Sunday, May 10, 2015

Music Heals

“Hello.  My name is Jennifer and I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.”

I’ve been clean and sober for 24 years but my sobriety doesn’t erase my past or change that essential part of who I am.  In fact, it’s a guiding principle in my life and has affected the majority of my decisions.

You might be wondering, after reading these first four sentences, what in tarnation this has to do with music in the Chippewa Valley?   I beg your indulgence and ask that you continue to read.  This blog is important to me.

One of the decisions I made in recovery from addiction and after my release from prison was my choice of professions.  I am a licensed mental health therapist specializing in addictions.  Most people know me as “Jennifer Hazen,” a name I originally took on Facebook to avoid “dual relationships” with my clients.  The name Jennifer Hazen took on a life of its own and now I accept it as much as I do my legal name.

So let me start this blog again:
“Hello.  My name is Jennifer Coyne and I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. I also sing in some bands and I’m writing to ask you for your help.”

I work at a small, community-based, non-profit counseling center in Menomonie, Wisconsin called Arbor Place.  Arbor Place is known, primarily, for its residential drug treatment center but we also offer outpatient mental health services, and we are moving into an integrated model treating both addictions and mental health in our residential program. 

Arbor Place sits on the corner of 21st Street and 3rd Avenue, behind Mayo/Red Cedar Hospital. It’s been there for over 35 years.  It is an old house and tens of thousands of addicts and alcoholics have walked through its doors.  It’s old.  Run-down.  The linoleum is battered.  There are white trails in the carpeting marking foot-traffic.  It has 5 bathrooms for 16 residents.  It’s stifling hot in the summer and in the winter, in some areas of the house, you can see your breath.  There have been attempts at renovation, but in reality the building is just tired and, frankly, is limited in size relative to need.

I started my career at Arbor and worked there for almost 6 years until moving forward in 2008.  In November of 2013 I got a call from the director, Jill Gamez, offering me a job.  In all honesty, I had no intention of accepting the offer, but I thought I’d meet with her and hear her out.  When I got there she showed me the plans for a new building. I was riveted.  Like my clients, I’d spent my career in battered, tired offices with faded carpet and stained industrial furniture.  The idea of working in an aesthetically pleasing environment was a new concept.  And providing our clients a place equipped with luxuries like bathrooms, temperature-controlled rooms, an exercise room, an art room, a garden and comfortable furniture was revolutionary.  And doing this all while doubling our capacity and keeping the costs of treatment affordable is unheard of.  You see, Arbor Place is the area’s most inexpensive treatment center.  Let me give you an example: Hazelden, an illustrious treatment center in Minnesota, is approximately $28,000 for a 28-day stay.  Closer to home the costs range from $10,000 to $17,000.  Arbor Place is approximately $6000.  And Jill’s vision is to keep our costs affordable, despite the new building.   I accepted the job and started back at Arbor in January of 2014.  You see I, too, have a vision for our new center: The infusion of music into treatment.

I avoided music for almost 13 years.  I’d decided music was a “trigger.”  I believed that music brought flashbacks of my drug-using.  That changed one day when, in my undergraduate program, after a long day of work my then 13-year-old-son, Toby, invited me into his room to listen to some music. Frankly, I didn’t want to do it.  I was tired. I had no interest in his teeny-bopper music.  Still, wanting to be a good mother and be involved in his enthusiasms, I did.  He played me Big N Rich and System Of A Down. 

I was electrified.

In that moment I understood it wasn’t all music that evoked memories of my drug-using past, just certain songs and genres.  I dove into music, saddened by its absence from my life and desperate to make up for lost time.

I believe music is important.  It is important for our quality of life and important for the quality of our mental health. It walks as partner with us through our fears, joys, heartaches and triumphs, echoing, reflecting and comforting us in our life’s journey. It alters our perspective, lifts us up in times of need and, quite literally, changes the way our synapses fire. Music is valuable and must be a psychological need, since we’ve been making music since the dawn of time.

Unfortunately, too many musicians succumb to the myth of “sex and drugs and rock and roll” as a path to creativity and happiness.  And we lose talented musicians all the time.  I’m not just talking about Jimmy Morrison or Amy Winehouse.  I’m talking about people close to home, close to our families and to us.  Many of them are out there as I write, slowing killing themselves with their sweet, deadly poison. We know who they are. We see them. We regretfully shake our heads. Perhaps we’ll turn to our friend saying something like, “S/he’s got so much talent, too bad….”

Many people come to treatment with nothing.  No money, no clothes, nowhere to live.  They’ve burned their bridges and have no one to turn to for support.  They’ve pawned their TVs, their phones, their microwaves and their guitars.  I want Arbor Place to be prepared for that.  Certainly many will—and do—come to Arbor with their instruments, but I want one of the intake questions to be, “Do you play an instrument?  If so, you are welcome to bring it in and if you don’t have one, we’ve got one you can use.”

