On The Road With NPR Music: Laura Shine At WFPK, Louisville Kentucky

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place.

This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Name: Laura Shine

Member station: 91.9 WFPK Radio Louisville, Kentucky

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Assistant Program Director, On Air Host M-F 3-6pm, Host of Live Lunch (Fridays at Noon), Local Music Liaison

1. When people think of music in Louisville, what do they think of?

My Morning Jacket and front man Jim James who have done more for the image of Louisville having a vibrant music scene than any other ambassador out there. Second to that would be Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy who has an extremely loyal following worldwide. His songs have been covered by a diverse group of artists from Johnny Cash to Deer Tick. Also, a band that is cited quite often as a major influence to many Indie rock artists is Slint, who disbanded after their second landmark album Spiderland in 1990. People think of mainstream rock to underground alternative mostly when they think of Louisville.

2. How do you help curate the Louisville musical scene?

My part in helping curate the music scene involves my role as Local Music Liaison for WFPK. I listen to all of the demos we are sent by local artists and choose what will go into rotation from there. Air-play is still a big part of a band’s exposure to an audience which translates to CD or download sales of their music, being booked into local venues, local venues asking us for recommendations for opening acts for national artists in town and the connections that grow from there.

3. How has the Louisville music scene evolved over the last few decades?

The Louisville music scene has always had interesting and diverse genres expressed through some amazing bands. In the 70’s the whole New Grass Revival sound evolved from this town with artists like Sam Bush, John Cowan and Bela Fleck taking the traditional music of Kentucky known as Bluegrass and adding different instrumentation to the mix and then taking it into completely new directions.

The 80’s saw lots of New Wave bands form then toward the end of the decade the dark heavy alternative rock of Slint, Rodan and Kinghorse took over. WFPK started our new format known as Adult Album Alternative in 1996 and since then we’ve seen My Morning Jacket take flight and several other bands and artists make waves nationally and internationally from the non-traditional bluegrass of The 23 String Band to the dance-electro pop of VHS or Beta. I would also like to add that we now have a growing festival on our waterfront each July called the Forecastle Festival which features not only national artists like The Black Keys and Flaming Lips and many others, but local artists too and is increasingly becoming a destination for music lovers.

4. What would you say is the most unique thing about the Louisville music scene?

The most unique thing about our music scene to me is how all of these very different bands, different from each other, are able to play side by side and draw so much support from the community and from each other. There’s a lot of cheering each other on, helping each other out. Once upon a time, especially in the 80’s and 90’s it didn’t seem as much of an inclusive community but it certainly does now and that’s really cool. Everybody wins when a band does good!

5. What are three new up and coming bands on the Louisville scene right now and what makes them distinct?

Houndmouth, Cheyenne Mize and Ben Sollee are the three that come to mind. Houndmouth is a young band with a very old sound, reminiscent of The Band incorporating a Southern Gothic feel to their music, great harmonies, good story telling. They’ve recently signed with Rough Trade Records and will be doing a home show in April at a large venue that is sure to sell-out.

Cheyenne Mize is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter and has a new album coming out soon on Yep Roc records. She has great appeal to differing age groups and people who like everything from folk to indie rock.

Ben Sollee is now signed to Thirty Tigers Records. He’s a brilliant cellist and songwriter and absolutely magnetic performer. Who else is singing and playing Cello and drawing thousands to their shows of all ages? Only Ben that I know of!

6. For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

1. My Morning Jacket – “Mahgeetah”

2. Cheyenne Marie Mize – “Among The Grey”

3. Ben Sollee – “The Globe”

4. Houndmouth – “Penitentary”

5. VHS or Beta – “Can’t Believe A Single Word”

6. Bonnie Prince Billy – “The Sounds Are Always Begging”

Catch our entire On the Road With NPR Music series here.

[Photo Credit: Credit: Jessica Erin Higgins Photography]

Two Reasons to Visit Louisville: The Kentucky Derby Museum And The Muhammad Ali Center

You don’t have to be a sports fan or a museum buff to appreciate the fact that Louisville has two of America’s best sports-related museums: the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Muhammad Ali Center. I’m not much of a sightseer, and my wife would sooner clean the toilets than watch a boxing match or a horse race. But we could have easily spent all day in these outstanding museums.

