On Tuesday night, country superstar Jake Owen was the latest act to surprise a sold-out crowd at the Lexington Opera House in Lexington, Kentucky.
The show, which opened with Colbie Caillat’s group Gone West, was part of a series of underplays promoted by local iHeartRadio station 98.1 The Bull. The Secret Sessions, as they're being called, has already seen sold-out performances from Maren Morris, Rascal Flatts, Justin Moore and Kane Brown throughout September at the roughly 900-capacity venue.
“We are thrilled with the success of Secret Sessions at the Lexington Opera House,” Luanne Franklin, the venue's director of performing arts, tells Billboard. “Thanks to our partnership with iHeartRadio, we are able to offer country music fans the rare opportunity to see their favorite artists perform on a small stage, in an intimate atmosphere. The farthest seat is only 75 feet from the stage. The fan experience is incomparable and the artists love it too. You can literally feel the energy in the room.”
Lexington Opera House and iHeartRadio’s regional vp Michael Jordan brainstormed the idea to allow headline artists the opportunity to play the city of Lexington in a smaller venue. According to the venue, the idea was to present several artists in a short time-frame as a series to introduce the concept. The secret nature of the show helped avoid conflicts with radius clauses for certain artists.
Only two of these early shows (Rascall Flatts and Jake Owen) actually withheld the name of the artists beforehand, leading the venue to call them “not so secret” secret sessions. Names were released for some of the artists in this first run of shows in order “to give the consumer a good idea what to expect and build their trust,” Franklin says.
iHeartRadio and the Opera House, who have previously partnered on events such as holiday acoustic concerts, plan to keep the series going. They intend to host at least one secret session every quarter with the next one already in the works.
“The artists love the venue," Franklin adds. "While it may lack capacity, it makes up for it with charm, character and incredible fan experience for the artist."