Heritage Music Series opens with first concert

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Nita Johnson, The Sentinel Echo, London, Ky.
·4 min read
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Mar. 10—Friday night's first concert of the Heritage Music Series was a journey back into the "old country music" defined by legendary artists such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and those who ruled the music industry in those days.

Singer/songwriters Rye Davis and Branden Martin provided that flashback in time with their performance at the Heritage Hills theater on Friday night — kicking off the first of three concerts highlighting Kentucky country music performers, that was a combined effort of Forcht Broadcasting, London-Laurel County Tourism Commission, and the Kentucky Country Music.

Rye Davis has performed at the 2019 World Chicken Festival and will return for this year's show. In 2019, Davis headlined the Johnny Cash tribute that highlighted his deep voice and love for country music of the past. He brought his own songs to Friday's show, including one paying tribute to persons with Alzheimer's disease that brought tears to the eyes of many audience members.

Now performing for seven years, Davis hails from Pig, Kentucky in Edmundson County. A former minor league baseball player, Davis cashed in his ball bats for a guitar and "just started playing." His influences were the "old country" that he made reference to during his show and how his songs relate to the people in this area.

"I started playing and writing around the same time. I tell people I learned to play the guitar for my own songs because it was easier than trying to learn someone else's," he joked.

He cites "Blue Jeans" as his favorite original song — and the first song he ever wrote, but he was quick to add Travis Tritt's "Where Corn Don't Grow" and Waylon Jennings' "Freedom to Stay" as two of many songs he has in his favorites list. "Blue Jeans," he said, is "the first song I ever wrote that made someone cry."

While the last year has been particularly difficult for live performers, Davis was appreciative of the opportunity to return to London to kick off the Heritage Music Series.

"I appreciate (the organizers) having me in London and would like to come back. I'm actually supposed to be back for this year's World Chicken Festival and am looking forward to it," he said.

Although this is Martin's first time in London, other than riding through on his motorcycle, he was excited about the chance to perform.

He began playing guitar and writing music and has been performing professionally for the past 15 years. He credits Waylon, Willie, Hank Williams Sr. and Jr., Ricky Scaggs and other musicians as his major influences although he quickly states that he loves all kinds of music.

"I just love music," he said. "I like bluegrass, southern rock, country. But I especially like the traditional country music."

Hailing from Owingsville, Kentucky, Martin accentuates his Kentucky heritage with the music that defines the region. Being able to share that with other music lovers is a joy that he cherishes.

"I appreciate everyone who worked to bring us here and I would love to come back to London and play again," he said.

Travis Shortt with Forcht Broadcasting said it was an honor to partner with Kelly Burton with London-Laurel County Tourist Commission and Jessica Blankenship with Kentucky Country Music for the music series.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to utilize this theater, even with the COVID pandemic, we've followed all the guidelines for social distancing — this theater seats 200 and we've arranged it for 70 people to do that," Shortt said. "All the performers for this series are Kentucky based country music."

"We appreciate the tourist commission, Kentucky Country Music, and local sponsors, Wildcat Harley Davidson for the studio sponsorship and Hometown Bank as the stage sponsor," he added. "With The Wolf (103.9) being the heritage radio station in London, we feel this is a great partnership."

For Blankenship with Kentucky Country Music, the Heritage Music Series allowed performers to highlight their talents to the stage following a year when live performances were few and far between. It also gives people the opportunity to enjoy live music once again.

"The main reason we wanted to do this is because COVID has had an impact on these performers who couldn't perform and the mental health aspects it has had," she said. "I've had several friends — musicians — who committed suicide last year. One tried twice — he was a musician — and I got to him in time. He's okay now.

"This gives people hope for the future, hope for musicians," she said. "This is done in a safe environment and laughter and applause is something that people need and want."

The next performance is Friday, March 12 at 7 p.m. with Wolfpen Branch performing. That concert is sold out. The final installment of the Heritage Music Series will be on Friday, March 19 with Tiffany Williams and Eric Bolander performing. Tickets are available but are limited and can be purchased for $15 per person.

For more information, contact the London-Laurel County Tourism Commission at (606) 878-6900.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com