The Kentucky Derby has been held every year since 1875 and the famous twin spires at Churchill Downs are a national landmark. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark, of Lewis-Clark expedition fame, founded Churchill Downs after spending two years in Europe where he developed an interest in horse racing. This year more than 160,000 people turned up for the race; only 54,000 of them had seats, while the rest pile into the infield in the center of the track.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people in the infield see no horse racing at all,” said Tiara, our guide for a walking tour around Churchill Downs. “But 99% of them don’t care. They’re here for the party.”

The derby is held on the first Saturday in May, but if you don’t want to take part in the Derby day madness, definitely hit the museum, and, if you can, take in a race. Churchill Downs plays host to more than 800 horse races per year, so there are ample opportunities to see top-flight thoroughbred racing.

The tour starts with a walk past the headstones of four derby winners that are buried on the grounds. We learned that horses are cremated and normally only the head, heart and hooves are buried, but in the case of truly legendary horses – like Secretariat, who won the Derby in 1973 and still is the only horse to complete the race in less than two minutes – they are buried whole.

Two horses live at Churchill Downs year round – Perfect Drift, who placed third in the 2002 Derby, and Winston, a 19-year-old miniature horse that could be mistaken for a pony – and we had a chance to visit with both before pushing off to see the rest of the grounds.

We strolled past a statue of Pat Day, a jockey who won 2,500 races at Churchill Downs and more than $23 million in prize money during his career, and Tiara asked if we thought the diminutive little statue reflected his actual height.

“He’s actually two inches shorter in real life,” she said. “He’s 4 foot 11, and the statue’s just over 5 feet.”

We passed the betting windows – Tiara said they open some 3,000 of them on Derby day – and made our way toward the track, which was empty and full of puddles on the day we visited.

“The seats in here sell out a year or two in advance,” Tiara said. “And if you want to sit in the best seats, you’d better be a celebrity or have plenty of money.”

We learned about a few of the Derby’s cherished rituals – drinking mint juleps, eating burgoo and singing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

The museum itself was just as interesting as the tour. My sons were hooked on an interactive jockey video game where you climb onto a horse and try to ride it to victory, while my wife was fixated on exhibits featuring fancy ladies hats worn on Derby day and another exhibiting jockey silks – the colorful jackets jockeys wear on race days that have evolved since the days when chariot drivers in ancient Rome wore variations of the same thing (there are now 25,000 registered designs).

I was hooked on the video booths, where you can sit and watch replays with commentary of every race dating back to the 1920s. You can sort through the choices by choosing close races, wins by long shots, runaways, and Triple Crown winners. We capped off our visit by checking out “The Greatest Race” a short but intense film about the Derby that is shown in a remarkable 360-degree cinema.

Muhammad Ali – World Class Fighter & Traveler

Muhammad Ali is probably the greatest sports personality of the 20th Century and Louisville’s Ali Center, opened in 2005 at a cost of $80 million, does the great man and his fascinating life justice. It’s a huge place that’s informative, interactive and entertaining. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Ali, but I came away with a deeper appreciation for what an interesting and influential personality Ali was.

He was born and raised in Louisville while the city was still segregated. Ali, then Cassius Clay, took up boxing at age 12 after his bike was stolen and a police officer suggested he join a recreational boxing league after he insisted he was going to “whup” the thief once he caught him. He rose through the local ranks, became an Olympic and heavyweight champion, converted to Islam, became a member of the Nation of Islam and then was stripped of his title for refusing to serve in Vietnam during the war.

After the Supreme Court ruled that his claim as a conscientious objector was legitimate, he was reinstated in 1971, and quickly regained his title. One could write a 1,000-page book on his personal life and not cover it all. Ali married four times (once to a 17-year-old) and had nine children, two from extramarital affairs. He was considered a dangerous rabble-rouser by many in the white establishment and was even under FBI surveillance for a time.

The museum chronicles all of this and more. Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome in 1984, but he’s remained remarkably active. I was struck by what a traveler Ali was and is. He fought in Zaire, The Philippines, England, Canada, Italy, Germany and beyond. He visited Ghana in 1964 and was greeted like a conquering hero. He made the hajj to Mecca in ’72 and visited Iraq in 1990 to seek freedom for hostages held by Saddam Hussein.

In 2002, he visited Afghanistan as a U.N. Messenger for Peace, and in 2009, he was again greeted like a rock star in Ireland, where he went to visit the ancestral home of his great-grandfather in County Clare. He’s done charity work in Indonesia, Morocco, and the Ivory Coast, among other places. And this summer, he took part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London. These days he spends most of his time in Scottsdale, Arizona, but he celebrated his 70th birthday in January at the museum and he still owns a home in Kentucky.

