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The City's Rhythm: Behind the Scenes with Local Musicians

Nari Khamvanthong, a student musician at the University of Kentucky majoring in Digital Media & Design, playing guitar on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 in her home in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Christiana Nyarko.

It’s a late Saturday night in Lexington, Ky. University of Kentucky student and local artist Nari performs live at The Green Lantern, a local bar downtown. On stage, musicians tune fiddles and guitars as laughter and chatter begins to fill the room.

Nari, in a vintage babydoll dress and a pair of Dr. Martens, dances with her lead guitarist Charlie Overman. Overman, a Transylvania University student in a cowboy hat, boots and blue jeans, twirls and dips Nari across the bar.

Every musician has their own story of how they got introduced to music, what they wanted to create with it, who gave them the drive to pursue it and where that road has taken them. At first glance, Lexington might not seem like the place musicians go to make it big. When taking a closer look, however, there are so many musicians that can be found in this city trying to get their big break.

Charlie Overman is more than just a lead guitarist. When Overman first started playing guitar, his main focus was just learning how to play songs by his current favorite artists.

“I was a huge fan of guitar-heavy music at the time, like Bruce Springsteen and ACDC, so my interest in that is what got me started playing the guitar," Overman said.

Soon after that, Overman searched through Craigslist looking for any metal band that needed a guitarist.

Overman mentioned that after becoming skilled in playing rock and metal music, he wanted to search for ways to expand his abilities, explaining that playing a guitar is like learning a language; a good guitarist can play a particular genre perfectly, but a great guitarist has experience in all genres, he said.

With that mindset, Overman joined local metal band “Forrest.” He also joined local indie-pop band “People Planet” and began playing for Nari as well. He even had the opportunity to be mentored by the lead guitarist of thrash metal band “Havok,” Reece Scruggs. Overman recently released his first solo song titled “Linda Jean,” a country folk song he wrote about one of his best friends.

After Overman started to get his foot in the door within the music industry, he learned a lot about what really mattered to him music-wise.

“Even if I hadn’t written anything, joined any bands, or put any music out, it’s just the people you meet through music is what is most important; that’s what has kept me in it. For me, it’s all about the connections you make," he said.

Musician Charlie Overman, a student at Transylvania University, sits on a porch while being interviewed on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Martha McHaney.

While having such a big part of his life revolve around music, Overman also balances the life of a college student. He explained that he always tries to have school come first and that he’s never really struggled with balancing both his academics and his music life.

“It really depends on the circumstances; if I need to go out of town for a few days to play a big show and my friends need me there, then I’m missing a few days of class,” Overman said.

Nari has had music in her life since she could remember.

“Growing up, my aunt took care of me a lot, and around the time I was born she was singing at a lot of local clubs and bars, and she would take me with her,” Nari said. “I remember I was a toddler sitting at this bar watching my aunt perform. When my mom moved to the Dominican Republic to go to medical school, she called me every night. When she did, I would sing her a little song I had learned. That continued from then on, up until I was about 15 when I moved in with her again.”

Charlie Overman, student at Transylvania University, before the performance at the Green Lantern on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Christiana Nyarko.

While music has always been a huge part of Nari’s life, it was still something she never considered as a career.

“I always thought that only a certain type of person can write music, like Taylor Swift; she’s a person that’s allowed to write music,” Nari said.

“I’m just some regular person, regular people can’t write music. That’s just absurd.”

With that initial mindset, Nari moved from San Pablo, Calif. to Lexington with the plan to study biology at UK. While studying there, she gained an interest in hand poke tattooing, and decided to start using this hobby as leverage to try and meet some of her favorite local bands.

“I was about 18 or 19 when I started hand poke tattooing,” she said. “I would [message different bands], ‘If you can get me backstage tickets, I will give you tattoos.’ The first band I ever tattooed was ‘Hot Flash Heat Wave’… One of their singers told me I had a good voice and told me I should try singing. I guess I kind of internalized that because a few months later I was making beats on my MacBook and singing on them, and people seem to like it, so I just kept going.”

Nari Khamvanthong’s name on the door of the performance venue at the Green Lantern on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Christiana Nyarko.

Through tattooing, Nari had the chance to meet Nashville band “Okey Dokey.” When initially meeting them for tattooing, the band told Nari they were working on an album titled “Curio Cabinet I,” with the intent of every song being collaborations with different artists. The band asked Nari if she had any songs she wanted to share with them to add to their album, resulting in Nari releasing her indie pop song “I Really Want to Know” with them.

“I think that was the thing that gave me a little bit of traction,” Nari said. “About a month or two after it was released, the music label ‘Park the Van’ contacted me and asked me if I had anything cool that I was working on. I showed them my song ‘Julia.’ Soon after, it was released in 2019 on ‘Park the Van’ and I’m still with them now.”

Both “I Really Want to Know” and “Julia” have gained over 50,000 streams on Spotify and ended up on Spotify’s “Easy Indie & Alternative” playlist and Urban Outfitters’ “In-Store Music” playlist. While her music career started to take off quicker than she expected, she still had to keep up with her schoolwork.

“My label usually leaves me alone during the school year because they know I’m a student,” Nari said. “It can be challenging at times trying to balance the two. I thought 2020 was going to be a great year for me career-wise, but when the pandemic hit it was honestly a blessing because it gave me time to focus on school and get my grades up.”

After her major shift in career paths while at UK, Nari is set to graduate in the fall of 2021 with a degree in Digital Media and Design. Even though she only came to Lexington for academic reasons, she was able to find so much more than that. This is the city where she found her inspiration. After graduation, Nari hopes to make music her full-time career.

“I honestly don’t think I would’ve even started music if I hadn’t moved to Kentucky,” she said.

Nari Khamvanthong, a student musician at the University of Kentucky majoring in Digital Media & Design, performing at the Green Lantern on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Christiana Nyarko.

When Nari performs live alongside Overman and the rest of her band members, the connection she creates with her band and the crowd is distinct. Between songs, Nari tells everyone how much she loves them, explaining how she is so happy to have every single person there and making sure to give every band member a shout-out during her set, telling the crowd how special each member is.

Those in the audience smile, cheer and dance along with her. Regardless if someone came into that bar not knowing who Nari was before, she tries to give them a show to remember her by. She spent this past summer in California recording her album and said that doing so was the first time she sat back and thought to herself, “Dang, I do music.”


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