I’ve already developed my own music therapy group, now used at two area treatment centers, but I want more.  I want to make our new Arbor Place the place our local musicians can go when they’ve had too much.  When they wake up and say, “I can’t do this anymore.  It’s killing me.  I have to stop.” I want them to know that Arbor Place is where they can come to get clean and sober and reacquaint themselves with their craft--their passion--without drugs and alcohol.
As an addict I did terrible things and went to terrible places.  I understand how addiction steals our very essence: it steals our morals, our integrity, our passion, our creativity, our honesty—it steals everything that is good, right and real.  And, as a recovering addict, I know that there’s always hope.  We can restore and remake ourselves in recovery.  I know, because I did it and I’ve seen countless others who have also done it.

Now here’s where I’m busting myself out.  Fronting myself off. I’ve worked hard at keeping my professional life separate from my private life.  The boundaries have been blurring over the past year and that’s OK, because I’m merging Jennifer Hazen and Jennifer Coyne, starting with this blog, in the interest of my passions: Music and helping people recovering from addiction.

And here’s where you come in:

I’ve initiated a GoFundMe Campaign to buy musical equipment for the new building.  I would like a PA system, microphones, amps, a bass, guitars—electric and acoustic--drums and other percussion instruments.  I want to start daily drum circles and weekly recovery jams (read about the efficacy of drum circles in recovery >here<).  I would like to, eventually, have some basic recording equipment and, perhaps in years to come, put out some Arbor Place recovery CDs.  I want music available to all our clients in whatever form suits them best.  My goal is $6000 by July 11th.  We will also be accepting donations of musical equipment and MP3 players, all of which will stay in-house, for use by current clients.

July 11th is the date of our grand opening celebration.  It is open to everyone and there will be live music from noon to 5:00.   

The Eclectic Barn Boys with Randy Sinz, Gregg Wheeler and Johnny Lynch will be playing from 12-1:30

Jenny and the Lost Boys with Jennifer Hazen, Jim Phillips, David Jones and John LeBrun will be playing from 1:30-3:00

Jenny and the Jets will host an open jam for anyone who wants to get up on stage from 3:00-5:00.

And there's a rumor that local singer-songwriter, Yata, will make a special appearance.

Please donate money to my cause by clicking >here<.  It’s a good cause and your money—and your trust—will be used wisely and to an honorable purpose.  If you want to donate equipment you can email me at and I can arrange pick up times.

And please, please, please come to our opening celebration on July 11th.  I’ll be posting more about it on this blog and on Facebook.

Thank you so much for reading.

Jennifer Hazen Coyne.

You can read more about the power of music to help heal addiction:
Healing Power Of Music--BBC
Music As Drug
Who Needs Drugs When You've Got Music? NPR

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Sue Orfield Show

I’ve written and written and written and written Sue Orfield.  I’m writing her again and will most definitely write her in the future.  

Many musicians have a “day job.”  They need one, because making a living playing music is hard, unpredictable and often grueling. Talent in itself isn’t sufficient.  There’s tons and tons of talented, brilliant musicians and artists in this world and while some will rise to the public consciousness through pure luck, most will remain unrecognized and unappreciated.  Partly because they don’t or won’t put in the hard work.  This is not Sue.  Not only is Sue Orfield talented and prolific, but she’s the hardest working musician I know.  And she’s the best.

Sue is a smart woman.  Sue is flexible.  Sue is responsible. She’s punctual, grounded, assertive and a quick learner.  Sue could be successful in a variety of venues.  She could settle down, work her 9-5 and collect a paycheck, living contentedly with Randy, getting a solid 8 hours of sleep. But she chooses to chase her passion: Music.  And we’re darned fortunate, because we’re reaping the benefits of her hard work.

Her most recent project takes us to the next level.  The project is the brainchild of Donna Berry the Development Director of Chippewa Valley Community Television (CVCTV). Donna, like me, is a fan of the local music scene. Donna not only recognized Sue’s talent, but also all those other qualities needed to make a great idea solid. She teamed up with Production Manager Aaron Rigby, Rick and Maryann Wold of Studio One Teleproductions and Alex Kolb of Eau Claire Steadi  and The Sue Orfield Show was born.

The Sue Orfield Show airs on Chippewa Valley Community Television on Saturday nights at 8:00 PM on cable channels 993 and 994 or via digital tuner 93-13 and 98-14. The show repeats at 8:00 pm Thursday on 993,  It  streams live at 8:00 pm Saturday and if that’s all too confusing for you (it certainly is for me) or if you miss a show never fear, you can catch it anytime on your computer.  Just go here.  A new episode will air the first Saturday of the month.

I’m really hoping you’ve already heard about the show, but if you haven’t, let me fill you in.   The show is hosted by Sue Orfield and each show features a musical guest or guest from the Chippewa Valley and upper Midwest.  To date there have been six featured guests.

Eddie Beavers is a Nashville refugee with a renegade’s heart, now living in the Chippewa Valley.  He sings old-style country and blues as only a hard-living man can--with soul and conviction.  The show is beautifully filmed and captures Eddie’s musical style and his loveable bad-boy personality.

