Midwinter in the Midwest!

I’m sitting here by the fire at home, thinking back on our recent tour in the Midwest. Here in Portland, a wood fire sometimes feels like the only thing that could take the damp chill out of my bones. It was nice to get a dose of dry, snowy, sunny, cold winter out in the Midwest. We started the tour in Chicago on February 12, where Caleb and myself met up with Sammy and Nadine who had already spent a couple weeks out in Wisconsin and Minnesota visiting friends and family there. We took a stroll around downtown Chicago, my first chance to acclimatize to the icy Midwest weather. It was Mardi Gras, and while Chicago shyly sat in their seats at the City Winery as we played dance music all night, they were a warm and welcoming crowd. City Winery was a great venue and even labeled a Foghorn Stringband wine for us! I brought home a commemorative bottle, and as it’s a white wine, will hold out for a warm spring day to enjoy it. Thanks to Colleen for hosting us that night!

Wednesday we drove south to Champaign-Urbana where we had a little radio interview in the afternoon, then played that night at a good old bar called the Iron Post. We played there last year as well, and both times had a great crowd packed in there who wouldn’t let us leave the stage at the end of the show. Thanks to Tom and Carol for hosting us! Thursday we drove on down to ol’ St. Louis, crossing the Mississippi. Since we had a little time to spare, we took ourselves right over to the St. Louis Arch. For those of you that have not been there, I will describe our experience: One enters the arch from beneath it, underground. We had to pass through a small security check.

Once inside, the whole place had that familiar smell and feeling of a national park visitor’s center, warm and safe and educational. When we finally made it to the elevator, we discovered that it wasn’t an elevator at all, but instead these funny little futuristic pods with five white plastic seats in each, lit with bright white light. Once the 4-foot doors closed, only a little window revealed the inner structure of the arch as we climbed up and up. It was a little unnerving, imagining the tragic end should the cables supporting our dangling, rattling pod give way. Nonetheless we made it to the top. Exiting our pod, we made our way to the viewing room, a small hallway, the curved tippy-top of the arch. Narrow windows revealed a breathtaking view of sprawling St. Louis with its freeway interchanges and tall buildings on the Missouri side, and the muddy Mississippi and Illinois flatland on the other. The cars and people below were tiny specks from 600+ feet in the air. Amazing. After awhile of staring down from the heights, we descended in our pod to get to a radio interview. Off Broadway was the venue that night, complete with a dance floor. It was Valentine’s Day so we tried to sing plenty of love songs from a variety of perspectives: positive love songs, lost love songs, cheating songs, murder ballads, you name it. We didn’t want to leave anyone out. Something for the romantics as well as the jaded.

Next day we had a long drive to Bloomington, Indiana. Again we had to arrive in time for a radio interview. By the way, I can’t speak for my band mates, but I have to say, I love being on the radio. Hopefully many of you share the sense of magic and mystery surrounding the radio that I do. Every time we are on the radio I think it’s so remarkable that we are playing live music that all kinds of people who I have never seen, and will never see, can hear right then, in that moment!! May the radio never die! We played that night at a bar called Max’s place right in downtown Bloomington. It was packed and loud and rowdy, and a good old time. Thanks to Sam and Abby and young’uns for hosting us at their cozy home that night. If you’ve never heard of Stuntology, check it out. Sam wrote this amazing guide, just don’t let it fall into the wrong hands!

February 16th and 17th took us north to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the Great Lakes Acoustic Music Association’s winter festival. It’s always strange to have a festival indoors in a hotel… yet what else would we do in the winter? We arrived in time to check in and Caleb and Sammy went off to be on respective workshop panels for their instruments. We played a big square dance that afternoon called by our pal T Claw, and then later that evening performed a slot in the evening’s concert. It was a big warm audience, and there was a loyal crowd of dancers flatfooting, ending the concert dancing in front of the stage for us while we played the last tune. The next morning after an amazing Sunday breakfast at a local restaurant, we went off to teach workshops at a music center nearby. Afterward, we got to spend a quiet evening with our hosts Jim & Marilyn by their roaring cozy fire out the country. They fed us fresh eggs from their chickens for breakfast and sent us away with a gorgeous dozen for the road. I finished the last egg on the last day of the tour. There is just no substitute for a fresh egg.

