In PART I of The Company We Keep, I shared stories from those unforgettable, bucket-list performances we’ve experienced at the Norton Center over the years. From Yo-Yo Ma, to Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett, and the countless other living legends who left us in awe.  

Today I’m excited to feature rising stars and artists not as well known to us — but we attend their shows anyway! Being profoundly affected by attending shows by talented artists does not necessarily mean that the artists themselves are famous.  Or famous to you. 

The Punch Brothers were relatively unknown when they performed at the Norton Center in 2010. Since then, they have headlined festivals around the world and each of the musicians in the band (they are not actually brothers) have gone on to amazing projects as musicians, producers and other arts-related activities.  In fact, Punch Brother Chris Thile took the helm of the national radio program, Prairie Home Companion, after Garrison Keilor (another artist who has performed at the Norton Center) retired.

We loved the Punch Brothers so much that, since that first performance, we have featured individual concerts featuring all of the Brothers who have side projects as musicians (that’s four out of five, if you’re counting).  This includes: Chris Thile (with Edgar Meyer), Chris Eldridge (with Julian Lage), Paul Kowert (with his band, Hawktail), and a solo banjo performance by Noam Pikelny (yes, solo banjo – it was fantastic!).  The fifth Brother (Gabe Witcher) has been involved in producing recordings by many of these artists and more.  

Then there are the rising stars. Being part of discovering new artists or performances can also result in profound experiences. Did you happen to see French pianist, Lise de la Salle in Weisiger Theatre when there were cameras set up so that every person in the room could see her hands on the piano keyboard and her facial expressions up close on a screen towards the back of the stage?  Were you on your feet dancing uncontrollably when Mali world-pop singer, Fatoumata Diawara, was on stage jamming out?  Did you rush out of Newlin Hall at the end of the Ballet Folklorico de Bahia dancers and musicians led everyone outside by the statue to continue drumming and singing for another 20 minutes?  

I call performances that feature unfamiliar (to you or to the world) yet become one of your favorite shows, sleepers. Ironically, my definition of a sleeper is NOT about when you fall asleep during a performance.  It is when you went to the show not expecting much. But, dang, your attention was captured and you were enthralled by what you experienced.

Steve Hoffman has curated, produced and presented cross-genre multi-disciplinary programs, events and seasons for nearly 30 years. Since 2010, he has served as Executive Director of Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, in Danville, Kentucky, where he is responsible for its oversight, management and programming. Previously, Steve served as President and CEO of the National Steinbeck Center, in Monterey County, California – an international cultural institution and museum with a mission focused on the life, works and philosophies of John Steinbeck. Before that, he spent eleven years as the founding CEO of the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Steve is on the faculty of the University of Kentucky Department of Arts Administration graduate program and has taught courses at the University of Michigan and Centre College. Since living in Kentucky, Steve has served on boards and committees for The Gladys Project, the Heart of Danville, Leadership Boyle County, The Danville Community Arts Center, Heart of Kentucky United Way, Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College (Maryville, TN), and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.