Greg Gilbertson is a reclusive family man.  His musical genius occasionally flashes across the Chippewa Valley like a meteor.  And, like a meteor, if you’re not at the right place at the right time, looking in the right direction you’ll miss him.  Sue has captured him in all his original glory.

The Mike Malone Jazz Trio is comprised of three gifted young men: Mike Malone on drums, Jordan Jenkins on bass, and Josh Gallagher on piano.  Young and passionate, they're all still in college and while I haven't caught the trio I've seen Josh Gallagher sit in with Sue in other venues and I'm looking forward to seeing The Sue Orfield Show's episode featuring them.
  The Michael Rambo Project is a 5-piece band offering a little bit of rock, a healthy dose of jazz-funk fusion and a ton of Soul.  Michael’s music is influenced by the 70s and 80s and while he looks to be in his mid 30s, he attracts young, vital and versatile musicians into his fold. His songs are a reflection of his faith and is accessible to people of all beliefs.

Softly, Dear is local 5-piece indie-band.  This is a wonderfully multi-faceted group of young musicians and singer-songwriters, all from the Eau Claire area.  Their music is fresh and interesting and their lyrics approach poetry: “I’m digging for colors by my fingernails find only black/the wings on my feet are matched by the weight on my back.”  Watch this band, it’s going to go places.

The very first taping was with Eggplant Heroes. The last music show taped by CVCTV in front of a live audience was years ago and most of the current team hadn't worked on this type of project before.  I’ve been pleased to be in the audience for three of the five shows and have watched with pleasure the progression of this show.  The first set was, to the layman's eye, a controlled chaos of wires and cameras. Many of the production team are volunteers,some in their teens, and it’s shocking to see how young many of them are and even more shocking to see how professional they are.  

Nonetheless, having The Heroes as the first taping was overly ambitious for a couple of reasons.  First off, it’s a 7-man band.  That’s a lot of sound to handle for a pilot.  Second off, there’s Joel Pace.  One of Joel’s charms is he has a hard time keeping still.  And he likes to climb.  The camera-people just weren’t equipped to follow him around the studio, nor was the lighting.  Sue told me later that the set just looked too messy and in the end they decided to scrap the first taping.  But it wasn’t a wash, because the team learned and adapted.  Sue called Evan Middlesworth, owner of Pine Hollow Audio, in to run the sound, the team figured out how to make the set look cleaner and, when it came for the second taping of Eggplant Heroes, Joel showed admirable restraint and--for the most part--stayed in place.

The finished product of these tapings, of The Sue Orfield Shows are amazing.  Professional.  Remarkable.  

The Sue Orfield Show IS the Chippewa Valley and it is a gem.  A treasure.  And it needs our help. Funding for Chippewa Valley Community Television has been cut drastically in the past few years and the show needs our help to keep on air. There is an Indigogo Campaign to raise $9000 for the production and airing of this show.  The campaign launched on Monday, May 5th and has already raised just over $2000.

Music adds color and texture and meaning to our lives. It reflects our emotions and our personal experiences.  It gives words to our inner thoughts.  Our local musicians add to our quality of life and the value of our community.  And The Sue Orfield Show spotlights us.  Elevates us.  Showcases the talent of the Chippewa Valley in all its glory. This is us.  

I’ll be donating a small part of my paycheck to support the Sue Orfield Show until it reaches its goal, because I believe in Sue, I believe in the show and I believe in the Chippewa Valley. 

I hope you will too.
Tune in.  
Watch Sue.  
Watch our people.  
Listen, enjoy and revel.
And be a part of it.
Please donate.

Listen to Sue talking about her show on WEAU here and here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


In March I had the pleasure of seeing Trisis at Chippewa Fall's Heyde Center. Trisis is a trio of sisters who sing the songs of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Focusing on the 1920s, '30s and 40s they are retro-postmodernist.

I heard about them from David Gee of Deepwater Reunion, a popular blues band. He “discovered” Trisis and took them under his wing. He first saw them years ago when doing a benefit for The House Of The Dove, a hospice center in Marshfield, Wisconsin. David was the MC of the show at the Heyde Center and he said, “The amount of work they do is phenomenal. They are the hardest working people I've ever met in my life.” They have been singing publicly for about two and a half years and have done over 200 shows. Why is this remarkable? Let me introduce you to these young women.

Their names are Jessica, Jackie and Jasmine and they are 17-, 14- and 10-years-old. They are accompanied by their father on the guitar and that, combined with their voices-as-instrument, is more than sufficient. They entered the stage in black and beige polka-dotted, below-the-knees dresses with ruffled bodices, pearls and black button-up sweaters. They had bows in their hair. The two older girls curled their hair while Jasmine—the youngest— French braided hers. The combination of youth and their clothing might conjure the word “cute,” but it wasn't. It was “right.” Their first song was a rousing version of “Choo-Choo Ch'boogie” a song first recorded in 1946.

