It’s hardly a secret that Bowling Green, KY has birthed an impressive number of highly successful performing and recording artists. From Ernest Hogan, widely regarded as the “Father of Ragtime,” to Cage the Elephant, our borough’s soil is no doubt rich with the germ of musical aptitude. Yet, we often forget that, without a platform on which those artists could promulgate their abilities to enthusiastic, well-lubricated spectators, they’d just be eccentrics meandering around humming to themselves, banging on tables and annoying folks at parties.
During the 1930’s, Lost River Cave’s underground Cavern Nite Club played host to the likes of Francis Craig and his NBC Orchestra and Dinah Shore, along with innumerable other big bands and swing players. Because much of the nation at that time held fast to the idea that liquor and wine were poured directly from the mouth of Satan himself (I’m referring, of course, to the prohibition of alcohol), the club’s operator was forced to get creative with regard to refreshments. It’s said that patrons of the Cavern Nite Club could purchase a “deluxe ice” for the low price of two U.S. dollars, which was simply a half pint of whiskey plopped into a bowl and buried in ice.
In 1946, the Quonset Auditorium, named for its half-moon shape and likeness to its military-purposed predecessor, opened its doors to the folks of Bowling Green and the wayfarers of the Dixie Highway. Patrons of the Quonset could indulge in a variety of entertainment ranging from wrestling matches and roller skating, to the bluegrass bacchanal of Bill Monroe and Ernest Tubb, the wailing blues of B.B. King and Ray Charles, to the brassy rock ‘n’ roll riffs of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.
In 1981, Bowling Green’s most prominent theater, The Capitol, was renovated and reopened as a live performance venue. Along with an abundance of live theater productions and local orchestral performances, The Capitol has presented artists including Bowling Green native and father of Newgrass, Sam Bush, soft rock legend Kenny Loggins, and Southern rockers Gov’t Mule, to name a few.
Also during the 1980’s, local musician, promoter, and general impresario Kenny Lee Smith inaugurated Picasso’s, a nightclub and local music venue just of the downtown square. Picasso’s quickly settled itself as a launching pad for up-and-comers, as well as a desirable stop for nationally acclaimed artists like Foster and Lloyd, Bela Fleck, and Webb Wilder on the road to Louisville or Nashville. Featured in GUITAR magazine and on MTV, what was originally birthed as an apparatus for showcasing Kenny Lee’s own musical endeavors had fortuitously become a nationally recognized terminus for artists across the map.
These days, highly decorated and celebrated musicians, like indie rock luminaries Cage The Elephant and psychedelic trouveurs Morning Teleportation, attribute much of their success to our fair city and its convivial, supportive venues. Tidball’s Pub, The Warehouse at Mt. Victor, Rocky’s, the Turntable, Micki’s on Main, and uncountable others humbly offer a platform for expression through music to the many talented pickers, bangers, and wailers of Bowling Green, along with a supportive hand in furthering their neophytic careers.