namely the damage left by a pack of devastating tornadoes that tore through western Kentucky in December. The second will fix its eyes and ears on the future as it seeks to uphold goodwill projects in Appalachia and beyond of two organizations.
At the center of it all will be the music of John Prine, who has always found a way – whether through clever fantasy or sobering reality – to offer remarkable insight into humanity. Prine passed away from complications related to COVID in April 2020, but the impact and popularity of his songs never waned.
Both performances are produced by – and presented at – The Burl, which has become the Distillery District’s premier music venue. The former, however, brings help from Prine’s longtime independent label, Oh Boy Records. He will start 2022 at the club, fittingly, on January 1. The title of the event: “Music for Paradise: A Benefit for Western KY Tornado Relief.
The second benefit, “An Old Rodeo: A Tribute to the Life and Songs of John Prine,” takes over on January 2. This is strictly a commitment of The Burl and Bolo Booking whose profits benefit the Hello in There Foundation and the Appalachian Citizens Law Center.
Several artists will perform at both shows, including Abby Hamilton, Brit Taylor, Brother Smith, Eric Bolander, Grayson Jenkins, Magnolia Boulevard, Nicholas Jamerson, Wolfpen Branch and Wayne Graham.
Only Kelsey Waldon, Senora May, Cole Chaney, John R. Miller, Justin Wells, Leah Blevins, Logan Halstead and Scott T. Smith will perform for “Music for Paradise”. The lineup playing exclusively for “An Old Rodeo” will include Adam Chaffins, Charlie Overman, Dalton Mills, David and Teresa Prince, John Clay, Logan Carver, Logan Fox, Nari, Ryan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Sydney Adams.
Prine was not from Kentucky. He was born in Maywood, Illinois and spent his formative years as a songwriter (and postman) in Chicago. But much of Prine’s extended family was from western Kentucky, prompting summer trips there during his youth. One of his most specific destinations was the ancient county town of Muhlenberg known as Paradise. Its environmental and physical decimation by encroaching coal companies has been documented and retold across generations in one of Prine’s oldest, best-known, and most-often-covered songs, “Paradise.”
Muhlenberg County – especially the city of Bremen – fell into the wide path of destruction caused by December’s tornadoes.
Although many of the artists reunited for “Music for Paradise” hail from central and eastern Kentucky, the West will be duly represented by Ballard County native Kelsey Waldon, one of the last artists signed by Prine to Oh Boy Records. The two gigs have frequently shared bills, including a July 2019 homecoming performance in Central City (located in Muhlenberg County).
Waldon has been a frequent performer at The Burl in recent years and was featured as part of the lineup for Lexington’s inaugural Railbird Festival in 2019.
Showtime for “Music for Paradise” will be at 5 p.m. Tickets are $50. The event will also be streamed live for $20 (for more information on stream tickets, go to mandolin.com). Various ticket bundles including t-shirts and concert posters signed by participating artists are also available. All proceeds will go to the Muhlenberg County Disaster Relief Fund and the Western Kentucky Tornado Relief team.
“An Old Rodeo” takes its name from the chorus of another of Prine’s most beloved compositions, “Angel from Montgomery.” Fittingly, one of the January 2 program recipients, the Hello in There Foundation, honors yet another Prine classic, the quietly shrill observation of aging and loneliness “Hello in There.” Both songs were part of the singer-songwriter’s self-titled debut album, which marked his career in October, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its release.
As described on its website, the mission of the Hello in There Foundation (which was created in the wake of Prine’s passing) is “to identify and work with individuals and communities to offer support to those who are marginalized, discriminated against or, for some reason any, otherwise forgotten. .
Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center is a law firm established to provide free legal services to coal miners and their families regarding black lung and mine safety issues and (as stated in a mission statement on its website ) “to protect land and people from the misuse and degradation caused by extractive industries.
Show time is at 5 p.m. Tickets are $12.
For more information on tickets to any of the performances, go to theburlky.com.
More Ways to Help Relieve Kentucky Tornadoes
When it comes to storm relief, Prine’s legacy enlistment won’t be limited to this week’s performances.
Oh Boy Records is also selling a pair of t-shirts and an emboldened print with the lyrics to the “Paradise” chorus. Proceeds go to Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Team, the Mayfield Community Foundation and the Muhlenberg County Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee.
For ordering information, go to store.johnprine.com.
The most encouraging part of Oh Boy Records’ involvement in storm relief in Western Kentucky, however, is that it may be underway. A note on the label’s website ends with these words.
“We’re staying in touch with our friends in Kentucky, so stay tuned for more ways to help. With love and gratitude, Oh Boy Records and the Prine family.