Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stage Fright 4. The Last Waltz

--> The Last Waltz: Arguably the best rock-concert-film in rock n roll history, directed by Martin Scorsese.

On Thanksgiving, 1976 The Band put on its “farewell concert appearance” at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was a free-for-all-musical-jam and a ton of great musicians came to honor The Band's departure from the road. In the past 30 years this concert has been recreated across the United States in California, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and Minneapolis. Last Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, Pizza Plus hosted the Chippewa Valley's very own Last Waltz—or “Stage Fright 4” featuring local musicians. And it was good.

This is Stage Fright's fourth year and the brain-child of The Rhythm Posse, “a funky rhythm and blues band” consisting of Billy Angell on keyboards, Lucas Fischer on lead guitar, Levi Felling on drums and Jeremy Holt on bass guitar. Because the original configuration had a piano and a keyboard, Eric Pierson of Last Open Road joins them yearly for this production. The Posse+Pierson forms the core of the performance—The Band—and each year different musicians are tapped to assume the role of their famous counterparts.

I headed to The Plus early, ate pizza (thanks Jean and Charlie!) and watched as the people trickled in. This was Stage Fright's first year at The Plus. Previous hosts include The House Of Rock and The Stone's Throw. This was, by far, the best venue to date. And, because The Plus is a restaurant, it was the first “all-ages” show. I was delighted to see teenagers in the audience. The show started at 9:00 and by 8:30 it was standing-room only. There was a $5 cover and the proceeds were donated to Feed My People. More about that later.

I had my little black reporters' notebook. When the music began I strategically settled in (read: cross-legged on the floor, right in front of the stage—old hippies don't die, they just fade and tatter like their blue-jeans), to enjoy and take notes. And I took a load of notes. I wrote down each song, each musician and added my personal thoughts and observations. My original intention was to give a blow-by-blow but, as cool as the event was, that would just be tedious for both of us. Instead I'm going to list the musicians and the parts they played and write about some of my personal, subjective highlights from the concert. I'm also going to link to as many as these musicians as possible: They donated their time, asking for no other payment except a lively, appreciative and engaged audience. They brought passion and energy to the event and deserve so much more credit than this little blog could ever offer.

This year began differently from Frights 1-3 and really touched me. When my son, Toby, was younger part of our Thanksgiving tradition was to listen to Arlo Guthrie's “Alice's Restaurant.” Toby is spending Thanksgiving with family in Alaska, but I still got a piece of that family tradition when Nick Foytik kicked off the whole thing with a rousing rendition of the song. Arlo was not part of The Last Waltz, but he's appropriate to include because it's of the era and a Thanksgiving song. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but if you give it a listen you'll better appreciate the idea of covering it live. “Alice's Restaurant” is a story-song that starts with a Thanksgiving dinner “that couldn't be beat” cooked by Alice, leading to the arrest and conviction for littering and creating a public nuisance and then to the Vietnam draft. It goes for 25 minutes and Nick pulled it off beautifully. At the end of the song the whole audience was singing the refrain. Thank you, Nick Foytik.

I would be remiss if I didn't toss in a big shout out to graphic designer, Amy Schmitz, Nick's partner and the owner of Amy's Custom Designs for this year's Stage Fright's poster.

Rhythm Posse and the King Harvest Horns took the stage and the show began.

There's nothing better than a good horn section and The King Harvest Horns rocked. They consist of Sue Orfield on sax, Dave Burki on trumpet, Jayson Collins on baritone sax, and Tom Carlson on trombone. Jayson, Tom and Dave play with TheSue Orfield Band (SOB) and The Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra (CVJO). They didn't play every song but, like Rhythm Posse, were there for the entire event, bopping on and off the stage. Their skill and enthusiasm made the show. I gotta say it again: There's nothing better than a good horn section.

Roger Dinardi played The Last Waltz Theme on a cool synthesizer-thingy. I really liked his set-up; it's all packed away in an old-style travel-trunk with attached fold-up legs. He was accompanied on guitar by a young man (I didn't get his name, but am happy to add it if you know it).

