Issue July 9, 2013

Music Issue 2013: Cry Uncle

Rebecca and Bill Kessler are exhausted. Bookers, promoters, bartenders, greeters, bouncers, announcers and even housekeepers, the pair have done it all, pouring their blood, sweat and tears into music venue Uncle Slayton’s.

Opened in March 2011, Uncle Slayton’s has a long history, from its previous incarnation as Skull Alley to the 19th-century brickwork peeking through the dozens of posters plastered all over the walls, a visual testimonial to the Kesslers’ work.

With a capacity of 142 people and what Rebecca dubs a “Gen-X/Baby Boomer crowd,” Uncle Slayton’s fills a unique niche in the Louisville music scene: cozy and intimate, with acoustics any musician would love.

The spot became a darling with performers, many of whom have come to call the venue home. “Musicians come here to hang out,” says Bill. “You don’t see that a lot of places. It’s almost like a collective for them.”

“We’ve turned into pretty much the only viable listening room in town,” Rebecca says. “Because of our size, our competition isn’t necessarily other music venues: It’s every pizza joint that puts music in the corner for no cover. Most places in this town, people go to eat or party and everything else is background. We’re about the music.”

While acoustics and size may play a role, the lion’s share of the credit for Uncle Slayton’s success goes to the warmth and professionalism of the Kesslers themselves. “We take care of our musicians,” Rebecca summarizes. Artists from Justin Paul Lewis to Frazey Ford rave about the green room, sound engineer Dylan Curry and Rebecca’s trademark hugs.

“These people on the walls, they’re more than just posters,” reflects Bill. “They’re our extended family. It’s going to be the hardest on them.”

Come July 27, the local listening room will shut its doors for good. “At the end of the day, we realized this place was just too small, and too much work for two people, to grow the way we’d like to,” explains Rebecca.

Still, for all their waxing poetic about the vast network of friends and the incredible experiences they’ve shared, the Kesslers insist they have no regrets about their decision not to renew their lease come August.

“We’re going to miss it, but we’re not sentimental about it,” says Rebecca. “I think a lot of people might be, but I’m really proud of what we’ve done. Who knows what will happen down the road, for us or for this location? For now, we’re taking a big ol’ breather.”

“At the end of the day, it would be nice to talk about something other than music,” Bill admits. “Maybe we won’t even have anything to talk about.”

“And we’ll actually be able to go see shows,” Rebecca interjects. “’Cause right now, it’s our job, so it’s very hard for us to muster the wherewithal to go see something else.”

Bill sums it up: “Just speaking personally? I’m going to stride, imbibe and revive. That’s about as poetic as I can get.”