Sight Unsound: Postmodern Gen-X performers grace Louisville stages

Rocky Votolato: brings his warm, fuzzy and punky style of alt country to Headliners Thursday evening.

Rocky Votolato: brings his warm, fuzzy and punky style of alt country to Headliners Thursday evening.

Aptly dubbed “poet laureate of the Northwest music scene” by Travis Hay on the Three Imaginary Girls Web site, Rocky Votolato inspires parallels to the Louisville scene’s potential poet laureate, Will Oldham. Both men sprouted in country music territory (Votolato in Texas) and proceeded to grow thanks to punk scenes (Votolato in Seattle) only to fully bloom in the as-yet-unnamed genre that is some sort of postmodern evolution in indie music. Often described with the misnomer “alt country” or some variety thereof, the genre boasts these qualities: 1) amazing songwriting, 2) warm, fuzzy acoustic guitar, and 3) something unidentifiably punk. It’s hard to say exactly what differentiates these guys from your standard contemporary folkies; perhaps it’s their transparent roots.

    The 28-year-old Votolato will grace the Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) stage tomorrow night, Nov. 2, along with William Elliot Whitmore and Lucero. He’s never stopped in Louisville before but says he’s always wanted to, “especially because of Will Oldham and the Palace Brothers,” whom he cites as influential to his style. Votolato also names Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as artists he emulated before discovering his own sound, which is a little like Iron and Wine’s but definitely all his own — and punctuated by a serious talent for lyricism.

    The songs on Votolato’s recent release, Makers (the confessed namesake of something delicious and Kentucky), look and read like poems and tend to lack typical song components like choruses. He admits to holding a bachelor’s degree in English literature as well as a poetry-reading habit, joking that the non-lyrical elements of music have to accompany words on the record but that (more seriously) he “definitely focus

Rocky Votolato: brings his warm, fuzzy and punky style of alt country to Headliners Thursday evening.

Rocky Votolato: brings his warm, fuzzy and punky style of alt country to Headliners Thursday evening.

on the lyrics most; it’s the most important part of what I’m doing.”

    Back to bourbon, Votolato is quick to confirm the Maker’s Mark allusion in his title track, which also deals with death. As an alternative reading, he offers, “the existential preoccupation with your Maker,” adding, “but really it came from the brand of bourbon.” “Makers” lyrics include: filling and refilling up the glass with Maker’s/we both agreed The Final Moment!/the sweetest remedy to ever be delivered!/heaven or heavenless we’re all headed for the same sweet darkness.

    Votolato lives up to the poet label, although he says he doesn’t know how he “would rate as a poet without the music to support the words.” Makers does what he says good writing should do: tells stories and paints pictures without clichés. He is the original he aspires to be.

    To see the live interpretation of the recordings, bring $14 to Headliners unless you buy the $12 tickets available in advance at ear X-tacy or via TicketWeb. Scheduled start time is 9 p.m. Bring your earplugs because Votolato’s shows are electric. He says he “never could get used to playing an acoustic guitar live.” He’s referring to his past as a rocker, when he played in bands like Waxwing, which also featured his brother Cody Votolato (currently of the Blood Brothers). The show should be “upbeat compared to the record” — thanks to guest drummer Roy Berry of Lucero — with “a little more energy, not completely changed in form but a little different approach.” The new punk rock.

    Speaking of rural upbringings and Tom Waits-Johnny Cash influences, William Elliot Whitmore is Lucero’s other opener and is credited with performing in a style that could be dubbed the new classic country. As for Lucero, they play a free in-store preview at ear X-tacy (1534 Bardstown Road, 452-1799), just hours before the Headliners show, at 6:30 p.m.

Tonight you can catch Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks at the Brown Theatre (315 W. Broadway, 562-0100, $28-$38), where you’ll find Keller Williams ($20) tomorrow night. Tedeschi and The Derek Trucks Band, performing separately, should deliver an all-American bluesy (former) and rootsy (latter) evening. Williams delves more into new bluegrass but not newgrass. Oft described as a one-man jam band (our favorite kind), this dude was born on 4-20, literally. Technically, he was born before the Keller Williams Realty company — a franchise of which has recently landed in Louisville — was founded, an unfortunate coincidence, due to the surnames-as-first-names trend, perhaps.

Younger than Keller Williams and even younger than Rocky Votolato are the Garza brothers, a.k.a. Los Lonely Boys, who will take their place among the influx of Generation X performers invading Louisville this week. The Chicanos perform at the Palace (625 Fourth St., 583-4555) on election night, which for anyone in the mushy middle, is Tuesday, Nov. 7. The concert will also feature Grammy-winning activist band Ozomatli. Hope they’ve cast their absentee ballots. Show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $32.

Over the next few days, Brigid Kaelin will audition for the reality TV show “Nashville Star,” having made it into the “Lucky 56” group of initial finalists. Regionals will take place in Nashville Nov. 1-3, and from there, the final cast will be chosen and prepped for the season premiere on Thursday, Jan. 11. Kaelin performs at Phoenix Hill Tavern (644 Baxter Ave., 589-4957) on Tuesday, Nov. 7 with Stoney LaRue, a Red Dirt (indie country!) artist. The show is $10 and starts at 8 p.m.

According to, these bands are playing at Headliners on Sunday, Nov. 5: Norma Jean, Between the Buried and Me, Fear Before the March of Flames, and Misery Signals. Cost is $17; starting time is 10 p.m.

Same night, cheaper price ($8) and different venue: Burden of a Day & Kiss the Gunner w/ With All its Beauty + TBA at Bulldog Café (10619 W. Manslick Road, 380-0600).

Send suggestions and correspondence for “Sight Unsound” to music editor Stephen George at [email protected]