Aside from all the interactive exhibits, the museum also features a boxing ring, and some punching bags for those who want to get their aggression out. But I was hooked on the cinema area, where you can sit down and watch a number of old Ali fights. If you’re too young to have seen him fight or if you aren’t but want to relive the good old days, you’ll love this museum.

Other Ali landmarks in Louisville:

The Clay Home
3302 W. Grand Avenue

Central High School
1130 W. Chestnut St.

Columbia Gym- site where Clay’s bike was stolen and his early workouts
851 S. 4th Street

Presbyterian Community Center- site of the rec program where Clay learned to box
760 S. Hancock Street

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Kentucky’s Forbidden Donuts

For a place that doesn’t get a whole lot of national press, Kentucky must have as many claims to fame as any state in the country. There’s thoroughbred horseracing, famous family feuds, bluegrass music, and the nation’s most storied college basketball team. And in the food and drink arena, the Bluegrass State is known for KFC, the Bourbon Trail, mutton BBQ, hot browns, burgoo, and mint juleps, not to mention backwoods Old Kentucky favorites like squirrel and possum.
But I’d never heard of Kentucky as a mecca for donut connoisseurs until I read a piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago. William Grimes described the state as “the last calorie-filled province in an enormous swath of territory where the glazed twist, the apple fritter, the chocolate-iced Long John and the vanilla-cream Bismarck hold sway,” and I was hooked.

Regular readers might recall that I’ve gotten into trouble with my wife over the years for taking the family on long detours to Western New York State’s Amish Country in pursuit of donuts. With that unpleasantness in mind, I didn’t insist on hitting all seven donut shops scattered around the central and northern part of the state mentioned in the article. But we were already planning a long-weekend trip to Kentucky when the Times piece came out, so I added donuts to our weekend to-do list.

Our first stop was Hadorn’s Bakery, an institution in Bardstown, a lovely small town in the heart of bourbon country, for more than 26 years. Hadorn’s didn’t make Grimes’s list but I smelled the place from a block away and noticed the line snaking out the door at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and figured it had to be good.

I had to recalibrate my order three times while standing in line though, as the hungry individuals standing before me snatched the last of the pumpkin donuts and two other varieties before I could call out my order. But I came away with a half dozen decadent little beauties: two glazed, two chocolate glazed, a caramel glazed and a pretzel donut.

The plain glazed were 60 cents, the others 70 or 80, and they were all light, moist, fresh and melt-in-your mouth treats. On my walk back to the hotel my plan to divvy up the donuts when I got back to the room went up in smoke, and my wife and sons had to battle it out for what I’d left in the bag.

On Sunday morning, I was ready for round two at Burke’s Bakery in Danville, another appealing small town that hosted the Vice Presidential debate in October. Burke’s was part of the NYT piece and also came highly recommended by Stuart Meyer, who produces a show called Small Town Flavor. Meyer featured Burke’s in an episode of their show (see below), and after watching the segment, I was ready to get in my car and make the 8-hour drive before the clip had even ended.

But you never want to digest too much hype before seeing a movie and donuts are the same way. Burke’s doesn’t open until Noon on Sundays and they bake only a few varieties of donuts rather than their usual full assortment, so I was unable to get the coconut frosted special or any of the others I had in mind. I had a crumb donut and a glazed, both quite good and a bargain at 60 and 65 cents, but it wasn’t the this-donut-has-changed-my-life experience I was hoping for.

On Monday morning, I was geared up to try the maple bacon donuts at Nord’s Bakery, a popular neighborhood joint in the Germantown section of Louisville, but my sons, ages 3 and 5, decided to sleep in late, after we dragged them out late three nights in a row. I didn’t have the heart to wake them up but I feared that my chances of getting one of their famous maple bacon donuts were dwindling with each passing minute. Still, as we set off from our hotel around 10 a.m., I felt like we still had a shot since it was a weekday.

But by the time we found the place, alas, the maple bacon donuts were history. I did feel a bit better though when Martha, the young woman at the counter, told me they’d sold out hours ago, rather than mere minutes, and my mood brightened further after I tucked into a crunch nut donut that was full of nutty, coconut goodness.

We repaired to Sunergos Cofffee next door with a bag full of the little treasures, (they don’t mind and their coffee is great) and my 3-year-old son James devoured his chocolate glazed donut so quickly that he tried to attack my wife’s donut while it was still in her mouth – a sure sign that he knew he’d stumbled across a pretty damn good find.