The Posse-Band took it away with “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Shape I'm In,” getting the audience all revved up. There was a pause as the band called to the audience for “Ronny Hawkins.” My heart sank just a little, because I was looking forward to this particular song. Just when it looked like it wasn't going to happen, Peter Phippin strode through the crowd and onto the stage. Dressed all in black, long hair pulled into a pony tail he grabbed the mic and started belting “Who Do You Love,” all big, snarly, charisma-y and rock n roll-ego. And, like Ronny in the original, he left the stage before the last note, and was gone. A one-shot-Hawkins/Phippen injection. Like cocaine, it left me yearning for more.

Will Chopper from Mojo Lemon, all dappered-up in hat and suit coat owned the keyboards as Dr. John on “Such A Night.” Paired with Tom Carlson on Trombone, the song had a raucous, old-timey feel that got me bopping.

Next up was B Squat Woody as Neil Young singing “Helpless” with back-up vocals by Catya as Joni Mitchell. Catya fans know her primarily for her blues singing and might not realize she has a 3-octive-range that lets her voice soar into the hemisphere. The sound was a little spotty, but Catya nailed it, nonetheless. B Squat Woody is a member of The Riverbenders which hosts a local variety show in Alma, Wisconsin called The Big RiverRadio Wave. You can hear them on Wisconsin Public Radio or go to the Big River Theater in Alma and catch them live. Word is they have The Best Christmas Show Ever going on tonight and that it will be aired on WPR later. I think it's very, very cool that he agreed to take time from his Thanksgiving holiday to participate in our show.

Caleb Horne, mandolin-player-extrordinaire joined The Posse-Band and Harvest Horns on “Rag Mama Rag” and Megan Hashbarger, Kateri Farrell and Koryna Flores took the stage for vocals on “The Weight.” They looked nervous at first and seemed to have a hard time hearing themselves on the monitors, but quickly warmed up and did a great job.

Lucas Fischer took the vocals on one of my personal favorites, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Luke's voice is tremendous and he did an amazing job.

After the intermission Billy Krause mounted the stage as Neil Diamond singing “Dry Your Eyes.” The casting for this song couldn't have been better. Billy is a singer-songwriter, well-known in the area for his poignant lyrics and gentle folk-style. “Dry Your Eyes” could have been one of Billy's and, in my humble opinion, he did it better than Neil Diamond ever did.

Catya took the stage as Joni Mitchell, singing “Coyote.” Again, fabulous casting. Catya's style is perfect for Joni's complex phrasing and chord changes. I got a kick out of watching her: at the beginning of the song she couldn't hear herself in the monitor and made a series of hand gestures to the sound-man, Ben White, asking for correction without missing a strum. A consummate professional.

Another favorite moment was when Gregg Wheeler played Paul Butterfield. Gregg Wheeler is an unassuming, laid back kind of musician whose tastes tend toward old country classics and lonely-sweet harmonica-playing. He was astounding Wednesday night, belting out “Mystery Train” and jamming out on the harmonica. He stayed on stage and accompanied Muddy Waters on “Mannish Boy.” Terry Demars of Mojo Lemon was a fabulous mannish boy and Terry sang his heart out. Mike Schlenker of Speed Of Sound rocked the house with his virtuoso guitar-playing as Eric Clapton on “Further On Up The Road.” Lizzy Diane was all long-hair, blue eye shadow and lusty-70s-style dress as Emmy Lou Harris. Caleb Horne leaped back up on stage with his mandolin and they sang “Evangeline.” Lizzie is a skilled songwriter in her own right with a unique style. Definitely check her out. Brian Bethke, another local singer-songwriter was an excellent Van Morrison and sounded more Van than Van when he sang “Caravan.” There were cool little touches, homages to the original, throughout the show and Brian's was when he reproduced Van Morrison's odd leg-kicks on stage. Fun and funny. One of the things that appealled to me most about this show is that—unlike the original—no one took themselves too seriously and everyone on stage was having fun.

The show signaled the wind-down when local thespian, Nic Sielaff, took the stage for the irreverent “Loud Prayer.” Then Wisconsin's very own Poet Laureate, Max Garland took the stage as the music-world's bard, Bob Dylan. Again, amazing casting. Max played an electric guitar and sang “Forever Young.” Time slowed down. Scanning the audience I saw people of a certain age, swaying and singing along to an anthem of days gone by:

“May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.”

