Friday evening found me at a table at the Acoustic Cafe listening to the Rongstad Family. Tony and Matt, a father and son duo, sat side by side onstage, comfortable with both each other and the audience as Tony, the patriarch, strummed his guitar and the tones of Matt's smooth, mellow saxophone filled the room. I know Matt through his work Irie Sol, an amazing local band; both Matt and Irie rock, and if you haven't caught them yet, you are soooo missing out. At the very least, you should check out their CD, titled, “Solstice” on CD Baby or iTunes.
Most of the songs were originals, written by Tony; beautiful acoustic tunes in classic folk tradition, transformed into dreamy melodies as the strains of Matt's sax rode the air. Other songs included the traditional ballad, “May The Circle Be Unbroken,” Dylan's “Don't Think Twice,” and songs by Glen Hansard. During one of the original songs my friend, Catya, nudged me; “He's playing a baritone guitar; you're going to want to note this.” I'm not a musician or musically trained and was glad she was there to explain the rich sound that guitar offered. Matt switch up between three saxophones, playing his “Baby Sax,” or soprano sax, during Hansard's “When Your Mind's Made Up” and the flute for “The Water is Wide.” The connection between Matt and Tony is apparent, but it isn't just about the music: it's about family, love and mutual respect.
This connection was again apparent when Kari Rongstad took the stage. Her choice of music was edgier—girl-style—singing John Prine's “Angel From Montgomery,” and Taylor Swift's “Romeo Save Me.” My two favorites were Joan Osborne's “What If God Was One Of Us” and Warren Zevon's “Don't Let Us Get Sick,” the latter of which she sang with her friend and guitarist, John Picket. Kari's performance was a bit tentative at first, but as she gained confidence her voice rang with maturity and authenticity. Through it all was her father, tending the equipment, his pride very evident.
The Venue and Audience
The Acoustic Cafe lives up to its name, regularly hosting live local music. I don't know if it was the music, my mood, the tiny Christmas lights and local art decorating the walls and windows, or being with good friends that graced The Acoustic with a hint of magic Friday night, but I had a spectacular time. The audience was attentive and respectful, consisting of a mix of hip teenagers, well-dressed 30- and 40-something adults, and endearingly scruffy collegiate-types.
While The Acoustic serves beer it is not a “drinking venue.” If I were still drinking and shooting dope I would avoid The Acoustic like the plague because it just isn't the kind of place that promotes wretched excess. I am constantly reminded of how good it is, today, to be clean and sober, for I know nights like Friday just wouldn't be possible if I were not. I highly recommend The Acoustic Cafe for those in recovery and who are, like me, live music fans.
Tony, Matt, and Kari's show ended at 10:00 PM, and my friend Jackie and I then headed to The Snout in Chippewa Falls to see Downers Grove. I'll write that up later....talk about extremes!
Acoustic Cafe: www.myspace.com/acousticcafeeauclaire
Matt Rongstad: www.myspace.com/matthewrongstad
Tony Rongstad: www.myspace.com/tonyrongstad
Kari Rongstad: www.myspace.com/karikariwee
Irie Sol: www.myspace.com/iriesolreggae