“This kid is like the Homer Simpson of donuts,” my wife complained, trying to restrain him with an outstretched leg.

Nord’s was the clear winner of our Kentucky donut quest – the others were very good but these were sell-your-soul-to-the-devil-for-them good. Like the Rolling Stones song, I didn’t quite get the donuts I wanted, but I learned that the Bluegrass State does indeed have one more little known treasure to be proud of: its forbidden donuts. But if you want to reach donut nirvana in Kentucky, you need to get your donut loving behind out of bed much earlier than I did to get the good stuff.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Exploring Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail

When the world descends on Louisville for the Kentucky Derby the first weekend in May, those breathtaking thoroughbreds may be first on visitors’ minds, but you can bet bourbon is a close second. Bourbon’s legacy is intertwined with Louisville’s history going back even further than the Derby.

Pioneers in 18th-century Virginia’s Kentucky County found a source of liquid income farming on the 60 acres Thomas Jefferson granted them for raising native corn – they distilled their surplus corn into whiskey. With the local limestone-filtered water and the hardwood trees for barrels, the settlers put their whiskey-making knowledge to work. No matter that the land didn’t suit plowing or traditional rye – they hand-planted and raised indigenous corn. By the late 1700s this area had become part of Kentucky, and thanks to help from the French during the Revolution, one of the counties – one with a great number of the corn whiskey distilleries – was named Bourbon county (today it’s a dry county – go figure).

After the steamboat’s arrival in the Ohio River port town of Louisville in 1811, bourbon found new markets, particularly downriver in New Orleans. Much of the bourbon was shipped out of the original Bourbon county, and some say the Frenchmen reloading the barrels at the Falls of the Ohio (everything had to be unloaded and carried back to the ship on the other side) naturally preferred the name Bourbon.

So what exactly is bourbon, anyway? You may have heard this but it bears repeating. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. There are some specific requirements about proof, but the gist of it is this: Bourbon is made of more than half corn (at least 51%, though usually much more, among the rye, wheat and barley also used) and it must be aged in new charred-oak barrels. The best way to learn about bourbon, of course is to taste it, and the more open you are to learning from the local bartenders, the more they’ll be happy to impart. Just don’t confuse Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey with bourbon and you’ll get along fine.Louisville owes its bourbon dominance to Prohibition: Out of the six permits issued in the country during Prohibition to sell whiskey for “medicinal purposes,” four were in Louisville. Still today a third of Kentucky bourbon is distilled in city limits. And a new education and training center andartisan distillery opening this month downtown, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, will offer hands-on distilling instruction, classes and bottling servicesto small bottlers and those who want to be. Moonshine University, in particular, promises to be fun for enthusiasts.

More importantly to most visitors, though, Louisville is the center of the universe fortastingbourbon. Whether you’re still recovering from college shots or are a whiskey connoisseur, Louisville’s bourbon scene is as multi-faceted as the spirit itself. A day on the Urban Bourbon Trailcan introduce you to the Louisville beyond the cloying mint juleps and floppy hats of Derby.

First, be smart. Especially if you’re not used to it, bourbon sneaks up on you if you imbibe too fast, don’t drink enough water, or consume on an empty stomach. Stay hydrated, eat at every stop, and seriously, take taxis!

Your day starts at Dish on Market, housed in Louisville’s first color motion picture theater. Marshall, one of the two brothers who own the place, loves to talk history. Ask him to tell you about the building and talk bourbon. Meanwhile, order the Presidential breakfast, inspired by Harry Truman’s purported daily meal of toast, eggs, bacon, fruit, milk, and a shot of whiskey, in this case a generous pour of Old Grandad. “This is not your grandma’s bourbon,” laughs Marshall. You may feel like people are staring as your whiskey fumes waft about. That’s OK. They’re just too chicken to go hardcore this early. But like Marshall’s family motto says, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning. The key is to eat your breakfast first so you have a cushion for your bourbon.

Consider exploring the shops of NuLu (go east on Market) before lunch at Avalonon Bardstown Road, where you’ll want to wander later to check out the fun and funky shops. Like every stop on the trail, folks here know their stuff. If you like drama you might opt for the Flaming Pyroses, a Four Roses Manhattan set on fire (with Grand Marnier – “no bourbon was harmed in the making of this drink,” says Ryan, the bartender). For a less potent option, go for the Kentucky Mule, a twist on the classic bourbon and ginger, and familiar to fans of the vodka-based Moscow Mule. A range of lunch options well below $10 leaves you plenty to spend on drinks if you want to spring for the George T. Stagg, a $30 pour of liquid fire that will singe your lashes as you inhale, but burns oh so smoothly.