I found it profoundly moving.

Finally, the whole crew mounted the stage for the final song, Dylan's “I Shall Be Released.”

It was an incredible night. Yes, the sound was a little muddy. Yes it was a bit crowded. Yes, there were some blunders. Yes, there aren't enough women on stage (although Faith Ulwelling from Left Wing Bourbon was Muddy Waters last year and The Rhythm Posse seems more than willing to continue with gender-bending).

And yes, it was fabulous. Here's the thing; these musicians and this event increase our quality of life in the Chippewa Valley throughout the year. They're from all faucets of the musical-spectrum: classically-trained Jazz horns; folk singer-songwriters; blues; country; funk; bluegrass; a grammy nominated flautist. Young and old, seasoned and new, their talent is remarkable, as is their willingness to share that talent. I can't imagine living in a world without live music and I'm so very grateful to all the musicians in the Chippewa Valley for their gift of music.

It was such a pleasure to see Billy Angell behind his keyboard, grinning like a demon at the scene he'd created. He told me later that he's able to back out of a lot of planning in the past couple of years and that Lucas Fischer played a major role in putting 2013 together. And I gotta stress this: all the musicians did it for free. The $5.00 cover charge went to Feed My People and the unofficial word is that they (we!) raised over $900 for that charity. As Billy pointed out, there are a lot of Last Waltz's around the country, many of them demanding a ticket price of $20 or more. And those musicians are paid. I'll bet our musicians have the most fun.

As Eric Pierson said, “This is the single greatest musical cross-pollination of the year.”

Other mentions include:

Mike O'Brien, photographer. For pictures of Stage Fright 4, click >here<

DMI Sound: These guys work their asses off for music in the Chippewa Valley. You'll find them mixing sound for The State Theater, Volume One's Sounds Like Summer ConcertSeries, Blues On The Chippewa and Tuesday Night Blues. They rock.

Eight-Foot Squid has a full recording of Stage Fright 4 >here<

Finally, I'm going to include a link to another Chippewa Valley Music Blog, Freaks and Geeks.  I've used some of his musician bios as links in this blog. We're getting the word out!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Two Frets Up

(n) a woman who emphasizes a life of passion, expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm and cultivation of life's pleasures.

A friend posted this word and its definition on my Facebook page, saying it describes me. I'm not there yet, but I definitely want to be a quaintrelle when I grow up. Or maybe when I retire, 'cause it might take retirement to make me feel grown up.


My 9-year-old niece, Josie, is visiting from Iowa. She's learning to play the ukelele (just like her favorite aunt) and I'd planned to take her to the Uke Klub at Pizza Plus, but I totally screwed up the dates and planned for her arrival the week after the uke club meets. (See what I mean about not being a grown up?) So, I'm thinking, “What can I do with Josie that will be cool and interesting?” She's from Des Moines, which is a pretty cosmopolitan town. And with our typical 20-degree-late-fall-weather, sampling Wisconsin's outdoor wonders is limited. It didn't take me long to realize the question's a no-brainer. Live music. What else?

I met Josie and her mother at Albert Lea at noon today and snatched her up. We arrived at my little blond-brick, ranch-style home in Chippewa Falls just after 3:00. At 5:30 we picked up my aunt Jean and the Three Js—Jen, Jean, and Josie—headed to Fanny Hill for my two favorite things: Food and music.

Fanny Hill was dressed in its Christmas Finery. As we tooled up the driveway and into the parking lot I told Josie, “Now this is a Wisconsin restaurant.” It was all twinkly lights, apple-red Santas and glittery gold and silver. Perfect for a 9-year-old's sensibilities. Walking into the dining room we were greeted by the sweet sounds of a violin and mellow guitar-picking. We grabbed a table close to the music and moved the chairs around so Josie could see the musicians.

It was a duo, a guy and a gal. They were sitting on stools, he with a guitar, she a violin, just finishing up a Merle Haggard tune. They are an interesting pair: he in ball-cap, work boots and jeans; she in black slacks, white blouse, matching hair and low heels. He holds his guitar like it's a part of him—all casual comfort—she sits strait in her chair, violin tucked under her chin in a classic pose, feet barely touching the lower brace of her stool. His voice is rough and melodic, her voice is higher and sweet. He has a thumb-pick, she a bow. They're opposites and it works.

