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WKCTC Clemens Fine Arts Center Celebrates Local Artists with Virtual Performance Series

WKCTC's Clemens Fine Arts Center offers weekly virtual performances in their fall Stage Sessions series. This weekend, the series features Brenda J-Yazd and The Cuttin' Jessie's.

Since the pandemic shut down performance venues across the country in March of this year, WKCTC's Clemens Fine Arts Center has worked to provide opportunities for artists and audiences alike to enjoy musical, theatrical, and literary performances from the safety of their own homes. Director Todd Birdsong speaks with Tracy Ross about the Clemens Center's most recent virtual performance series, Stage Sessions.

The WKCTC Clemens Fine Arts Center kicked off their Stage Sessions series on October 3rd with local Americana and folk musician Fate McAfee. Since then, the venue has released weekly performances by regional artists every Saturday. Other featured artists include Wil Maring and Robert Bowlin and Daniel Morrow. "I took our Backstage Pass series that I had already planned out for the season just prior to the pandemic...and invited those artists I had already planned on presenting [to perform on Stage Sessions]," Birdsong explains. 

"Because we couldn't have any in-person, live events, we turned the Clemens stage into a type of TV studio," Birdsong continues. "Just adjacent to our space is our television production area. So with technology the way it is now, we run video signal through our ethernet cable through our network. We bring the cameras out and...are able to relatively easily set up a TV studio on-stage. The performances happen live to tape, so to speak, but there's no audience there."

"It kind of reminds me of old variety shows. When I was thinking of the set [design], I was thinking about old talk shows. I was thinking about shows like Dick Cavett meets Hee Haw," Birdsong laughs. "The background is these geometric diffuser-type shapes. A lot of the artists are very Americana and folk -- it's like this modern folk mesh aesthetic. We're having a lot of fun doing it."

"The television crew has been great to work with. My staff, I think, has really enjoyed it. I know that the artists really appreciate it. Everybody that comes in and plays really thanks us for giving them the opportunity to practice their craft when we're in this time of not being able to do those kinds of things," Birdsong says.

Stage Sessions' featured performers this Saturday, October 24th, are Brenda J-Yazd and Metropolis-based duo The Cuttin' Jessie's. Brenda J-Yazd is the only theatrical performance offered in the Stage Sessions series and was originally set to be included in the Clemens Center's Exposure Series. The theatrical peformance, "ATONE," is inspired by issues with women ministers J-Yazd has experienced while working with her church's Arts Ministry.

The Cuttin' Jessies, comprised of Luke Taylor and Steven Phalen, will also be featured this Saturday. "They are really high energy, a lot of fun," Birdsong says. "I just recently discovered them...maybe last summer or last fall. They were one of the ones I wanted to present at the Clemens." The following week, another project of Luke Taylor's, Pep Talk, will also be featured in the series. "[Pep Talk] is a five-piece. It's kind of a pop-rock band...a real southern California rock sound. It separates them from [The Cuttin' Jessie's] and Fate McAfee, Wil Maring, and Robert Bowlin. Not that that's good or bad, but it definitely puts them in this other category."

"To close out the series, we have JD Wilkes," Birdsong continues. Wilkes will be featured in two sessions, one musical and one literary. "I think JD's known for The Legendary Shack Shakers, Dirt Daubers, and JD just on his own. Just his solo work. He's eclectic, he's fun, he's high energy. It's diversity in all kinds of ways. I'm really looking forward to producing that last one for him. I think it should be really fun because he'll bring his own energy and style to the performance."

Birdsong hopes to continue virtual programming long after the effects of COVID-19 have passed. "When we first started brainstorming how we were going to produce anything, and with limited options decided that this would be what we're going to do, one of my very first thoughts was we should just be adding this to our programming whether we're doing live events or not." Birdsong also says that he hopes this virtual programming will provide opportunities for artists outside of the local 250-mile radius to reach new audiences through the Clemens Fine Arts Center. 

Stage Sessions is a follow-up virtual series to Inside Out, which took place in the spring and featured performances by Shannon Vetter, Lew Jetton, The Wheelhouse Rousters, and more. "If that's another way to extend our exposure and extend our reach out past the local and regional artists, I want to keep doing it if we can," Birdsong concludes. 

For more information on the Clemens Fine Arts Center and their virtual programming, visit the WKCTC website

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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