By Andrew Critchelow
WKU students have helped make “The Lost River Sessions” on Western Kentucky University’s PBS station an award-winning series that showcases regional musicians at local venues.
Co-produced by audio engineer James Pearson and videographer Darius Barati, the show started when Pearson reached out to Barati about doing a video segment for a recording session by local band Dead Broke Barons at an art gallery in Franklin, Kentucky. Pearson said that there was no intention to make a series in the beginning, but the performance served as a prototype for what the sessions would later become.
“For me, the recording process had to hit several high points,” Pearson said. “It had to document the moment with no overdubs and it had to be true to the way that they were actually presenting the music.”
Barati said that this merging of video and audio essentially became the pilot episode for the series after presenting the footage to WKU PBS. Bands featured on the show have performed in several venues around the community including WKU’s Van Meter Hall, The Phoenix Theater and the Cosair Artisan Distillery.
“We went into the recording thinking it would be a one-off, but once we started sharing the content from that production my station manager and executive producer for the show, David Brinkley, asked if we could turn it into a regular series,” Barati said. “Obviously our answer was yes.”
With the first episode shown in March 2015, some of the local artists featured on the show have included J.D Wilkes, 8 Track Love and The Carmonas. The program airs at 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 p.m. on Sundays. Barati said that the program highly emphasizes intimacy in its performances.
“We want to recreate that feeling of watching a musician perform on, say, a back porch at the end of a long summer day, or that feeling you get passing through a nearly empty dive bar and seeing someone perform a set that feels like it was written just for you in that moment,” Barati said. “There’s an intimacy there when you can connect with an artist and actually hear the lyrics they’ve written and even observe the expression on their face when they’re singing those lyrics.”
Though the sessions have featured mostly Americana and folk-influenced acts, Pearson said that the program tries to capture intimacy in bands that feature louder instrumentation as well.
“Because of the way that we record the process, even bands that might seem a little bit boisterous in one context or another or maybe have made their name in a slightly different way, we challenge them to be more intimate,” Pearson said. “There has been a generally agreed on consensus that we are looking for people that value an intimate performance. And we provide them with the opportunity and with the venue where they can really shine doing that.”
Kent Goolsby, a Nashville-based musician who recently performed a session for the show, said that recording for a program such as the Lost River Sessions can add a new dynamic to performing music.
“With video sessions you aren’t usually in a dark, crowded bar until well past midnight so that part of it is a lot easier,” Goolsby said. “At the same time though you are trying to give the best performance you can with a limited amount of time. If you have a great crew around you it always makes things go more smoothly.”
The show was nominated for three Ohio Valley Regional Emmy awards in last year’s ceremony, with Pearson receiving an award for audio production. Barati said that these accolades were unexpected.
“Seeing the reception the show has received thus far has been surreal,” Barati said. “And hopefully it continues to bring national attention to the wealth of talent and resources most of us here have been aware of for years.”
Despite the recognition the show has received thus far, Pearson largely credits the show’s success to the WKU PBS student staff.
“All of the students that work on the show are just super talented,” Pearson said. “We couldn’t do the show without that. I look at the student crew often and I think that a half dozen of these people will probably be part of a show of equal or greater caliber in some point in their careers.”