It’s somehow fitting that one of the last hurrahs for live music in Eastern Kentucky, pre-COVID-19 was a massive three-show run by native son Tyler Childers at the Appalachian Wireless Arena.

From all accounts, the New Year’s Eve-themed concerts met and exceeded expectations, with Childers absolutely tearing the house down.

There was one more big event at the arena, as Brantley Gilbert and company rolled in for a raucous February date, but the bigger news that emerged after that was the capacity restrictions and cancellations. Groups and artists such as Hank Williams Jr., Poison, the Steve Miller Band, Marty Stuart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Travis Tritt and Rodney Carrington all announced the cancellation of their upcoming events.

Then was the cancellation of the festivals and events that often serve as showcases for musicians — both local and national, and there was a lot of silence.

Some communities were able to move forward with events. Prestonsburg, most notably, was able to host some events at the Mountain Arts Center and even forged ahead with the 2020 Jenny Wiley Festival. It was  a risky move, but for those who attended, it likely served as a moment of relative normalcy in some strange days. We also never heard of any outbreaks stemming from the festival or surrounding events, so the risk may very well have been worth it.

But for a region which has come to be a site that is both conducive to producing new artists and welcoming musical acts, it was an eerily silent 2020. That’s changing and the sound of music reawakening and echoing through the mountains is becoming too loud to ignore. The music is back.

The Appalachian Wireless Arena’s dance card is quickly filling up — with Main Street Live restarting this past weekend, and concerts by Jamey Johnson/Whiskey Myers and Alice Cooper/Ace Frehley and acts such as The Past Time Band, County Wide, Midlife Crisis, Down to the River and others on tap for both inside and outside the arena, in addition to numerous events.

The Mountain Arts Center isn’t playing around with acts such as Steve Earle and the Dukes, Jason Bishop and the Appalachian Strings and Things festival on tap for summer for both the MAC and its Jenny Wiley Ampitheater. The venue’s fall lineup is also being set with acts such as Crowder, Larkin Poe and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band set to play. Check out the MAC’s website and Prestonsburg Tourism’s website, as well as the pages of this very newspaper for news on these and other events.

Hazard has already announced that this year’s North Fork Music Festival is a go, featuring artists such as headliner Magnolia Boulevard and acts such as Rye Davis, Dark Moon Hollow, Waylon Nelson, Luke Trimble, Bourbon Branch, Branden Martin, Andrew Moore and Jasper Hollow. That festival will be held July 23 and 24. Hazard will also most likely play host to the Black Gold Festival this September, after 2020’s cancellation.

Paintsville isn’t having the being left out this year, either. In addition to the announcement that the city will play host to the Kentucky Apple Festival again this year, in the midst of the pandemic, some exciting news on the music front was announced that you may have missed.

On Aug. 6, the city will witness the opening of Alley on Main, a music venue that hopes to play host to some of the best and brightest of particularly country, Americana and folk (heck, who really knows the difference anymore since the music of the mountains has become one of the primary drivers of inspiration in the music world these days — not a bad thing by the way).

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, the venue and city will host Alley Fest, a three-day concert event featuring headliners such as 49 Winchester, Nick Shoulders, Kentucky Headhunters, Justin Wells, Little Texas, Logan Halstead, John R. Miller and more. Not content to just open with that, the venue will host quickly-rising artist Sierra Ferrell on Aug. 26 and Strung Like a Horse on Sept. 17.

Just a short drive away from most of our counties is Whitesburg in Letcher County which will again play host to the Levitt AMP Music Series. This years’s lineup, which will begin on July 22 and run through late September, includes a wide range of genres and music types, from the opening act The Kentucky Headhunters to the season closers Magnolia Boulevard. Did I mention the shows are free at the Mountain Heritage Festival Stage in downtown Whitesburg? And did I also mention that, for some of the concerts, a free community meal will also be offered? Even if the musical genre on tap doesn’t scream “mountains” for some of these shows, the hospitality does.

Listen, if mountain music isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of rock going on as well. Just keep an eye on the pages of our newspapers for upcoming metal and rock shows, such as those featuring the Paintsville-based The Technicolor Nightmare, a band which includes one of our own news personnel — Paintsville Herald News Editor Waylon Whitson.

There’s diversity, there’s quality and there’s no lack of quantity coming up.

Music has always been part of the fabric of this community. Perhaps it’s just part of living in an area which can be so difficult and unforgiving. In recent years, especially as the world has been rediscovering the beauty of mountain music, it has also become an economic factor, helping to pad some of the job losses we’ve faced during that time and bringing in visitors — and much-needed outside dollars.

That our leaders see this and are much more supporting of live music than they were in the past is a good thing. We can use this not to replace coal jobs but to help be part of a sustainable and diversified economy — something we’ve needed for some time.

That’s the practical. Seeing all this live music being offered throughout our region is a chance for us to heal after the traumas and chaos of 2020. Music is a thing that can bring us together, if we let it.

There’s something for everyone — rock, blues, country, bluegrass and everything in-between.

Support live local music, get out to as many shows as you can, support local musicians. It matters and if we didn’t learn that from 2020, I’m not sure we ever can learn it.

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