Tony Pence

Tony Pence

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By Judy Clabes
KyForward editor

BGBall_440The Kentucky Society of Washington has hosted the non-partisan Bluegrass Balls for presidential inaugurations since 1949 when Kentucky’s own Alben Barkley was vice president. It is usually the first and one of the largest balls during the inaugural celebration.

As The Washington Post’s “Editor’s Pick” for 2013 – as well as in 2009 and 2005 – it has been called “the greatest Ball of all time.”

When the doors open for the grand entrance of 1000 black-tie and ball-gowned guests into the historic Wardman Marriott Hotel grand ballroom on Saturday night, organizers are promising a lavish affair that will live up to its reputation.

And advance another: Kentuckians really know how to throw a party.

Kentuckian H. McGuire “Mac” Riley, past-president of the Kentucky Society and now treasurer, has been involved with Bluegrass Ball since 1989 when George H.W. Bush was elected. (He ended up working with President Bush in the Department of Defense.)

“For 20 years – after we outgrew the National Press Club – we have held the ball at the Wardman Marriott,” said Riley. “Over the years, we’ve had all sorts of national celebrities in politics, art and entertainment as our guests. For security reasons we don’t announce celebrities beforehand – though I can say that Kentucky’s Governor and First Lady as well as the Lt. Governor and his wife and most of the congressional delegation have confirmed their attendance.”

Riley, originally from Carter County, went to DC in 1987 with a large, national law firm and is now President of BAHR Associates, Inc. He maintains strong homeplace ties as a member of the board of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship in Lexington and as 2013 Distinguished Practitioner in Residence for the Center for Excellence in Advocacy for the Northern Kentucky University College of Law. He has a home in Carter County.

The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. With a “Bourbon Trail” reception sponsored by the Kentucky Distiller’s Association – with tastings of Kentucky’s famous and finest single-batch bourbons.

Guests will be ushered into the ballroom for dinner by the Letcher County Central and JROTC Marching Band, the only Kentucky band chosen to march in the official Inauguration parade. The band raised more than $70,000 for their trip to D.C.

Emcees for the evening are Phyllis George, former Miss America and First Lady of Kentucky, and her daughter Pamela Brown, a Kentucky native and a reporter for DC’s ABC News Channel 8.

Kentucky-centric musical entertainment will be provided by a special group of musicians, most of them Morehead State University faculty calling themselves “Electric Edge.” They include:

Tony Pence, a lifelong resident of Northeastern Kentucky who has performed for over 30 years on the local music scene, many with his band BIG UGLY. In 2004 Pence landed two songs on the Christian Country Radio Charts with “Jack and Thelma” and “Someone I Used to Be” that remained on CCMA charts in the U.S. and Europe for nearly 2 years. He’s also hosted “The Country Jukebox” and “Tuesday’s Americana Crossroads” on Morehead’s State Public Radio broadcasts since 2011, and was recently announced as co-host of MSPR’s popular Saturday, “The Bluegrass Railroad” program. Pence holds a degree in Government with emphasis in Regional Analysis andPublic Policy from Morehead State University;

Glenn Ginn, Associate Professor of Guitar and Jazz Studies at Morehead has performed with several legendary jazz musicians including Clark Terry, Gene Harris, Gene Bertoncini, and Steve Smith, as well as Christian singer/songwriter Jay Beech and can be heard on Jay’s CD Everyone “Who Is Thirsty, Come.” He also self-produced three CD’s: “Swing Street,” “Guitar Duets,” and “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow;”

Lisa Ginn, Vocalist, is a local legend. She has performed in a variety of popular groups from rock, folk, and bluegrass bands to jazz groups and gospel choirs. She can be heard on two recent CD releases, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” and “Swing Street” on Electric Ledge Records. Lisa has been a featured performer throughout the Midwest with recent performances at the Snowshoe Wine and Jazz festival in Snowshoe, West Virginia and the Jazz Alley concert series at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland. Past performances include live radio broadcasts for WNKU in Cincinnati, the Fargo/Moorhead River Jazz Festival, the Fergus Falls Jazz Festival, New York Mills Cultural Center, and the Fargo Plains Art Museum Rush Hour Concert Series;

Gordon Towell, a reknown saxophonist is Professor of Music in Jazz Studies at MSU and regularly performs with Vince DiMartino/MilesOsland Jazz Orchestra (DOJO), the Kentucky Jazz Repertory Orchestra, the Lipzz Big Band, and many national acts.His saxophone performances can be heard on Outlier, Sketch Pad, Ask Me Now, Blue Duck Suit, and Still Friends, which are all available through These CDs have been featured on NPR, CBC, and CKUA radio;

Steven Snyder, Associate Professor of Jazz at MSU, is an organist and pianist, documented on 16 recordings found on various independent releases since 1992. He has performed in France, Portugal, Brazil, Sweden, Taiwan, as well as throughout the US and Canada. He holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Jazz Piano Performance from the University of North Texas, and a DMA in Piano Performance (Jazz Emphasis) from the University of Texas at Austin;

Danny Cecil of Lexington is a fixture on the Central Ky. music scene playing in jazz, big band, rock, honky tonk and bluegrass groups. Cecil has taught bass at Morehead State University for three years and performed with such jazz greats as Joe Lovano, Sam Rivers, Kenny Werner, Bob Mintzer, as well a Carnegie Hall performance with Arlo Guthrie and the UK Symphony Orchestra; and

Paul Deatherage a versatile percussionist, including jazz, concert, marching and world percussion. He currently teaches drum set at the University of Kentucky and is on the percussion staff at Lafayette High School, a 16-time marching band state champion and a Bands of America Grand National finalist. He currently holds the drumset chair for the DiMartino/Osland Jazz Orchestra, the Osland/Dailey Jazztet, the Raleigh Dailey Trio, the Walnut Street Ragtime Ramblers, Sound Foundry Jazz Quartet, the Dave Hummel Big Band and the Jazz Power Trio, and Barry Mando Project.

Riley is especially pleased to have these musicians showcased at the Bluegrass Ball. His grandfather, Heman McGuire, a member of the Kentucky House in the 1930s and Superintendent of Schools in Carter County, was a Morehead graduate and both his parents were too.

When organizers were looking for just the right feature entertainment for their big ball, Riley called on his Morehead connections and good friend Tony Pence to come to the rescue. Pence responded by gathering up his talented, impromtu band, who are playing “gratis” at the party.

The Kentucky Society has over 1000 active members and hold several widely anticipated and attended events: annual Pre-Kentucky Derby Party, the biennial Henry Clay Gala, with proceeds going to Henry Clay Internships in Public Policy awarded to four outstanding Kentucky college students, and annual fall Kentucky congressional delegation receptions at the Capitol. And, every four years, the signature Bluegrass Ball in celebration of the presidential inauguration.

Anne-Marie Kelley, originally from Ashland, is chair of the Bluegrass Ball; Winn Williams, originally from Winchester, is current Society President and Mica Hider, from Owensboro is President-Elect.




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