Rediscover Leeds: Historic theater ready for reopening with full weekend

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

After four months of renovation and darkness, Leeds Center for the Arts returns to life Friday evening and kicks off a full weekend at the downtown landmark.

The public can get its first look at the newly-renovated theater this weekend when cellist Ben Sollee takes the stage to cap his mini-residence days in Winchester.

“I’m really excited about being the first show there,” Sollee said. “I’m doing a micro-residence in Winchester and doing things to help connect with folks and get a feel of what’s going on in Winchester.”

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Friday morning, Sollee will perform during a yoga session with Erin Smith of the OM place on Leeds Stage at 10 a.m.

At 5 p.m. Friday, he will participate in an alley tour of Winchester. An avid cyclist himself, anyone who bikes to Sollee’s concert Saturday will receive free merchandise and valet bicycle parking.

From time to time, Sollee has conducted entire tours solely on bicycles, with the first being from Louisville to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in central Tennessee in 2009.

“It was an enlightening trip to show the time it takes to get from gig to gig,” he said. “You’re quite aware of what you’re riding through.”

The theater’s public unveiling will be at 7 p.m. Friday, the day before Sollee’s concert.

For the last several months, volunteers and craftsmen have been working to repair plaster, renovate bathrooms, paint, install new carpet and make a lot of other repairs to the 91-year-old theater.

In the past couple years, the theater received a number of large donations to fund the restoration, including replacing the failing roof.

“None of that could have happened without our donors and the Clark Community Foundation and a plethora of volunteers,”  Winchester Arts Council president Tracey Miller said recently. During spring break, members of the Leeds youth advisory board were in the theater helping with the work, alongside other workers and volunteers.

Local Boy Scouts did their Eagle Scout projects at the theater, rebuilding the concession stand. A granite counter top was donated. Bathrooms were replaced and updated. A new chandelier was hung in the lobby.

One group volunteered to remove the old carpeting, which saved about $2,000, Miller said. Another group renovated the sound booth. A Boy Scout connection even led to a new curtain for the theater, which saved about $26,000, she said.

“We’re so excited,” she said.

Of course, the big event will be Sollee’s concert Saturday night. A Kentucky native, Sollee said he began playing cello in the fourth grade in a youth orchestra. Through school, he continued on the classical track but cultivated more diverse influences and tastes afterward.

“I had the college life when I’d play classical music and the social life where I’d play with bluegrass and rock bands. Those lives stayed separate for a long time.

“I want to do whatever I can  to connect with people with my instrument. I try to be very inclusive with my music.”

Sollee’s style can be hard to describe, but it will be an interesting evening.

“They can expect a show filled with songs and stories that pull on influences from R&B and folk and classical that have touched my life in various ways,” he said. “I’m really excited to be in this theatrical space and warm it up for another 30 years of programming.”

Tickets are $20 a person and can be purchased at

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email or call 859-759-0051.

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