Most years, Lexington simply concedes. When late April rolls around, we just acknowledge that Louisville has the region trumped as far as touring concert entertainment. After all, it's Derby time, so the host city gets the spotlight. No problem.
In most cases, Louisville has worked diligently to present a lineup diverse enough to deserve the attention.
But something is different this year. It's not that the River City has slacked off at Derbytime. It's just that the results seem, well, a touch less spectacular than usual.
Let's compare Louisville's Derby Week concert lineup to what we will see in Lexington.
In Louisville this week, the storied Derby Eve Jam, which has presented major acts throughout a multi-decade history that have run from the Allman Brothers Band to the B-52s, brings us Rodney Atkins — an amiable country star who was at the bottom of a Kentucky State Fair bill featuring ZZ Top and Brooks and Dunn less than two years ago. Not exactly a booking coup.
In Lexington this week, we will have — admittedly through coincidence more than competition — a sold-out Rupp Arena concert by Taylor Swift and an outing at Memorial Coliseum with red-hot rap star Drake. In addition, two of Louisville's best club-size concert acts of the coming week — James McMurtry and Southern Culture on the Skids — also will play in Lexington. That leaves a Derby music lineup minus some of the usual fizz.
Still, Derby-goers will be in Louisville, not here. And, as usual, the musical picks will be vast and plentiful. For everyone else, this might be the year to make your own Derby fun at home in Lexington.
So, for comparison shoppers, here is how the Louisville/Lexington concert smackdown will play out during Derby Week.
In Louisville: Derby Week kicks off with the blues, courtesy of Bernard Allison, the contemporary guitarist son of the great Chicago bluesman Luther Allison. (7:30 p.m. Stevie Ray's Blues Bar, 230 East Main Street. $15. (502) 582-9945. www.stevieraysbluesbar.com.)
In Lexington: Still the scariest rural roots-rock band in the land, the Legendary Shack Shakers return to Lexington for the first time since the closing of The Dame. (9 p.m. Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue. $8. (859) 309-9499. http://cosmic-charlies.com.)
In Lexington: The weekly taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour brings together acclaimed Scottish songwriter/fiddler Laura McGhee and South Africa-born folk stylist Gregory Alan Isakov. (6:45 p.m. Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main Street. $10. (859) 252-8888. www.woodsongs.com.)
In Louisville: One of the major hit-making forces in contemporary R&B during the '90s, the female quartet En Vogue is back with all four founding members. Also on the bill is Midnight Star, formed at Kentucky State University. (8 p.m. Waterfront Park, East River Road. Free with Pegasus pin ($4). (502) 584-3378. http://kdf.org.)
In Lexington: Drake, the onetime Lil Wayne protégé, is poised to become the next pop-rap sensation — and he hasn't even released his first album yet. (8 p.m. University of Kentucky Memorial Coliseum, 201 Avenue of Champions/Euclid Avenue. $15, $30. (859) 257-8427 or TicketMaster, 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.)
■ The Felice Brothers reflect rustic Americana country and roots music with a modest Louisiana accent — which is intriguing, because the band hails from the Catskill Mountains in New York. (8 p.m. Cosmic Charlie's. $15.)
■ The versatile Chicago-based acoustic guitar Andreas Kapsalis/Goran Ivanovic Duo is making its second Natasha's outing in three months. (9 p.m. Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade. $10. (859) 259-2754. www.beetnik.com.)
In Louisville: The regional return of James McMurtry, the Texas songsmith whose wry, rural songs are neatly packaged on the new CD/DVD set Live in Europe, also features Will Hoge on the bill. (7 p.m. Waterfront Park. Free with Pegasus pin ($4).)
■ Part of a soft-spoken alternative pop-soul brigade popular in the late '90s, Edwin McCain scored the radio hits I'll Be and Solitude. Butch Rice opens. (8 p.m. Jim Porter's, 2345 Lexington Road. $20. (502) 452-9531. www.jimporters.com.)
In Louisville: The ever-entertaining Unknown Hinson, who looks like a cross between Bela Lugosi and Conway Twitty, remains one of psychobilly music's oddest but most endearing performers. Dallas Alice opens. (8 p.m. Jim Porter's. $15.)
■ Another '90s throwback, Seattle's Candlebox, broke from the grunge pack for the 1994 radio hit Far Behind, split up in 2000 and reformed in 2006. Crash Kings open.(8 p.m. Waterfront Park. Free with Pegasus pin ($4).)
■ For the Derby-goer who disdains sleep, we have this six-band bill led by New Jersey thrash-metal troupe Overkill. Also on the bill: Vader, God Dethroned, Warbringer, Evile and Woe Tyrants. (7 p.m. Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road. $20, $60. (502) 584-8088. www.headlinerslouisville.com.)
In Lexington: The hot ticket of the spring, maybe the year, belongs to 20-year-old multi-platinum, country-pop star Taylor Swift. Kellie Pickler and Gloriana open. (7 p.m. Rupp Arena. Sold out.)
■ James McMurtry makes his first Lexington outing since a WoodSongs set two years ago. Not to be missed. (8 p.m. Natasha's Bistro. $16.)
In Louisville: Ultra-good-natured Tennessean Rodney Atkins has played probably a half-dozen opening-act sets on arena stages since These Are My People became a country radio hit in 2007. Now he's headlining the Derby Eve Jam, with Candy Coburn opening. (8 p.m. Waterfront Park. Free with Pegasus Pin ($4).)
■ The return of Southern Culture on the Skids, the fried chicken-tossing, dirt track-loving roots-rock trio, is a guaranteed good time. Bodeco opens. (9 p.m. Headliners Music Hall. $15.)
■ Headlining a massive Derby Eve bill is the crunchy Kansas City guitar-rock outfit Puddle of Mudd, which scored considerable radio success nearly a decade ago with its triple-platinum album Come Clean. Also playing are the Velcro Pygmies, Grindstone, Wax Factory, Naked Garden, Steel Mist and King Sonic. (7 p.m. Phoenix Hill Tavern, 644 Baxter Avenue. $20. (502) 589-4957. www.phoenixhill.com.)
In Lexington: A refreshing Derby Eve alternative is a local outing with New York state guitarist Joe Bonamassa, a guitarist versed on everyone from Jethro Tull to Peter Green but with his own distinctive sound. (8 p.m. Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short Street. $39-$69. (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster.)
In Lexington: On Derby Eve 2001, Southern Culture on the Skids played this very room — only it was Lynagh's Music Club then and is Cosmic Charlie's now — while John Prine sold out the Opera House and U2 hit Rupp Arena. Talk about skunking Louisville at Derby time. (8 p.m. Cosmic Charlie's. $12.)