When artists perform at the Master Musicians Festival, they become members of the family. The 2019 festival will be a homecoming for one of those family members, who returns to the stage not only as the headliner, but as a leader of the Americana music movement.
First appearing at MMF in 2012 shortly after beginning his solo career, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit will close the 26th annual festival sponsored by Don Franklin Somerset, scheduled for July 19-20, 2019, at Somerset Community College’s Festival Field. Isbell has taken the Americana genre by storm since his MMF debut, garnering significant praise — and four Grammys — for his albums Something More Than Free in 2015 and last year’s The Nashville Sound. He has also received numerous Americana Music Honors & Awards during the last decade.
“One of the most unique characteristics of our festival is the board’s ability to find and feature artists just before they make it big,” MMF president Tiffany Finley said. “The Avett Brothers come to mind. St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Jason Isbell. We are incredibly honored Jason Isbell is returning to our stage, having risen to the top of the Americana scene and experiencing continued success. It is a wonderful testament to the blood, sweat and tears we put in to this festival.”
Alabama native Isbell, 39, is best known and most loved for his gift of musical authenticity — for taking big, messy human experiences and compressing them into combustible packages made of rhythm, melody and madly efficient language. Many of his songs focus on his own life experiences — alcohol addictions, anxiety, love and loss — but his listeners often empathize, feeling as if his stories are their own. His wife, singer/songwriter/fiddle player Amanda Shires, performed solo at MMF in 2018.
In fact, a family theme exists with many of this year’s performers. Playing just before Isbell on Saturday evening is husband-and-wife duo The War and Treaty. Michael Trotter is a wounded warrior who found his voice while serving in Iraq, when he was pulled from the frontlines to write songs for the fallen. Wife Tanya is a lifelong artist, drawn to singing’s power to take another’s pain away. Together they bring funky bass lines, keys, lap steel, acoustic strings, and stripped-down percussion to create a swampy Southern soul bed for their transcendent vocals.
Also joining the family in 2019 is Muhlenburg County, Kentucky’s Lost Dog Street Band, another husband-and-wife duo that has crafted a distinct sound best described as “dark country.” In the same vein as country-legend Guy Clark, the band’s Benjamin Tod weaves his melodies and lyrics together to offer listeners an unapologetically raw and authentic account of the human experience.
On Friday night, MMF brings its best blues game with headliner Cedric Burnside, Grammy-nominated in 2015 for Best Blues Album and recipient of the Blues Music Awards Drummer of the Year honor for four consecutive years. The 39-year-old still lives near Holly Springs, Mississippi, in a home where he was raised by his grandfather, the late singer/songwriter/guitarist R.L. Burnside whom Cedric famously played with, just as his own father, drummer Calvin Jackson, did. Taking the stage before Burnside is Charley Crockett, whose unique approach to American roots music — a mix of Texas blues, classic country and Cajun soul — has earned him an audience on both sides of the Atlantic.
And this is only five artists on the MMF lineup, which features not only a packed main stage, but the return of the Eastwood Records Stage sponsored by Citizens National Bank in Art Valley and the addition of acoustic music inside the SomerSessions tent. SomerSessions is a Somerset, Kentucky, recording studio that brings listeners local and regional music, art and stories from southern Kentucky.
“We had an incredible response to our addition of the second stage last year for the 25th anniversary,” Finley said. “We want to bring that back year after year — for music to be everywhere you turn when you’re on Festival Field. The heart of our mission is to deliver a rich and affordable music experience for the people of southern Kentucky, and we’re able to keep ticket prices low with the generous help of our title sponsor, Don Franklin Somerset, and a host of supporting sponsors. This year we’re making that experience even more abundant.”
Held annually in July, the Master Musicians Festival has been named Southeast Tourism Society’s Festival of the Year and the Governor’s Awards for the Arts Outstanding Community Arts Organization.
In addition to two days of eclectic, diverse music, the Master Musicians Festival offers meet-and-greet workshops hosted artisans and musicians, as well as a wide variety of art and food vendors. MMF also showcases juried artisans and craftsmen, and recognizes a Kentucky artist whose festival-themed work is auctioned and featured on merchandise.
Weekend passes to the 26th annual festival sponsored by Don Franklin of Somerset are on sale now on the MMF website and through Eventbrite. MMF continues its tradition of being a family-oriented event, as children 12 and younger are admitted free. For more information, be sure to check out their website.
Master Musicians Festival Festival Lineup: July 19-20, 2019
Friday, July 19, 2019
Spooky Fox 4:00 PM
Nicholas Jamerson 5:30 PM
The Tillers 7:00 PM
Art Auction 8:00 PM
Charley Crockett 8:30 PM
McNeil Voice Studio Winner 9:30 PM
Cedric Burnside 10:00 PM
Saturday, July 20, 2019
MMF Songwriter Session featuring Darrin Hacquard, 11:45 AM
Tim Delonjay, John Clay, Tim Lancaster, Eric Bolander
The Handshake Deals 1:30 PM
Mama Said String Band 3:00 PM
Lifetime Achievement Award 4:00 PM
The Josephines 4:30 PM
Lost Dog Street Band 6:00 PM
Art Auction 7:00 PM
The War and Treaty 7:30 PM
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit 9:15 PM
Eastwood Records Stage presented by Citizens National Bank (Art Valley)
Friday, July 19, 2019
Senora May 5:00 PM
Blind Corn Liquor Pickers 6:30 PM
Jericho Woods 8:00 PM
Saturday, July 20, 2019
Lylak 1:00 PM
MMF Songwriter Session featuring 2:30 PM
Abby Hamilton, Jen Tackett and Wonky Tonk
Kevin Dalton & The Tuesday Blooms 4:00 PM
The Baja Yetis 5:30 PM
Laid Back Country Picker 7:00 PM
Johnny Conqueroo 8:30 PM
Saturday, July 20, 2019
Chris and Jenn Shouse 1:15 PM
The Winetree 2:45 PM
Pearlie Jenkins 4:15 PM
Sean Whiting 5:45 PM
Chelsea Nolan and Josh Nolan 7:15 PM
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.