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Quilt from Bluegrass heads to Emerald Isle

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

When JD Wilkes and his bandmates tour Europe, they often find themselves playing in punk rock clubs on the other side of the tracks.

So it was a welcome change when Wilkes received the chance to serve as a cultural ambassador for his hometown, donning a suit and a string tie to tour the Mansion House of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland.

"It was very regal, very prestigious, and I was honored to represent Paducah abroad," said Wilkes, frontman for American roots band The Dirt Daubers.

The musician visited with writer, actor and politician Gerard Mannix Flynn, who was representing Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn, during the Dirt Daubers' three-day tour of the Emerald Isle earlier this month. The two exchanged gifts in a gesture of friendship from one UNESCO Creative City to another.

Wilkes gave Flynn a quilt created and donated by Sandy Sheffield of Brandon, Fla. The Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau had purchased the quilt from the National Quilt Museum during its auction this year.

And Wilkes returned to Paducah with a couple of books, including a copy of Flynn's novel, "Nothing to Say," to give to Mayor Gayle Kaler.  

Despite the jet lag that left Wilkes "barely functioning," he recalls the day in Dublin as one of the best experiences of his life. One of his favorite moments of the trip was looking up from the group's gig in Dublin and finding Flynn in the middle of the audience.

He said these kinds of cultural exchanges help to reinforce Paducah's relationships with other creative cities and secure the town's place on the cultural map. Paducah was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art in 2013 and has since been making efforts to partner with other cities in the network.

"The way I see it, Kentucky and Ireland have a lot in common, and this gave us an opportunity to acknowledge that. We have so much music (in common), and even the topography looks similar," he said.

The musician said he'd happily represent his hometown again. It's important to visit other continents, he said, in order to spread the word about Paducah and learn about other cultures. And even if you've already been dubbed a Kentucky Colonel, an extra touch of prestige never hurts.

"It really helps me win back a little more integrity in the eyes of my parents, who think I'm burning my life away," Wilkes joked, "so thank you, Lord Mayor."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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