Last fall, Arthur Hancock IV was fully prepared to delve headfirst into a vagabond life as a “starving artist.” He had returned home to Stone Farm in Paris, Ky., where his family breeds.
Thoroughbreds, to gather his belongings and move back to his alma mater town of Nashville, with plans to focus his energies playing banjo and spending time outdoors. But the world had other plans for Hancock – when two different once-in-a-lifetime opportunities fell into his lap within weeks, his life switched directions, grounding him in Lexington with strong ties to the local music scene.
The chance to become a partner with his friend Wilson Sebastian in Lexington’s newest music venue, Willie’s Locally Known, was the first opportunity that arose for Hancock; becoming the new host of the live bluegrass and old-time music radio show Red Barn Radio came soon after. Willie’s, a live music and barbecue house that aims to bring bluegrass music back to the Bluegrass region, opened in early April, and Red Barn Radio began the transition of having a new host around that time as well. Hancock succeeds his first guitar teacher, Brad Becker, as host of the show, which is filmed live at ArtsPlace in downtown Lexington each Wednesday (the show will film live at Willie’s every Wednesday in July).
Hancock started playing guitar in middle school, and picked up the banjo his freshman year in high school, after sitting in a Nashville studio with his dad while he recorded a bluegrass album with some of the country’s best players, including J.D. Crowe, Peter Rowan and Sam Bush. Since then, he’s been consistently picking with friends, but Willie’s has allowed him to meet new musicians and work on improving his craft (whenever there’s a moment of downtime at Willie’s, you can expect to see Hancock up on stage himself). Basically, he still gets all the perks of being a starving artist, minus the “starving part” – Willie’s already has a reputation for great chicken wings and BBQ.
Hancock is the first to admit that he’s completely green to both running his own venue and hosting a radio show, but his enthusiasm for music and passion for growing Lexington’s bluegrass music community has served him well thus far – and perhaps surprisingly, years of experience helping his family run Claiborne Farm has translated over to his new ventures quite nicely.
“It’s really funny how much I can apply farming and horse principles to this business,” Hancock said. “You’ve got to have a good product, you’ve got to build relationships, you’ve got to be honest, and you have to work hard. You can’t make promises that you can’t keep, and you just have to try to do your best.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said with a smile. “It’s not easy – but it’s pretty simple.”
Hancock took some time recently to answer a few questions for us.
What are some of your favorite haunts in Lexington?
Really, my haunting was all done out in the woods the past few years – I spent most of my time at the cabin on the back of my parents’ farm or at the Red River Gorge.
In your opinion, what are some of the greatest assets to the Lexington music scene?
We have a central location here in Lexington that serves as a hub for the state’s rural musicians. I really thrive when I am in the country, and I think a lot of musicians would tell you the same thing. So Lexington has loads of acoustic and bluegrass talent in the surrounding counties that have Lexington as an outlet. I think Lexington has a lot of unexplored potential when it comes to bluegrass and old time music. Lexington also is a perfect city for bands on tour, as it sits at the intersection of two major interstates; agents are excited to hear about a new venue catering to bluegrass and acoustic music, because they’ll be able to drop bigger name groups into town midweek. Of course, my goal is to make Willie’s a place for bigger name acts to come on the weekends as well.
You haven’t lived in Lexington for very long. How has your impression of the town changed since you’ve become more familiar with it in recent months?
I grew up in Bourbon County and have travelled the city streets here for years, but it wasn’t until just recently that I realized how much beauty this town has to offer. I never like the city, but the architecture and history of Lexington are amazing. I am really excited to see a lot of people working to redevelop and promote downtown and to see young people taking risks and creating original projects and businesses that will hopefully serve as the foundation of Lexington’s urban economy for years to come. I like supporting local people, and to see individuals creating businesses unique to Lexington is very encouraging.