They call themselves Two Frets Up. His name is Larry Radle and hers is Andrea Christopherson.

As we settled in Larry turned to us and asked Josie if she knew “Wagon Wheel” and if she wanted to get up and sing with them. She did not know “Wagon Wheel” and did not want to get up and sing. But the interaction was interesting and turned out to be typical of his style. After “Wagon Wheel” Andrea sang an old Jim Reeves song, “Welcome To My World.” She told me later that her father was a self-taught fiddle player and her early influences were old country songs. She started playing violin when she was 10-years-old.

They also sang Zach Brown's “Highway 20 Ride,” Garth Brooks “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old,” Buffet's “Margaritaville,” Pure Prairie League's “Amie” (Josie knew that song, but didn't sing it), Merle Haggard's “Silver Wings,” Poco's “Honky Tonk Downstairs” Jerry Jeff Walker's “Mr Bojangles,” Eagles' “Lyin' Eyes,” Bellamy Brothers' “Redneck Girl,” Don Williams' “You're My Best Friend,” The Casinos' “Then You Can Tell Me Good Bye.”

For the most part Andrea harmonized with Larry. He's got interesting phrasing, pulling up lyrics from the next stanza into the current one (there's got to be a word for that, but I can't find it) giving familiar songs a nice, unexpected twist. Andrea did sing lead and did a beautiful job with Tom Paxton's “The Last Thing On My Mind.” And she played “Ashokan Farewell,” a contemporary instrumental tune modeled after a Scottish lament, with such a sense of loss and longing that an audience member asked that she play it again. She did. She also did a great job on Elizabeth Cotton's “Freight Train.”

They eventually took a break and I got a chance to chat with them. Andrea was born and raised in Eau Claire and has been playing in bands for decades. Currently she's in a bluegrass band called River City Ramblers and she used to play with Drywood Creek. She said that while it's better today, there still aren't enough female instrumentalists out there. It's still a guy's game (my words, not hers).

Larry is relatively new to the area. He and his wife of 44 years, Myra, moved here from Illinois when he retired 7 years ago. He has family here and today Myra and Larry have 4 horses, 30 sheep and 12 chickens. He mentioned this in one of his chats between songs. He was a professional musician and opened for the likes of Tommy James but in 1986 he laid his guitar down. He says he got burned out. His wife said the smoky bars and lifestyle was killing him. For over 20 years he played for his dogs (“They always think what you're playing is good”) and that was it. On New Year's Eve, 2011 he and Andrea met and she convinced him to pick up his guitar and venture out into the music world again. They've been playing together for 14 months.

Layne Yost was in the audience and while I chatted with Andrea, Myra and Larry, he agreed to keep the audience engaged and sing a couple of songs. Layne's got a John Denver voice, all sweet, pure and true. He's a delight to listen to.

Josie was tired and we didn't stay for the second set. Driving home I thought about the nature of quaintrelle-ism and I asked Josie if she'd ever seen live music before.

“Yeah, I went to a Justin Bieber concert once.”

I laughed. “Did you like it?”

“I guess so, except he was two hours late. We heard on the news later he was eating pizza and riding bumper cars.”

Jean and I groaned appropriately.

“So, which one did you like better? Justin Bieber? Or Two Frets Up?”

“I liked tonight better.”

“If Justin Beiber had been on time, do you think you would like him better?”

“No. Probably not. Except he flew.”

“He flew?”

“Yeah, he flew on stage when he was singing. That was pretty cool.”

The thing I like about live music is that when it's good it makes me fly. Larry and Andrea did not have wires attached and did not fly around Fanny Hill's dining room. But tonight I did, just a little, and I think Josie's quaintrelle-training is off to a resounding start.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lost Jim and Robbi


The promise of live blues again drew me to the Unitarian Universalist church. Last night Lost Jim Ohlschmidt and his wife Robbi played and it was good.

