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Ballard County Native Kelsey Waldon to Headline Paducah Lowertown Arts & Music Festival

Kelsey Waldon's new album, I've Got A Way, comes out August 12.
Reto Sterchi/Courtesy of the artist
Kelsey Waldon's new album, I've Got A Way, comes out August 12.

The Lowertown Arts & Music Festival will be held in Paducah's historic Lowertown Arts District on Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11. This year's lineup includes headlining country music artist Kelsey Waldon, a West Kentucky native who got her start playing local hall shows and has now played some of the biggest halls in country music. Morning Edition host Daniel Hurt speaks to Waldon ahead of her upcoming performance, which she said feels like a homecoming.

"I'm from Ballard County," Waldon begins. "I was born and raised there and grew up in the Ohio River bottoms. It means a lot to come back home and play. I hope a lot of people turn out. I feel like a lot of people feel like I don't play at home much anymore. I'm always playing in Lexington and Louisville and in places like that, but I feel like Paducah has always had a growing music scene, and it certainly means a lot to me."

Waldon was a part of that burgeoning music scene, playing local music venues and open mics around the Paducah area, including the Elks Club and American Legion halls. She also played at Moss Rose, a former Paducah restaurant that featured music, and Etcetera Coffeehouse's open mics, which ran on Friday nights for nearly a decade. One of her first Paducah shows was at the FYE in Kentucky Oaks Mall.

"We used to go play in Fulton and in Metropolis," Waldon adds. "That was when I was really figuring it all out. I played my original songs for the first time at that club in Metropolis, Illinois. That's where I played my first original song. I remember it was terrifying, and probably only my mom and my granny were there." She said in her early years, she looked up to the local artists she watched and always appreciated the western Kentucky music community's welcoming atmosphere.

"Some of the first bands that I looked to were Bawn in the Mash, all those guys like Nathan Blake Lynn and Josh Coffey. They've been such big supporters of me. I tell people all the time about our music scene because it wasn't always very big. I feel like everybody just played on a bill together, whether you were screamo bands or punk bands, a bluegrass band, or country, whatever. I just considered myself a songwriter back then," Waldon recalls.

Waldon was the first artist to be signed to John Prine's Oh Boy Record label in over a decade. "I feel like I have kind of home base communities between Nashville and Kentucky, but with Oh Boy, they were just watching me and had been supporters and friends. As soon as they were ready to start expanding their label, I happened to be the first one signed. Maybe, it was timing, and John's wife Fiona is who ended up introducing me to John. She has always been a huge champion for me. I think the first time I sang with John was in 2018 on this festival cruise thing. I went on there and sang "Paradise" with John, and after that, I got a bunch of shows on the Tree of Forgiveness tour, and we just kind of hit it off."

For Waldon, her connection with Prine was more than just two colleagues finding common ground — it was a chance to connect with one of her heroes. "When I first started collecting vinyl, and I was probably 15 years old, one of my first vinyls was the John Prine self-titled album. He was just truly my standard for songwriting. Truly my hero and then became pretty much my mentor and friend. I mean, the Prines are like family to me."

Waldon recently released a new single titled "Hello, Stranger," a duet featuring another western Kentucky artist and co-headliner at the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival, S.G. Goodman. "The single has been out since the end of February. I also have a new album coming out called There's Always a Song, and it's a lot of old-time and bluegrass songs that I did in my own way. S.G. is on it with others, Margo Price, and my band. They're not all collaborations. S.G. and I have known each other since before anything was anything, and I feel like we have a special bond because Hickman is literally an hour away from where I grew up."

Kelsey Waldon will perform on the main stage of the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival on Saturday, May 11, at 7 pm. "We've got fiddle and steel and the whole deal," she says. "I just love my band. They'll be with me, and they can expect to hear some originals and all the songs from the new album." For more information on Waldon, visit her website.

For more information on the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival, including a full schedule, food and parking information, and more, visit the LTAMF website.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “Daniel Hurt Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.
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