Next was “Sugartime,” a tune recorded in the '50s. They took a break as Jessica explained how they came to be singing these songs. She said her grandmother introduced them to vinyl and her first thought was, “You can get music out of these big black discs?” She explained that she soon fell in love with both vinyl and the music. They then launched into Ruth Etting's “March Winds and April Showers,” during which Jessica did a solo in a true 1930s style voice and I flashed back to my youth, watching old black-and-white musicals.

I have to admit that when I heard about Trisis I expected soaring soprano harmonies—kind of Peter, Paul and Mary-like—but these gals' voices are deep and rich, embodying their chosen musical era. They are also tightly choreographed, with synchronized hand and body movements that reflect the lyrics.

Other songs that evening included Patsy Cline's “I Fall To Pieces” sung by Jackie and Jessica, “After You've Gone” (1918), “Am I Blue” (1929), Elvis' “Can't Help Falling In Love With You,” “Java Jive” (1941), Hank Williams' “Your Cheating Heart,” “It's A Sin To Tell A Lie” (1936), “Fever,” The Andrews Sisters' “Rum and Coca-Cola” (1945) ['our grandmother made us sing this one'] “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” (1941), and “White Cliffs Of Dover.”

They also sang songs written by their father, David: “Since You're No Longer Here,” “When I'm Not With You” written for their mother, Khristy ('my heart begins to scheming/without rhyme or reason'), a train song I really liked but didn't get the name of ('tour the nation/fascination/ride the train'), a song in French—with the help of Google Translate—titled “Cage En Fare,” and “Good Time Charlie.” David's songwriting is pitch-perfect, perfectly matches his daughters' sensibilities and fits right in with the mood.

Some of my favorite moments was when 10-year-old Jasmine sang Patsy Cline's “Blue.” She was amazing. Jackie did a fabulous job with country-boogie song, “Cow-Cow Boogie” (1942) and I lovedlovedloved the way Jessica cupped her hands to her mouth reproducing the sound of a trumpet. The three sisters sang “Hey Good Looking” charmingly and were unabashedly camp.

They wrapped up the night with “Sincerely” (1954), “Hit The Road Jack” (1960) and finally, invited David Gee as Louis Armstrong back onto the stage for the finale, “Wonderful World.”

These gals are young.  These gals are talented. And they're passionate—there's no question they love what they do. And they're lucky to have parents who understand how important it is to let children chase their passions. It's my understanding that David and Khristy are not typical “stage parents,” they support and encourage but do not live vicariously off their daughters nor are they making their daughters live their own, unfulfilled dreams. David Gee confided that he has to encourage them to take breaks—they just want to sing all the time. I talked to Jessica, Jackie and Jasmine briefly after the concert. They told me they find their music on Pandora or use suggestions given them by their grandmother and when I asked them what they want others to know about them Jessica said, “We're regular girls who want to bring joy to other people.” If the show at the Heyde Center is any indication, that's exactly what Trisis is doing. And they're doing it darn well.

You can find out more about these amazing young sisters, see some Youtube clips and purchase their CDs here:
Or like them on > Facebook<

Find them. Listen to them. Catch them live. Support them. You'll be pleased you did.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Sue Orfield Band

Pizza Plus.
Friday night.

I could almost end this blog now, because if you're reading you've probably already seen Sue in one or all of her bands and you've experienced the magic. But I'm a gal of many words and while I won't do The Sue Orfield Band (SOB) justice, I'm going to go ahead and give it a whirl. And because I've written about her before, here, here and here, I run the risk of repeating myself but I don't mind and I hope you won't either. And here's an added caveat: I'm heavily, blindly and passionately biased. I love Sue and I love her music.

As previously stated, I'm a lyrics gal. Words are the way I define, relate and make sense of my world. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy instrumental solos, but unless they're attached to lyrics and the emotions those lyrics evoke I can't easily ascribe emotion to purely instrumental music. Or so I thought, before I met Sue and her music. I'd love to get into her head. She seems to hear the world differently, like her relationship with music is tangible. It's almost as if a note is a syllable, a musical phrase a clause, a musical stanza a paragraph, and each song is a chapter in Sue's story. And can she write a story. What initially made Sue's music assessable to me was her obvious generosity of spirit when onstage. She's the opposite of a spoiled Diva. She radiates goodwill, patience, happiness and passion, and it was these qualities that encouraged me to step out of my musical comfort zone and listen to her music in a different way. But enough singing the praises of Sue (for now) and let me move on to the rest of the band.

The Sue Orfield Band is composed of Sue with her saxophone, her honey Randy Sinz on electric bass, Dave Schrader on drums and Mike Schlenker on lead electric guitar. (I wrote about Dave when he sat in with Mojo Lemon.  You can read about that here.)

They have three CDs out: “Bonk” "Now Let Us Sing" and their most recent, “Fight The Good Fight.” Sue has an earlier CD with another incarnation of SOB titled, “Nobody's Looking.”

