Local musician Hunter Flynn honored as featured artist at 30th annual MMF

Charcoal drawing highlights Lake Cumberland icon Billy the Goat, capturing community’s culture

By Jed Keith

“It’s about focusing on people.”

And in whatever artistic endeavor Hunter Flynn throws himself, that’s where his focus lies. Flynn has made a name for himself in the Lake Cumberland area during the last year-and-a-half since devoting his time to exclusively making art. 

The Somerset native has regaled audiences with music he characterizes as Appalachian soul, performing at Pulaski County events and venues ranging from Foodstock and Moonlight Festival to the recently-reopened Virginia to the 2022 Master Musicians Festival after winning MMF’s Take the Stage Competition. In the process, he’s been able to bring those soulful melodies and rhythms beyond the borders of Pulaski, inside and outside the Commonwealth.

Hunter Flynn portrait with guitar.

However, some fans of Flynn’s music may not realize that his love for the arts also extends to drawing and painting, passions that stretch back to his early days. And it is for these talents that he will be recognized at the 2023 Master Musicians Festival as MMF’s featured artist.

“I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember,” said Flynn, crediting his parents in encouraging his pursuit of his creative side. And while he admits that he didn’t explore that creativity with as much vigor in his high school years, all that changed when he entered college and enrolled in an elective drawing class.

“That course opened me up to a whole new world of art,” he said. “It changed the way I looked at the world. Ever since then, I’ve taken my drawing a lot more seriously, working to improve and become better than I was.”

That drive for self-improvement is readily seen in both his music and his art, although he does differentiate how they each allow him to stretch creatively.

“[Drawing] lets me get into a Zen place,” Flynn said. “It’s more free-flowing because you’re making something purely visual. You can get lost in it more easily than you can making music.”

That free-flowing spirit is something that extends to the audience for his drawings as well.

“You’re creating something that anyone is able to interpret however they want,” Flynn said. “It’s more about the process with painting or drawing, for me, than it is the finished product. The audience is then able to interpret it however they want.”

That process allows Flynn to flex creative muscles that making music doesn’t always afford.

“Most of the time with music, you get to experience the finished product over and over and over again,” he said. “With painting, it’s all done at one at once. There’s no immediate reaction or gratification.”

Most importantly for Flynn, however, is being able to have an emotional touchstone to whatever piece he tackles.

“Whether I’m doing a piece for myself or a commission or a customer, I always try to find a way to connect to and be invested in it so it doesn’t feel like work,” he explained. “My whole goal since I started doing art full-time is that whatever I’m doing doesn’t feel like work. That’s the end goal.”

It’s this sensibility, approach to art, and passion for the medium that led to Flynn being selected as MMF’s featured artist.

“Hunter has been celebrated so much for his music, and rightfully so,” MMF President Tiffany Finley said. “We were thrilled to be able to celebrate him on two of our stages last year. But we thought he deserved to be celebrated for his visual artistic abilities just the same.”

For his part, Flynn exudes exuberance about being part of the festival again.

“It’s awesome to be a part of it in any way that I can,” Flynn said. “Getting to play a song with Marty Stuart and having my own set in the acoustic tent [at MMF 2022] changed the trajectory of my life.”

Flynn noted that the experience has opened a plethora of doors and has provided more opportunities to explore his musical craft.

“After MMF, I immediately got more inquiries about gigs and started traveling more and getting to do what I love everything single weekend. I couldn’t be more thankful for that. And now getting to come back and be involved with MMF for another year is an honor.”

Billy the Goat. Charcoal drawing by Hunter Flynn.

That involvement as this year’s featured artist focuses on a Lake Cumberland mainstay and icon of the area, Billy the Goat. The goat was a familiar and welcomed animal and attraction who made his home on the shores of Lake Cumberland until recently, when he was found dead in March near the lake. After the news broke about Billy’s death, Flynn decided he wanted the goat to be the centerpiece of his contribution to the festival.

“When I was coming up with ideas for the piece, that was when the news of Billy being shot came through,” Flynn said. “I just saw the love people had for him and how people associated Billy with the area and thought focusing on Billy would be a good way to use him as a symbol for the lake and the culture of our area.”

The drawing, created with charcoal on paper, features Billy as the focal point, floating on a guitar in Lake Cumberland, with the Bronston Bridge in Burnside serving as the background. But as much as Billy is used as a touchstone of lake culture in the drawing, Flynn says that it’s more broadly about the people of the area.

“I wanted my piece to reflect the community of Somerset rather than be focused on an artist,” he said. “The people here are the reason MMF happens. They make it happen.” 

Finley echoed those sentiments.

“I think the piece he has created embodies our tight-knit community, our lake culture and beauty, the vibe of our festival, and showcases Flynn’s incredible talent,” she said.

Creativity, culture, and community. After all, “it’s about focusing on people.”

Hunter Flynns artwork will be auctioned off both days of the 2023 Master Musicians Festival. The auction will begin at 7:40 p.m. Friday, July 14, and continue at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 15, starting with Fridays closing bid. Money raised from the art auction goes back to MMF, a 501c3 non-profit organization, to be used for the following years festival. The featured artwork is also used on the front of MMFs lineup T-shirt every year, which can be purchased during the festival at the merchandise tent.