The couple is from Minnesota and traveled to Eau Claire on a cold Tuesday night at the request of our Blues Society. The stage setting was simple: two chairs; two guitars and four microphones—two for vocals and two for the instruments. Jim brought two guitars. One was a sleek, smooth, big bodied, burnished red affair with fancy sound holes. The other was smaller, with a filigree design, battered and well worn. The varnish and paint was worn away beneath the strings. Lost Jim's fingers must have brushed it thousands—tens of thousands—of times when using his thumb-pick.  It was a pure, acoustic, unplugged show.

Lost Jim came out alone and played two original instrumentals from his new CD, “Old Box New Tunes,” warming the audience up, empty chair beside him. A couple of things were immediately obvious: this was not going to be a stand-up-and-dance kind of night; and this guy was good. I prepared to sit back and let the music soothe me. The first tune was "Maggie And Trouble." The second song titled "Avalon Postcard." Then his wife came onto the stage carrying her violin.

These two are everyday people. You see them shopping at the local grocery store, walking in the park, in the middle row of pews at church, sitting on the bleachers at the little league game. They're quiet and pleasant and polite. Lost Jim struggles with a slight stutter and Robbi's smile is crooked. They got up on stage, picked up their instruments and played them in the same quiet, matter-of-fact way she might bake a pie for dinner or he might jump-start a car during a cold Minnesota winter (or perhaps he bakes and she's the mechanic, but you know what I mean). There is nothing about them that screams “special” or “talented,” nothing particularly extraordinary about the way they look or how they present themselves. But their music is extraordinary. Quiet and unpretentious, they warmed the cold Tuesday night.

Lost Jim likes old blues. Country blues. He likes Mississippi John Hurt. He likes Blind Blake and Big Bill Broonzy. He sang "Payday," a “song older than dirt.” He sang "Salty Dog" a “cultural high-water mark” for the blues and admitted he still doesn't know what a salty dog is. He told a few jokes: What's the difference between a banjo player and a savings bond? The savings bond eventually matures and earns money. He gave us a bit of history explaining that Mississippi John was born in 1892 and his tune "Creole Belle" was adapted from a piano rag and talked about Casey Jones, the famous engineer before singing Hurt's "Casey Jones." He cracked dryly that Blind Lemon Jefferson “asks the question that every blues man wonders: "Will A Matchbox Hold My Clothes?” And that Poppa Charlie Jackson sings about “the essential, fundamental topic of country blues” before launching into "Shake That Thing."

During all this Robbi, his wife, sat on her chair, smiling slightly, tapping her bow against her fiddle, adding quiet percussion. She soloed on it too. She's got a madonna-like smile and pacific demeanor, but I suspect this woman knows how to let loose. This suspicion was partially confirmed when she sang her first song. It was a gorgeous rendition of Patsy Cline's "Never No More." Deep and rich, her voice rang out true and strong. In the second set she sang a Kitty Wells song, "Just One More Time" and again, nailed it. She also plays bluegrass in a Minnesota-based band called "Hey Lonesome," but tonight her violin melded beautifully with her husband's guitar giving these blues just the right feel. 

Lost Jim also sang some originals. "You're The One" is a beautiful love song: “Roll like the river/shine like the sun/go on tell everybody baby/you're the one...pretty as a daisy/wild as a dandelion/like flowers in the meadow baby/you're looking mighty fine.” My favorite original was titled  "Railroad Blues." He explained that he likes train songs, was thinking of how Mississippi John Hurt might sing one and had Bo Diddley's "Hand Jive" buzzing in his head for about a month.  Finally he picked up his guitar, slowed the tune down and wrote a song from the perspective of someone who got left behind at the train station: “Think about a month ago/your bags are packed your ready to go/leave me with a mule to ride/and an empty feeling down deep inside....I got no letter I got no news/all I got's these railroad blues.” And Robbi's violin made sad, quiet train sounds.

These two bring us back to a time when making music was a natural cultural extension of life, when family music-making was a way to communicate and bond and entertain. They bring us back to a time before the radio and TV dragged us from our front porch and into the living room. On Tuesday night, their music dragged me away from my computer and onto a church pew. And it was worth it.

You can buy some of Lost Jim Ohlschmidt's CDs on CDBaby. I've linked to his website and there's contact information there including his email address:

If you share Jim's passion for old-time blues, you'll want his CDs.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lucas Fischer

--> Last night was a busy music night and I didn't go out with thoughts of writing.

