August 16, 2012

Publisher's Notebook: Big-time music behind Hardee’s

By Willie Sawyers

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — My first visit to the Nibroc festival in Corbin in a dozen years or so left me impressed with how a small community can provide big-time entertainment free to its citizenry.

Nibroc has been bringing in national music acts for several years now, but 2012 may have been the best. The lineup of country music legend T.Graham Brown on Thursday night, classic rockers Styx on Friday night and Starship on Saturday night had festival goers standing and swaying to the music all weekend.

Organizer Bruce Carpenter said the crowd for the Styx concert was the largest in Nibroc’s history. And I had a front-row seat. I wanted to experience Nibroc again after taking over the daily newspaper in Corbin in February.

“Wow,” was all I could think as I stood a few feet away while listening to a favorite band of my high school and college years belt out one hit after another. Styx certainly rocked the streets of Corbin.

Tommy Shaw, James Young and the rest of the band put on a balanced, energetic show and had some nice things to say about this part of Kentucky. That impressed me more than anything.

Think about it for a moment: Musicians who have performed all over the world, in front of millions of fans, find themselves in a small Kentucky burg one Friday on a stage set up behind the local Hardee’s restaurant. They could have come out with a condescending attitude, mailed in their performance, collected their fee and split town as soon as possible.

But Styx didn’t hold back in a 90-minute set. Shaw’s voice was a strong as his original recordings 30 years ago. The band was tight. The sound was perfect.

I saw people from London, Corbin, Williamsburg and other cities in attendance. High-quality entertainment distinguishes Nibroc from other festivals and makes it one of the premier events in southeastern Kentucky.

The reacquaintance with Nibroc brought a couple of questions to my inquisitive mind:

• If the city can get bands like Styx to play on a stage behind Hardee’s, why can’t it get similar acts to play in The Arena on the hill that sits empty most of the year?

That’s a good question. But remember, Nibroc sponsors paid the reported $40,000 fee to bring Styx to Corbin. Without sponsors, a similar concert at The Arena might not attract enough paying customers to make it financially viable.

There has been talk about removing David Williams’ name from The Arena, after the senator failed to side with Corbin in a dispute with Knox County over occupational taxes. Perhaps changing the name to the Bruce Carpenter Arena will ensure a steady flow of top entertainment. He’s shown it can be done.

• Why can’t the World Chicken Festival in London attract bands like Nibroc instead of bringing Exile back each year?

Nothing against Exile, but the music at the chicken festival has taken a back seat to Nibroc. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, the WCF spreads the entertainment across two stages and offers it more hours each night.

Secondly, the main stage setup on Broad Street is not large enough to hold the 5-7,000 people who would show up to watch a big-time band like Styx. The main stage would have to be moved.

Thirdly, bringing in better music would mean an even deeper contribution for chicken festival sponsors. In these recessionary times, that may not be feasible. But again, Nibroc can do it.

I was glad to be part of the record-setting crown Friday night. Nibroc may mean Corbin spelled backwards, but it also means entertainment.