People who tend to arrive to events fashionably late will miss out on good seats at a Sue Orfield event. I got to Pizza Plus a few minutes early and was darn fortunate to find a place to plant myself. SOB kicked the show off to an enthusiastic audience with an Orfield original, “Sway.” Mike Schlenker was all tall and aloof in his denim button-down collared shirt with an American flag on the back and matching American flag guitar. His playing is effortless and while he's usually pretty straight-faced, I caught him having fun several times. Randy was distinguished and smiling on his bass and Dave kept enthusiastic time behind his drums—though he was hard to see back there, he made his presence known. While I was able to write down a lot of the songs, I was too busy dancing and won't be able to offer blow-by-blows of the action. Suffice it to say that this band puts on a great show.

Other songs played Friday night include: “Same Kind of Crazy” and “Wild Me” Delbert McClinton songs, sung by Randy, Steve Goodman's “City Of New Orleans” sung by Dave, what I believe is a Mike Schlenker original, sung by him called—I think, “Good Work If You Can Get It” and a beautiful instrumental originally by The Youngbloods titled “Darkness, Darkness.” Randy sang “Unchain My Heart” and a Jimmy Rogers' song, “T For Texas” and the band performed the Harlem Globetrotters' theme song and the song from the Andy Griffith show. There were more Sue originals: “Inner Pippy” was dedicated to the family of Sue's first music student in Eau Claire who donated an alto Buescher sax to the band. Sue introduced two new songs, “Hope For The Girls” and “Mesa's Boogie.” She also performed “Herd of Rubies” and “Two Cats Named Bob.” (FYI, both Mesa's Boogie and Two Cats are about....cats.)

My personal highlights were when the band invited Gregg Wheeler and his harmonica onstage to accompany Randy as he sang a gorgeous song by Greg Gilbertson, a Chippewa Falls native, titled “The Gold.” I wrote about this song here. It gets better every time I hear it. And it rocked when Gregg Wheeler jammed on his harmonica to one of my personal favorites, Sue's “Atomic A Go-Go.” You haven't heard harmonica playing until you've listened to Gregg.

Later another local guitar player, Luke Fisher, was invited up and he sang his original cover of Cash's “Folsom Blues” and his own song, “5 AM.” They also sang happy birthday to Olaf Lind, another musician. Both Olaf and Luke join Randy and Sue to make up the band, AcoustiHoo.

All in all, it was well worth braving the snow and cold to hit this event. If you missed it, you can redeem yourself and catch Sue with Catya's Trio at From The Vine on February 14th and with Code Blue (Catya's 5- piece blues band) at Pizza Plus on February 21st. Be there, I guarantee you'll love it!

You can buy SOB's CDs here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Peter Phippen and Rahbi Crawford at The Center

 Last night I went to The Center to listen to Peter Phippen on his flutes and Rahbi Crawford on her singing bowls. It was something I would not have experienced had it not been for this blog and I was honored to be invited.

The Center is a big, beautiful stone house between Eau Claire and Altoona on highway 12. Built in 1937 it has been a home to two families. Opening in October 2013, today it is a wellness retreat: “The Center is dedicated to supporting people in wholeness of body, mind and spirit, regardless of religious orientation.”

The Center  is the brainchild of Anita and her husband Scott. Anita is from Minnesota and Scott from Colorado and they met in Seminary in Colorado. He was a United Methodist Pastor for 20 years, which meant he and his family moved every 4-6 years. They have children and wanted something more stable and wandered back to Anita's roots here in the Midwest. Anita first opened The Bridge Creek Cottage, a crafting house in Augusta, then she and her husband opened The Center. Though it's only been operating for 3 months, it appears to have found a following. The Center offers pottery classes and art therapy classes, Positive Living sessions, reiki, yoga, meditation, family therapy, life coaching, ayruveda, Jungian therapy, spiritual direction and a garden club.

Scott gave me a tour before the show and told me, “It's all about the spirit and all [religious] traditions yearn toward that spirit. At The Center we honor all those traditions.” He went on to say that the dictum of The United Methodist Church is “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” and that their work at The Center is an extension of this.

When I arrived there were only a few people and while The Center still feels and looks like a (very nice and well-appointed) house, the atmosphere was hushed, almost reverent. I caught one man in a dark side-room checking his cell and found myself glad I'd left my phone in the car, thinking that electronics had no place here. As more people wandered in the mood lightened and I saw a lot of cell phones. No one was chastised or struck by lightening. Scott and Anita were warm and welcoming and appeared pleased with the upbeat, friendly bustle of their guests.

This concert--The Center's first--was held in their yoga and mediation area, a round-ish, cork-floored room overlooking Otter Creek. It was dark and snowy, but I'm willing to bet that in the day the view is breathtaking. Guests were encouraged to take their shoes off so as not to damage the cork. The room was light and open with walls of large windows. The lighting was comprehensive without being intrusive and the room had a clean, natural, spartan feel accented by their “teak tree.” The tree is a graceful piece of teak, standing about 3 feet high with naturally branching shelves on which are placed symbols from all the primary religious traditions. There was seating for 49 people with rows of chairs set out in a semi-circle and cushions with Mexican blankets in the front on the floor all facing the teak tree. In front of the tree were Rahbi Crawford's crystal bowls and Peter Phippen's flutes. Every seat was full. I nabbed a place on the floor, off to the side so I could see both the audience and the show.

