The VFW might seem like an unlikely place to catch live music, but that's where I was yesterday for most of the afternoon. I went because Sue Orfield and Randy Sinz were playing and ended up enjoying myself so much I stayed after the music ended.
Sue and Randy play together with various different bands: AcoustiHoo; Catya's Trio; Code Blue; The Sue Orfield Band; and Rada Dada but when it's the only the two of them booked, they call themselves Two Rivers. To make things just a little more confusing, they rarely play alone as Two Rivers because they frequently have friends sitting in with them. And this was so last night when Gregg Wheeler joined them. Gregg is a tall, slim, cowboy-booted harmonica player. He also plays guitar and sings. But before I get into the music, let me fill you in on the venue and the reason these three were playing.
There was a benefit yesterday for a person with cancer. I'm not personally acquainted with the person and won't put the name in this blog—it's not my place. It's my impression that while there were many family and friends at the benefit, there were also a lot of people like me there, people who like music and were more than happy to donate for a noble cause. I can only imagine how strange it must have been and I know I would have been both overwhelmingly grateful and really uncomfortable had it been me. Enough said.
I will say that it was the most well-organized benefit I've ever been to. There was a huge amount of donated items: a long table-full of baked goods; original art; baskets from a ton of local and East Coast businesses; official Packers memorabilia; handmade jewelry; a handsome cookie jar from Caradori Pottery...there were $2 raffles, $3 raffles and $5 raffles. There were paint stick-raffles and 50/50 raffles. There were chair massages and live music. Ahhh, the music.
Sue, Randy and Gregg volunteered their time for this event and it was oh-so pleasant. Sue's sax playing is diverse and when she's in Two Rivers she also plays the keyboard and even sings an occasional harmony. Randy, for the most part, puts down his bass in favor of the guitar and yesterday he and Gregg took turns singing.
I've already revealed my bias for Sue and Randy in this blog. I love their talent. I love their music. I love Sue's passion and generosity of spirit and Randy's voice and professionalism. I love Sue's originals and Randy's choice of covers. I love Sue's versatility and Randy's stature on stage. And I love the people they share their stage with, like Gregg Wheeler.
Gregg's an unassuming man. I get the impression that he's a kind, hardworking man who loves to play music. The way he plays the harmonica is somehow closer to art than music. I know, I know, music is art, but there's a difference between a really good musician and a musical artist and—in my very subjective opinion—Gregg's playing is artistic. He pulls notes out of the harmonica in a way I've never heard. His tastes tend toward old-style country songs—probably the songs he heard around the house growing up—and he's well-suited for them.
Together they played a variety of songs, opening with an instrumental version of Cupid, followed by Buck Owen's Think of Me When You're Lonely, Allison Kraus's Outside Looking In, Sue's original Atomic A-Go-Go—a lively instrumental and one of my very favorites because I know every note and can clap along—On Broadway, James Taylor's Steamroller, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, and Gershwin's Summertime, to name a few. Gregg played my favorite of his songs, Marty Robbin's Devil Woman. He presents it with a thin veneer of irony, covering some real emotion. When he sings, “Devil Woman/let go of my arms” I get the impression he's had his own Devil Woman hanging on, refusing to let go somewhere in his past.
And then there's the song The Gold, written by Chippewa Falls native, Greg Gilbertson. This is a beautiful-sad love song: “I am a drunk old man hung over in a midnight bar/ I talk too much about how things were back before the war/ Now I only drink the strongest stuff I find/ Honey, I’m the whisky, You’re the wine.” There's a yearning in this song that touches the heart. And Randy's voice is perfect for it. I hope to hear more of Mr. Gilbertson's work in the future.
I'll be writing more about Sue, Randy and the musicians they play with in the future. This Wednesday (11/6/13) they'll be at Fanny Hill as Two Rivers. Their other gigs are listed below.
As you can see, there's plenty of opportunity to catch them, and no excuse not to:
Nov. 6, Two Rivers at Fanny Hill in Eau Claire, WI. 5:30-8:30pm.
Nov. 15, Rada Dada at Sammy's Pub in Eau Claire, WI. 8:30pm-midnight.
Nov. 21, Two Rivers at Foster Cheese Haus in Foster, WI.5:30-8:30pm.
Nov. 27, Stage Fright IV at Pizza Plus in Eau Claire, WI. 8pm.
Nov. 30, Left Wing Bourbon at The Thirsty Catfish (Benefit for The Humane Society) in Durand, WI. 8pm - midnight.
Dec. 4, Two Rivers at Fanny Hill in Eau Claire, WI. 5:30-8:30pm.
Dec. 6, Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra at the State Theater in Eau Claire, WI. 7:30pm.
Dec. 7, The Sue Orfield Band at Gelly's in Stockholm, WI. 8-11pm.
Dec. 14, Soul Tribute at The Heyde Center For The Arts in Chippewa Falls, WI. 7:30pm.
Dec. 19,Two Rivers at Foster Cheese Haus in Foster, WI. 5:30-8:30pm.
Dec. 27, The Butanes at The Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul, MN. 9pm.
Dec. 31, Rada Dada at The Masonic Temple in Eau Claire, WI. 8pm.