My bad.

I started with the Leader Telegram's Warm The Children benefit at Whiskey's, under the radio tower in Eau Claire. “Warm The Children, entering its 20th year...continues through Dec. 24. The newspaper accepts donations to buy warm clothing, then lines up volunteer shoppers to accompany disadvantagedfamilies to shop for children’s clothing. One-hundred percent of donations go for clothing, said Mike Carlson, director of circulation and marketing for the newspaper and Warm the Children coordinator.” The benefit was organized by Dave Shoenrock and Dave Showed-And-Rocked last night. I'm not going to write a lot about it—like I said, my intention was to just enjoy myself—but the cause is worth mentioning and the music was great. I left early but I did see the following bands:

I'll be writing about these bands, but not today. I missed The Big Deeks, FMDown and Phoenix. So much music, so little time. All the musicians donated their time to Warm The Children and a great time was had by all. (A note about Whiskey's:  It's one of the few area bar/restaurants set up to play live music.)

After leaving Warm The Children I headed to the Sheeley House to catch Lucas Fischer's solo act.

I first met Luke when he was teamed with Catya and I've watched him with interest. This guy keeps getting better. He works at Schmitt Music and plays in various bands including Code Blue with Catya, Eggplant Heroes, AcoustiHoo and Rhythm Posse. (Yep, Luke played at Warm The Children, then packed his guitars and zipped to Chippewa.) I'd seen Luke with these bands, but didn't catch him solo until last night. (Read more about Catya and Eggplant Heroes.)

Luke is a major talent. In his mid-20s, he's open and friendly and quick to smile. Luke's parents, Debbie and Mike, are both music enthusiasts and Mike is on the board of the Chippewa Valley Blues Society. I get the impression that Luke was weaned on music. Though he's one of the best guitar players in the area, he's humble and genuinely grateful when complimented. He has sleepy eyes that hint an old soul and his music heightens this notion. His voice is raspy-sophisticated and I disagree with the oft-heard Tom Waits comparison. I get why people say it, but I think it's more the juxtaposition of an old voice coming out of young man than of Luke sounding like Mr Waits. And while I know Luke will wince when he reads this, I love the way his eyes roll-up, almost orgasmic-like, when he sings. He was born for music; it is an essential part of him and I love seeing that displayed on stage.

I came in a little late and was, quite frankly, tired. My plan was to stay for a couple of songs and head for bed. But Luke's music kept me longer than intended. I didn't plan to write him, but I found myself pulling out my little notebook and jotting notes. I love it when someone takes an old song and makes it new, puts their own spin on it--their own interpretation--and Luke is a master. He does a great version of the blues standard, Kansas City, as well as Tom Waits' Make It Rain and Johnny Cash's Folsom Blues.

I'd heard him cover those songs before and I was delighted to hear more of his repertoire. Talk about original. He played an acoustic-percussion version of All Along The Watchtower that—mysteriously and seamlessly—melded into No Woman No Cry. I'm not sure why it worked. The only thing I can figure is that he reggaed-down Watchtower and rocked-up No Woman. And it really did work.

Other songs played last night were Jane Says by Jane's Addiction, Van Morrison's Crazy Love, Tool's Pushit, Marshal Tucker's Can't You See, Hank Williams' Jambalaya, Elvis' Blue Suede Shoes, Dylan's Tangled Up In Blue and finally The Grateful Dead's Jack Straw. I'm an old Deadhead and always perk up when I hear them covered. Mostly I hear Friend Of The Devil and had never heard anyone do Jack Straw. Last night Luke nailed it, putting his unique edge to it. He also did two originals.

Poor Man's Ridge is a fast-paced bluesy song about revisiting a childhood spot and partying like a teenager. 5AM is a slow, floaty—almost jazzy—song about how quickly time flies in new love. (Click the links to hear Luke and his originals in Catya's band, Code Blue.)

When I said Lucas Fischer is a major talent I meant it. I've been watching him now for about four years and each time I see him he gets better. And he's only in his 20s. I can only imagine the music he'll be playing in another 10 years.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Two Rivers

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.