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Arts, music festival helps musicians connect

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

For eight years, the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival has been idealistic in its drive to promote up-and-coming performing artists.

About 30 musicians and bands -- some local, some regional -- will each have their turn onstage during the two-day event Friday and Saturday.

The festival doesn't focus on any single genre, said music director Seth Murphy, but networking is one goal; local bands are purposely paired with regional artists from Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, and anywhere in a 350-mile radius.

"We have people coming from all different cities to show them what Paducah has, and give our musicians a chance to get out in other communities," Murphy said.

"(It's) a great sense of community. No one's getting lost in that big-city shuffle, and I've also been happy to focus on just curating that Harrison Street stage with songwriters."

One performer's first official act will be at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, on the Harrison Street Songwriter Stage.

Drew Thompson of Murray won the 2017 WKMS Singer-Songwriter Contest in March with tunes about love and heartache, sounded through a nostalgic country voice.

This time he might bring a more lighthearted repertoire -- possibly influenced by wrapping up his doctorate in political science at Louisiana State University.

"And with getting married in December, I've got more love in my life than when I wrote those old songs," Thompson said. "I have some new tunes that are a little happier. Knowing I had to write new material, I've branched out."

A veteran in the local music scene, Chris Black and the Eagles of Unemployment plays main stage at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The performance doubles as the release show for his record from Nashville: "230 West Allmon St. Apt B."

A peculiar name for a record, he admits.

"There's about five stories behind (the name)," said Black, who describes the feeling of a guitar in his hand as cathartic. "Probably the most politically correct one is that it's a house I lived at in my hometown. It's where I cut my teeth writing songs."

"When I was younger and first started playing guitar, I really wanted to be Jimi Hendrix. I'm definitely not Jimi Hendrix, but now I can play stuff -- just not nearly as good as Jimi Hendrix."

Black said while Paducah's small-town vibe is unmistakable, opportunities are abundant to support a growing musical community.

"Many people in the community keep the Paducah music scene going 365 days a year," he said. "It's nice to see bands you know showcased at something that brings a lot of people to town. It's a payoff for those who do it day in and day out when there aren't thousands of people running around."

Joining Black during his closing show will be Leonard the Band members Brian Rader, singer and guitarist; and keyboardist Zack Winding. Their band performs main stage at 5:45 p.m. Friday.

"Chris has done a lot for the music community of Paducah," said their bass guitarist Adam Rader. "He's been a constant in the local scene, and in my opinion we wouldn't be doing what we're doing now without him as a musical mentor."

In their fourth year at the festival, Leonard the Band still basks in the afterglow of last year's connection with performing band Ona. Last year's festival led to what Adam called "a killer afterparty show" -- and later, a sweet gig in Huntington, West Virginia.

Drummer Taylor Rader said the bond was formed through the musical diversity both bands shared.

Adam agreed, adding the festival's networking was evident.

"It's still a local arts and music festival, but it's cool to bring in (bigger) acts," Rader said. "It goes into the whole networking thing. You need people doing this for a living, and it gives you perspective on what we can do in another city."

When it comes to the Lower Town Festival's drive to showcase a wide variety of local performers, Leonard the Band matches that attitude mile-for-mile.

"When we're asked what genre we play, I almost feel pretentious trying to put on a label on it," Rader said. "When we got together the goal was to write songs that 'felt right' -- not just something that sounded good on the radio."

"There's been a lot of bands that have popped up â ¦ It's inspiring for local artists to showcase themselves."

Visit lowertownamf.com/music/music-schedule for the complete lineup.

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