Scott came to the front of the room and talked briefly about The Center and said that this was their first concert and he was pleased and excited to have Peter and Rahbi. He also said that a couple of people had called and said they would be late and he was trying to wait for them. He then introduced Rahbi and Peter who, gracious and smiling, entered the room and spoke briefly of their work.

Peter is a grammy nominated flautist, known mostly for his work with Native American flutes, though he has flutes from around the world. Rahbi is a “sound healer” and she spoke of how the vibrations from her singing bowls correspond with our chakras—our body's energy centers. She went on to explain that the sound and the vibrations allows relaxation conducive for reprogramming our body, helping it let go of stress. She said that our bodies have memories of past injuries and pain and that sound therapy heals by allowing our body to let those memories go. She talked of her delight in working with Peter because his flutes “play between the notes” enhancing the healing power of the sound.

The realization that this was not going to be like other shows started creeping up on me. I've heard Peter's music. It's wonderfully calm and ambient. It encourages your mind to float into the blue world of Inbetween. Peter and Rahbi hadn't even started and I knew I was going to be lying down. I took a quick look around the room. Some people had grabbed blankets off the shelves and were all relaxed in their chairs, but I was the only one on the floor.

I watched as Peter sat cross-legged on the floor, microphone close to his mouth. He appeared composed and serene, all in black, his long, dark hair loose around his shoulders and brushed back from his face. His flutes were laid out on either side of him in velvet-lined cases. They are basic--primitive--and some are over 200 hundred years old. The woods shine with a veneer of age and use. He later let me hold them and some are crooked and heavy, others are almost magically light. They are all treasured.

Rahbi stepped into the circle of her quartz-crystal singing bowls and knelt. The big bowls are made of opaque crystalline glass and range from a foot to two feet high, all with different diameters. There were 10 of them. There were also 3 smaller, clear-glassed bowls and a pyramid composed of 8 crystal rods, 4 on the base forming the shape of a square and 4 rods standing on each corner of the square, reaching up and meeting in a peak. She only used the pyramid once, but the sound was both delicate and powerful. For the most part Rahbi used the big bowls. After some casual and very natural discussion about what the first song might be, they began.

I sat cross-legged on the floor watching them. Peter was in his element. His face was unlined as he breathed music into his flute, eyes closed, feeling the sound. He told me later that this music represents who he really is, how he is at home with his wife and his grandchildren. While he is a “rock n roll god” (my words, not his) in his local, commercial musical endeavors this is who he's matured into. This music is what is important. He spoke excitedly about his musical union with Rahbi, about how she is willing to travel with him to spread their music. He spoke of his gratitude to The Center for allowing him to come and share his music.

Rahbi is probably in her mid-50s and has short, dark hair, and glasses. Tall, slender and strong she wore a long nehru-collared tunic and dark pants. She knelt amongst her bowls, gracefully turning on her knees or twisting her body to reach the next note. She worked the bowls with little, rubber-headed mallots, sometimes flicking her wrist for a gentle “gooong” other times running the mallot-heads around the rim to sustain the note.

This was not music I could observe; it was music I had to feel. I unfolded the blanket I was sitting on and lay down. Closing my eyes I let the music wash over my body. Tendrils of flute flickered through my brain in soft ululations and gentle whistle-whispers. Ripples of bowl lapped at my consciousness as I drifted in the space between notes. At the end of that first song there was nary a rustle as the sound of the last note hovered in the air, slowly dissipating. Peter opened his eyes, signaling it was over and the room burst into applause. I looked around and saw another woman lying on the floor and smiled. I felt sorry for the other 47 people bound to their chairs.

The music continued for 3 hours. Between songs I would lever up, grab my little black reporter's book and scribble a note: “The Dreaming Tree.” “Egyptian Kawala flute, late 19th century.” “Animal sounds.” “A storm.” “Almost like playing 2 flutes at the same time.” “Haunting-happy.” “Nature epitomized.” “Skillful use of the microphone.” “Using his breath as music.” “Crown chakra.” “Heart chakra, Japanese flute, 1920s.” “Native American flute.” “Bindu chakra.” But as I left The Center I knew there was no way I would be able to piece my little words into a written description of the music from Saturday night. Because this isn't music you hear, it's music you experience.  It left me feeling energized and rejuvenated.

Peter's new CD, “Sacred Spaces” was just released and can be ordered here. Rahbi joins Peter on this recording. If this is your way, if this is your music, you have to get the CD and enter in to this music with them. You should also check out The Center. You just might find yourself.

To read more about Peter Phippen as Rock n Roll god, click here and here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014



The polar vortex lifted on Thursday and by Friday the night air was positively balmy. A whole raft of cabin-fevered sub-zero refugees eschewed the snow and hit From TheVine to see AcoustiHoo. We were amply rewarded.

