Thanks to Paducah's designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Craft and Folk Art, representatives from Paducah were invited to perform at the Jinju World Folk Arts Biennale in Jinju, South Korea last Fall. Organizer Lexie Millikan and musicians Josh Coffey and Seth Murphy reflect on the Biennale in their own words.


The Wheelhouse Rousters and Seth Murphy perform in Jinju, South Korea.

Lexie: When given the opportunity to travel to Jinju for a second time, for the Jinju World Folk Arts Biennale (JWFB) in fall of 2022, I excitedly initiated Paducah’s involvement. Our regional music is best represented by The Wheelhouse Rousters, a local group “sharing the sounds of the American inland waterways,” which made them the perfect musicians to represent us in Jinju. The string instrument-based group is comprised of Josh Coffey, Nathan Blake Lynn, Eddie Coffey, Logan Oakley, and Jake Siener. To round out their sound, Lower Town Arts and Music Festival Music Director and cellist, Seth Murphy, joined us for the trip to South Korea.


Seth: Most rehearsals took place in public parks or our hotel rooms; wherever we could find space!

Highlights from our trip included the cross-cultural collaborations that happened through planned workshops, and organically during practices and performances. New friendships were formed amongst people from Korea, Burkina Fasso, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria, USA, and Egypt. Over shared meals and stunning performances we learned about each other’s cultures. We listened to music that brought tears to our eyes and together we explored the city of Jinju along with the surrounding area.


The Paducah Group gathers at a local landmark.

Josh: The first day of the festival started with getting to meet some of the other performance groups. Lots of smiles and thumbs ups were passed around. Everyone spoke a little English, some better than others, some hardly at all, but it was clear all parties were tickled pink to be there. We were shuffled to our VIP bus and all the performance groups loaded up for the performance hall. This bus was really a “party” bus, stocked with karaoke equipment and fully decked out in bright colors. Very soon we were passing the microphone around for each country to share a song. The performance that night was brilliant. We were nervous but pulled through the language barriers and pre-performance confusion, lighting up the crowd with a rendition of a Korean folk song mixed together with a Western Kentucky folk song.


New friends gather at the Gyeongsangnam-do Culture & Arts Center

Later that week we performed in the countryside, which was really my favorite of all our performances of the week. Set in a small village, we gathered at a traditional Korean house built around the 16th Century. It was our first opportunity to hear traditional music of the area. I was completely transfixed. We performed well at this venue in the warm sun for a small but energetic crowd. They were singing our songs from this day throughout the week! During our final performance we were all singing and dancing with the group from Indonesia.


The Wheelhouse Rousters and Seth Murphy enjoy a "jam session" with a group of Indonesian musicians.

On our last performace day, we were to perform at the open stage of the Jinju fortress where the Korean military stopped the Japanese invasion in the late 1500’s. Coinciding with the city-wide lantern festival, the venue was all lit up with lanterns depicting the battle.


Lanterns light up Jinju Fortress

Among several other short pieces, we performed an instrumental I wrote a number of years ago for another band, Bawn In the Mash. Nathan Lynn actually had a dream of us performing it at the fortress long before our travels, so naturally we had to make his dreams come true! It was The Wheelhouse Rousters’ first time performing the piece and it went off without a hitch. We also had the opportunity to perform with an Indonesian group we had become friends with over the course of the week. The Indonesian group played “Country Roads” with great crowd response. Singing “Country Roads” with a band from across the world, in a fortress in Korea, with 400 or so people is definitely a “Top Five” moment in my career. It doesn’t get much better.


Seth: Our final performance was at Jinju Fortress. We were exhausted from a week of travel, long rehearsals, and many performances, but very excited to share music from Western Kentucky one last time.

Lexie: I never came back from Korea. It's part of me now and I'm part of it.


Learn more about Paducah's UNESCO Creative City designation and the doors it has opened for Paducah: UNESCO Creative City