If it’s not madness at the track (that is, if you’re visiting outside of Derby week), hit the Derby Cafe in the afternoon to study up on your bourbon, and if you must have a mint julep, kick back at the bar.

After a rest, head for the old-fashioned opulence of The Brown Hotel. Piano music in the lobby bar will set the tone for your genteel sipping. Since this is your first evening stop, ease your way in with a Kentucky Cider – the light Basil Hayden joins sparkling apple cider and lemon for a lovely aperitif. Order a small plate or two – a recent option showcased country ham on brioche with a crayfish salsa, the perfect bite to whet your appetite.

A few blocks, and light years away, next up is the bar at Proof on Main. The restaurant for 21C Museum Hotel, repeatedly ranked among the top 10 hotels in the world, this is your “see and be seen” hotspot stop. Craft cocktails are offered with a selection of heartbreakingly delectable snacks. Don’t miss the cured meats plate, lonzino, lardo, and smoked grapes. The bar menu changes seasonally, but you could ask nicely for a Gold Rush for an all-too-easy-to-down honey, lemon and bourbon drink. Sip among the well-heeled crowd, then take a spin around the confrontingly contemporary art collection.

If you’ve paced yourself, you’re ready for dinner. You’re off to Baxter Station, where you’re unlikely to bump into tourists. Instead, this joint serves comfort fare to a regular crowd of its Irish Hill neighbors, families, white-haired long-timers and a sprinkling of hipsters. Traces of its past remain – once a saloon popular with nearby train station employees (no women allowed in those days), then a grocery during Prohibition, and back to a tavern until a rave restaurant review of the food turned it into a restaurant. Leftover door signage to the twinkly-lit back room remains because they don’t see any need to scratch away the past. This is pretense-free food and drink, no craft cocktails or fusion fuss here. The bourbon fried chicken, hot and crispy as nature intended, will fill you up nicely. Try Old Fashioned with Woodford (invented in Louisville) or choose your bourbon neat from the bar-tab friendly list.

Wrap up your night with dessert at Bourbons Bistro, a mecca for bourbon-lovers with more than 130 selections. Grab a chair at the bar for serious discussion. Tell the bartender what you like – caramel and vanilla, for instance – and he’ll give you a knowledgeable recommendation, like Vintage 17 Year. If you’re not up to straight bourbon, order the Bourbon Cobbler. Dessert in a glass, this sweet cocktail will go down so easily you might find yourself at the bottom tempted to order the 1969 Old Crow, a rare bourbon in a ceramic chess piece – you’ll see the face scowling as he keeps watch over the bar – that costs a cool $125. You might actually see someone order it, and watching a patron sip a drink that spendy is entertainment in and of itself. To finish the night, have the bread pudding. The towering carb-fest not only tastes amazing, but soaks up all that bourbon. You’ll need it – tomorrow is another day in Louisville.

Dana McMahanis a Louisville-based travel, food and fitness writer. Her articles have appeared in Delta Sky magazine, Fodors.com, TheDailyMeal.com, the Huffington Post, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other outlets. She blogs here.

NYC’s ‘The Out’ hotel opens; Louisville plans their own gay hotel

NYC’s “The Out” hotel is finally opening its doors to guests today, reports HotelChatter, bringing to the city the first hotel actively marketing to the gay community. Rates start at $150, and the hotel says that if you tweet or share information online about your upcoming trip, they’ll give you a complimentary room upgrade.

Great. But let’s just say we’re not all that shocked by the opening of a hotel catering to the gay community in a city as big as New York.

But a gay hotel in Louisville, Kentucky? Now that’s news.

The Courier-Journal is reporting that plans are in the works for a 55-room boutique hotel in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood.

The hotel, called the Vu, will be located in a former warehouse with investments to be lead by a local businessman, also the owner of Louisville gay bar Connection, which bills itself as “one of the 60 best gay bars in the world.”

Rooms are expected to run just $150 – $175 a night and construction will hopefully begin this year.
What do you think – is a gay hotel in Louisville (or NYC) still scandalous, or is it just another hotel opening?