AcoustiHoo is a 4-piece ensemble and I've written about each of its members at least once. And I will probably write about each of its members again. And again. And again. Full self disclosure: I've got a huge bias toward this band. I'm a fan. I also have a social relationship with some of the band-members. In my defense, the relationships developed because of their music, not vice versa. I don't know if this lends credibility to the blog, but I doubt anyone who hit From The Vine for AcoustiHoo would disagree with my assessment of the band.

The band members include Sue Orfield on tenor sax, Randy Sinz on upright bass, Olaf Lind on violin, and Lucas Fischer on guitar. Superlatives will be added later.

They shook off the residual vortex-chill with “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a lively country-Hee-Haw-like jig that set Olaf's violin-strings a-smokin'. They followed up with “2:15,” a Sue Orfield original which started out with a lovely violin solo. The intertwining of the sax and violin caused my chest to swell with inchoate nostalgia—a longing to return to a place I'd never been. The next song was “Kansas City” featuring Luke, who kicked the number off with a down-low-and-dirty blues intro. You haven't really heard this classic song until you've experienced Luke's version. Olaf's violin enhances it with a Kentucky-Mountain-Justified feel. Next up was “Az Du Furst Avek,” a traditional Klezmer tune in which Luke's solo evoked the feel of old-world gypsy music.

Are you getting it? Klezmer. Classic blues. 1920-era pop-songs. Originals. And that was just the first four songs. Next Sue called for “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” They have a set list, but Sue once confided that she's not very good at sticking to it. Consequently there was a tiny pause, during which she said, “You'll pick it up.” And they did. She blew Cole Porter's song like the May West-sultry, old-time jazzy tune it was meant to be. If her soul had a mirror, it would be the music coming out of her saxophone. Luke cooled us down with one of his originals, “Close,” a slow, sweet love-ballad and Olaf and Sue harmonized on “Ashoken Farewell” a Jay Ungar tune that left me remembering a childhood I'd never had.

Randy, all dapper behind his bass in a black beret, called the next song: “Fever.” I love, love, love the way Randy sings this song. It's new to their repertoire and there's no question that it's a love song between him and Sue. In the song he sings, “My heart burns for Sue,” and Sue's saxophone lets us know her heart burns for Randy.

Looking around From The Vine over the break I saw that it was standing room only. The establishment is owned and operated by Kathy Nuenke and has been open about 2 and a half years. It's long and open, and the lighting is perfect—low, without being dim. There's a bar running down one side and two- and four- top tables. The musicians are set up the middle of the place, in a living-room-style set- up with couches and deep, comfortable chairs. Behind the musicians is a half-wall and there's a darker, more secluded area in the back. It's a great place for music: avid fans can sit comfortably in a front row seat, music fans who prefer to socialize can sit at the tables in the bar area and lovers can cuddle in a dark corner. The service is fabulous; attentive without being overly friendly. They know you're here to see music or appreciate their wine or catch up with your friends, not to make new best friends with the staff. As soon as you come in you get a glass of water and it's easy to find a waitress when needed. They stock over 80 different wines and Kathy is always changing her stock. She offers wines by flight (I didn't know what this was and had to google it: tastings of multiple wines, which allow tasters to get a feel for breadth or depth of the selection), monthly wine tastings and wine and painting classes. I don't drink so I try to support local music venues by ordering food. I thought this would be a challenge in a wine room and was tickled to see From The Vine offers Legacy Chocolate truffles. They've also added snack mixes and a cheese-and-crackers plate. I spoke to Kathy, briefly, and while I can count the number of times I've been there on both hands, she remembered me. This wine room is a solid music venue and offers great service with great music.

AcoustiHoo's second set offered a couple of pleasant surprises. After Luke's cover of Tom Waits' “Make It Rain,” Sue called Gregg Wheeler with his harmonica to the stage to accompany the band on one of Randy's originals, “Desert Blue.” Randy's voice-as-instrument is wonderful and Gregg's harmonica was about as smooth as it gets. Gregg stayed on stage for another of Sue's originals and there was some fun call-and-response between his harp and Sue's sax. Olaf put down his violin in favor of the mandolin. After Gregg sat down the band launched into another Sue Orfield original, “Can't Shake The Sadness,” all forlorn and noble, with a classic violin-solo and delicate harmonic interplay between Luke and Olaf. Sue stood back, listening, an appreciative smile on her face. Olaf then performed his original “Caravans,” a lively tune with an old-world feel. I understand they're working on a music video for this song. Luke performed another original, “5 AM Blues,” all smooth, romantic and slow rhythm & blues-y.

Then Catya, my very best friend in the whole world, was asked onto the stage where she performed one of her originals, “I Like It.” Though it was unrehearsed, there was an ease and enjoyment on that is only seen when really good musicians play together.

The next number was “Bouf Chonsko” a Macedonian folk song. I spelled it phonetically and know it's wrong. I call it “The Clapping Song.” It starts up slow and every time around they speed it up just a little bit until they're playing faster then we can clap. So fun. Another Sue original, “Cut From Terry's Cloth” was next. The final number was Luke's amazing version of Donovan's “Season Of The Witch.” Luke played his guitar like a mandolin, Olaf played his mandolin like a guitar and Randy tried to play his upright like a violin and did a great job of playing it like a guitar. Sue's saxophone tied the whole song together and as the last note died away the audience leapt up in a spontaneous standing ovation. It was a magical night that left us all wanting more. 

