#1 My Morning Jacket performing with the Louisville Youth Orchestra and Wax Fang
As "local" bands go, MMJ is not too shabby. They always put on a killer show and having them christen (for me, anyway) the brand new Yum! Center with our very own Louisville Youth Orchestra and Wax Fang on Halloween eve made for a very special evening. I'll always remember the Colonel Sanders tribute.
#2 Josh Ritter at the Brown
One of the best songwriters around also happens to be one of the most engaging performers, and the two don't necessarily go hand in hand. Touring behind another stellar album, So Runs the World Away, Ritter's concert at the Brown was a joyful experience.
#3 Titus Andronicus at Skull Alley
Sadly, Skull Alley is closing down, but they did a fine job of bringing in interesting bands for a diversity of tastes. This was one of my favorite shows of the year. I'd heard of Titus Andronicus, but hearing them perform live made me a fan. Compelling, smart, emotionally rich punk music at its finest.
#4 Cabin's new album
I was really impressed with Cabin's most recent album of well-crafted, thoughtfully written, and beautifully performed songs. Among the Rectangles and Changeable Parts should be on your Christmas-giving list for music lovers. They are doing our city proud. (Photo credit: Davey Wilson)
#5 The Flaming Lips at Forecastle
The spectacle and excitement of their show for the finale of Forecastle was inspired. Wayne Coyne rolling out into the crowd in his trademark bubble, the dancing guys and gals, the confetti, and the trippy music under the starry skies on the river was a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
#6 Brandi Carlile at the Brown Theater
I started the year off right with one of my favorite singers, who I had previously only seen perform with the Louisville Orchestra. Brandi is personable, ultra-talented, and I always enjoy her great covers of songs from musicians that she admires like Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Elton John.
#7 J. Roddy Walston and the Business
I've seen J. Roddy a few times around town, most recently, a typically sweaty, hairy, high-energy, all-around rocking set at Zanzabar in March. Their self-titled debut album should be a stocking stuffer for all fans of rock and roll. "Don't Break the Needle" is one of the most kick-ass songs of the year.
#8 Seeing the Kentucky Opera trio
I usually take in an opera here and there, but this season, I got to see all three of KY Opera's productions: Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci, The Elixir of Love, and Madama Butterfly at the Brown. I had the opportunity to interview a couple of the singers and take a peek behind the scenes in wigs and makeup. If you've been meaning to expand your musical horizons in a classical direction, plan to see at least one production in the 2011 season. It makes for a beautiful night out on the town.
#9 Justin Townes Earle at Headliners
I saw Earle after his eventful night in Indianapolis that landed him in the slammer. He may have been a little punch drunk still, but I thoroughly enjoyed this show at Headliners. After an unplanned hiatus touring behind his fine new album Harlem River Blues, he's back on his feet and back on the road. I'm wishing him well.
#10 Joe Pug and Vandaveer at Skull Alley
I'm cheating a little by grouping these two, but they are my two best "discoveries" of the year, and in fact they did play a show together at Skull Alley. I first saw Vandaveer (Mark Heidinger and Rose Guerin) opening for Mark Olson at the Rudyard Kipling, and they floored me. Two voices and one guitar create a gorgeous wall of sound. I became an instant fan. Not having really heard Pug until Justin Townes Earle mentioned his name to me, I had a similar, immediate experience of becoming a Pug fan. He seems like a nice dude, I love his voice and delivery, and he's one of the best songwriters around, despite his tender years. (If you hurry, you can download Pug's entire EP, Nation of Heat for free through Christmas.)
Honorable Mention: Getting to interview Gordon Lightfoot was an honor. He's one of my family's favorites and I grew up with his songs. Seeing him perform at the Palace was very cool.