Monday Feb. 18th, we had the day off which was convenient considering we had a 6-7 hour drive ahead of us. We drove to Viroqua, Wisconsin and had the evening to visit with a few friends we knew in the area. Even though we generally tend to avoid it in the interest of working as much as we can while on the road, it’s always a bit restorative to have a day off during a tour, especially in the company of good friends. Tuesday we only had a short drive to Lancaster, WI where we re-met some very kind folks, Jeff & Erin, who had seen us play the year before and hired us to come play in their barn. Yes, I said barn. You might think that would be cold… I thought I was going to have wear like three layers of tights and all my sweaters, but quite the contrary. This little barn was such a beautiful space for a concert. A big woodstove in the corner was filled to gills to get the place as toasty as could be, and all around the soft weathered wooden room were gorgeous antique wood chairs of all shapes and sizes. The lucky folks were those who got the cushioned rockers I shouldn’t wonder. We got to play unamplified, always a treat for us, and it was a very intimate and lovely concert. Outside the icy winds were a-blowin’ but we thought nothing of it in that cozy barn.

Wednesday we drove east to Madison where we played that night at the High Noon Saloon. This was the day that first Sammy, then Caleb came down with some kind of nasty flu or cold or something. They were tough cookies the rest of the tour, performing each night and keeping on. The High Noon showed a good turnout that night, helped by our opening band Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, a sweet & rowdy bunch of young men who would also open for us at Leo and Leona’s a couple of days later. We stayed that night with Todd and Lily Cambio. Todd builds the gorgeous Fraulini guitars, check ‘em out.

Thursday we headed north to Stevens Point, WI to play at the university. It added good variety to our shows to see our audience, a raving, freestyle-dancing pack of college students going nuts over old time music! Gotta love it. The following day we drove a few hours to a rural venue near Bangor, WI called Leo & Leona’s Tavern and Dance Hall. With a name like that, it was everything good I had imagined. Places like that are little gems that should never die. The country dance hall is unfortunately a rarity these days. If you have one near you, please use it and save it! True to name, the people did dance. And the place was packed! It was a really fun show. I’m always pleasantly surprised in rural places at the enthusiasm and appreciation people have for music. It can more rewarding than playing the fanciest urban venues.

Saturday we drove up to Minneapolis and landed at the Lind household. It’s always fun to hang out with Sammy’s family and walk down memory lane with him as he points out landmarks of his childhood there. We had time to rest and take a sauna before we left to meet our friends the Cactus Blossoms for a beautiful dinner, in possibly the cutest coziest apartment I’ve ever seen, in downtown Minneapolis. There was borscht, and salad, and warm crusty bread. The Cactus Blossoms would share the bill with us that night at Lee’s Liquor Lounge. This terrific band features a brother duet with a synchronicity reminiscent of the Louvins or something. We traded sets with them through the night and kept the folks dancing up a storm on that shiny, waxed, impeccable dance floor. Minneapolis has a healthy clogging community, so there were lots of dancers flat-footing to the fiddle tunes, a too-rare treat for us. That place was a gem as well, despite the incredibly rude staff.  The basement green room was a time capsule, immaculately clean, not a speck of dust to be seen on any of the 50+ trophies, perfectly spaced from one another on shelves lining the room around vinyl lounge chairs, Formica tables, neon lights and beer signs. It was a pleasure to share the night with the Cactus Blossoms.

Next day, Sunday the 24th would be our last show of the tour. It was a beautiful sunny snowy day. We played a lovely concert at St. James Lutheran Church in Burnsville at 4 in the afternoon. Sammy’s mother Lynne and Aunt Debbie baked over 100 cookies for the intermission surely ensuring that folks would stick around for the second set. We had plenty of time that night to relax and pack our bags. Even had time to jump in the sauna again and get a good night’s sleep. Thanks to Mark and Lynne for hosting us! We flew home to Portland the following morning. It was a fun and successful tour! Thanks to all the folks along the way who made it a good one!

We’ll be either off or playing locally for a couple of weeks until the second half of March when we head out to the East Coast. Check out our tour dates there and tell your friends to come see us!

That’s all for now! -Reeb