If you're reading this blog you must be a music fan. Believe me when I tell you that if you haven't seen AcoustiHoo you're missing out. Big time. Check them out—you can find their self-titled CD on their website,  look them up on Facebook or catch them live.  You won't be disappointed. Promise.

You can read more about Sue and Randy as Two Rivers here.
You can read more about Sue, Randy and Catya in Catya's Trio here.
You can read more about Gregg Wheeler in Stage Fright and Randy, John and Gregg here and here.
You can read more about Olaf and Luke in Eggplant Heroes here.
You can read more about Luke as a solo act here.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Crystal and the Commotion

Saturday night I braved the cold and drove the 3 miles to the Red Zone to see Crystal and the Commotion. The Red Zone is owned by Randy Kuhnert and sits off old 53 in Hallie along the access road. The building used to house various failed Mexican restaurants and the barhas been open for about 4 years. The Red Zone is a party bar and during the summer you find it by following the glitter of chrome bouncing off the Harleys in the parking lot. Randy used to be my mechanic and I remember spotting him at various music events before he opened the bar. He wasn't watching the music, he was watching the audience. Unlike many area bars hosting live music, part of Randy's vision for the bar included bands. There was plenty of leather at The Red Zone on Saturday night, but it also appears to be a destination—or at least a stop-off point—for snowmobilers too.

The band's website describes them this way:
Crystal and The Commotion is one of the hardest working, high energy groups in the state of Wisconsin. Featuring vocalist Crystal Dolivo. Peter Phippen, former Airkraft bassist and 2010 Grammy Nominated artist. Guitarist Scott Milz and Drummer Michael Hucek. From Street dances to Corporate events and Casinos to Clubs, you can expect great music from the 60's 70's 80's 90's and today.”
An apt description.

They kicked off the night with with a lively version of “Walking On Sunshine.” Peter and Scott stepped out from behind their microphones and walked into the audience with their cordless bass and electric guitar. Crystal's mic is also cordless and she made sure we knew that the whole bar would be her stage. Other songs in the first set included:Pat Benatar's “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Alanis Morrisette's “Hand In My Pocket,” Lambert's “Mama's Broken Heart,” Sugarland's “Stuck Like Glue,” Bob Seger's “Old Time Rock & Roll” Christina Aguilera's “Beautiful,” Cindy Lauper's “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” Nancy Sinatra's “These Boots,” Lorde's “Royals and Poison's “Talk Dirty To Me.” Highlights of the first set were when Crystal totally hammed it up on “I Will Survive” and when she and Peter did a great version of June and Johnny's “Jackson.” But my favorite was when Scott Milz, the guitar player, sang the straightest version of “Sweet Caroline” I've heard in 20 years. No kidding, there wasn't even a whiff of irony and—oddly—it worked.

Crystal is a bundle of energy and demands audience participation. She wanders the bar, microphone in hand, singing directly to people and encourages them to sing refrains with her. Her eye-contact is frequent and direct and she doesn't miss a thing. She sees who's coming in, who's leaving, who's engaged and who isn't and she'll call out greetings between verses without missing a beat. She's a 5-foot, blond, bundle of energy as she dances, poses and postures. During her band mates' solos she wanders around, touching bases with the audience and Saturday night she hoola-hooped with a couple of her friends. She's just 22 years old, but she works the bar like a professional and she's got that 90s “girl band” voice.

Peter Phippen looks like he's having a great time playing rock-&-roll, bass player god. His face is set in a half-smile, half-sneer and he closes his eyes. In the second set he was smile-snarling with eyes closed and his mic got knocked over into the drum set. No one noticed (except me). Crystal was singing and turned to the drummer, Michael Hucek, and saw the mic. Peter was still jamming with his eyes shut. Crystal didn't blink and—still singing—righted it and turned the mic toward Peter, just in time for him to come in with his back up vocals. (You can read more about Peter here.)

Scott Milz is straight-faced and earnest. He's got a good, true voice and is a great guitarist. He watches Crystal closely, like he's not sure what she's going to do next, but he doesn't seem worried. He just wants to be on top of things.

The drummer, Michael “Slant” Hucek, sits behind his kit like a king, orchestrating it all with a satisfied look on his face. If he's irritated with Crystal's antics, he takes it in stride like an indulgent uncle.

Another highlight of Saturday night's show featured Scott and Michael. The band played Black Sabbath's “Paranoid” and the audience liked it so much that Scott and Michael did an impromptu version of “War Pigs.” They were in their element—not playing for the audience, but for themselves-and for a moment we were all transported back to 1970.

This is a working band. They're fast-paced, diving into the next song almost before the last note of the previous song has settled. There's no need to clap because there's no room for applause between numbers. They're about giving the audience and the person who hired them bang for the buck. Slick and professional, they advertise as a high energy band and they deliver.