Rabbit, Redux

Area musicians step up to help Kentucky’s Rabbit Hash General Store after its recent devastating fire

click to enlarge Kyle Smith (left) and Steve Lawrence in the ashes of the post-fire Rabbit Hash General Store.
Kyle Smith (left) and Steve Lawrence in the ashes of the post-fire Rabbit Hash General Store.


hen Terrie Markesbery heard the siren approaching her Rabbit Hash, Ky., home on the evening of Feb. 13, she had a somewhat disquieting notion.

“I thought, ‘Oh gosh, let that be an ambulance,’ ” the Rabbit Hash General Store’s proprietor recalls. “Isn’t that weird? It’s a morbid thing to think, but when I saw the fire truck, I knew it.”

Markesbery, who has operated the General Store for 18 years, had already been contacted by the store’s security company because an interior sensor had gone off. The fire engine’s presence on the rural road that bisects the bucolic community of around 300 residents focused her vague sense of impending disaster.

The fire department’s arrival signaled the beginning of the longest night in Rabbit Hash history. In a matter of hours, the building that housed the town’s fabled General Store, a structure that stood for 186 years, had been reduced to smoking rubble; the cause was traced to an electrical short in an old Coca-Cola cooler. Only one wall and the floor of the original building remained; the contents were a total loss. Markesbery lost her cat Travis in the blaze as well.

The silver lining in the General Store’s destruction was the expression of a deep-rooted passion for Rabbit Hash that emerged far beyond its tangible borders. The town has long been a destination for local and regional musicians (particularly those from the Folk/Roots/Americana sphere), both at its iconic General Store and during summer festivals. Those musicians and their rabidly loyal fans will be some of the engines to power the restoration of the Rabbit Hash General Store.

“The efforts are going to rebuild the charming, 186-year-old structure, and the other part of the fundraising is to re-inventory the store and bring back the feeling we all have known — that sense of community and a place of belonging,” Markesbery says. “There’s kind of a two-part thing going on here, which is good. It just gives people more of a cause.”

The Rabbit Hash fundraising efforts will take many forms over the next few weeks and months. Cincinnati music icon David Rhodes Brown has a particular interest in Rabbit Hash — his border collie, Lucy Lou, is the town’s current and soon to be ex-mayor (she’ll retire on Old Timers Day over Labor Day weekend; the subsequent mayoral election will raise funds for the store); he and longtime partner Bobbi Kayser (who volunteers on the board of the historical society) live minutes from the town. Brown helped found the Rabbit Hash barn dances, and he and his bands, including Warsaw Falcons and 500 Miles to Memphis, have been staples of Rabbit Hash music programming for years. As a result, Brown is spearheading many of the musical fundraising activities, which are aiming to raise somewhere north of $400,000 to help restore the store.

“Historic restorators in the area have assured us the new store will look exactly like the old store,” Brown says. “It was digitally measured by the historic people, and an architect is working on plans.”

Many fundraising events are in the works. Saturday, Warsaw Falcons will take the Southgate House Revival stage to celebrate the release of The Warsaw Falcons with Bo Diddley Live, a 1983 recording that Brown retrieved from his tape archive and restored with the intent of using it as a fundraiser for Guitars For Vets. Now, the local organization that helps treat veterans with PTSD by giving them instruments and guitar lessons will re-donate that money back to the Rabbit Hash General Store restoration fund.

The biggest musical fundraiser takes place May 28-29 at Newport’s Southgate House Revival. The “Restore the Store” concerts organized by local musician Kelly Thomas will feature 32 bands, including 500 Miles to Memphis, The Tillers, Dallas Moore and Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle.

Brown’s most ambitious project is less an organized event and more an ongoing campaign made up of musicians who will essentially be their own fundraising committees. Brown calls it “100 Bands for Rabbit Hash,” for which he is looking for local musicians to book gigs at the area’s most popular venues and donate the proceeds from a single night to the Restore the Store effort.

“If there’s already 100 bands and we need more money, I’ll create a new one called “Hundreds of Bands for Rabbit Hash,’ “ Brown says. “I want (participants) to take a photo of their band with the cash showing they did it, and we’ll have a Wall of Fame for all the musicians who helped rebuild the store.”

The General Store’s salvageable beams, walls and floors are in storage; their use in the eventual restoration will mean that the building can retain its historical status. Part of the proceeds from the various benefits will help buy building materials that match the age and composition of the original structure.

“All the material we use has to be of that era, the same tongue and groove from that period,” Brown says. “We’re already acquiring it. There are plenty of abandoned buildings that didn’t burn.”

For the time being, the General Store is set up in a nearby barn and is open for business, with goods for sale and regular live music. As Markesbery notes, “It’s a pretty good temporary home away from home.” As the fundraising continues to chip away at the significant amount of money required to complete the project, Markesbery is humbled by the efforts of so many close friends and perfect strangers.

“The Cincinnati music scene, and the motorcycle community, it’s amazing what they’re doing. It makes the loss somehow bearable,” she says. “I’m overwhelmed by the support.”

The General Store itself — owned, like all of the other buildings in town, by the Rabbit Hash Historical Society — was insured for a fraction of the ultimate restoration cost, with the contents covered at about the same percentage. A GoFundMe campaign has so far accumulated more than $60,000, and Duke Energy donated $25,000 to the cause (total donations stand at around $150,000, according to Kayser), but there’s still a great deal to be done before the restoration can begin. As far as Markesbery is concerned, it can’t come fast enough.

“I don’t want to live on a planet without a Rabbit Hash,” she says with a laugh. “Kentucky, the Tristate area, the world needs Rabbit Hash to get up quickly. It’s about what people want in their lives. The fundraising is secondary to what we as people need.”

Information on fundraising events and how to

donate to help the RABBIT HASH GENERAL STORE

rebuild can be found at rabbithash.com. 

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