Monday, July 16, 2007

AcousticFest

Sunday's AcousticFest lineup of local and "semi-local" musicians was impressive, talented, diverse and thoroughly enjoyable. I didn't get a chance to listen to everyone real intently...unfortunately (for me) I missed most of Dave Steffen & Craig Neuser and Abler & Boy (Keith and Luke Abler). Here are a few quick thoughts on the event.


Kicking off the day was our dear friend Becky Markvart.
The band shell loved Becky's voice...she never sounded better. Her vocals were full and powerful and beautiful. Becky hasn't been performing solo (acoustically, that is) for very long (her gig at the Stump just a couple months ago was her first solo performance) but you could never tell. Her guitar work is solid and supports her beautiful vocals very reliably, and while I know she may have been a little nervous before the show she was obviously enjoying the moment, and the audience responded to her set with enthusiastic applause and shouts for "one more!" I'd say having Becky start the event was perfect, because she immediately brought with her a lot of joy and enthusiasm, which translated to the audience and really set the tone for the rest of the day.


Casual Steve
...cool name, excellent sound. Man, these three guys were
absolutely down with it. Gritty yet smooth, like a shot of Booker's. I chatted with Derek and Dan after their set (the Steve in the name comes from an experience they had with some secret service guys for Al Gore when the former VP came to town for something or other...picture four SS men, three in clichéd dark suits and shades, and one in khakis and a polo, with a sticky name tag "Steve") and while they've all known each other at least since high school they've been together as Casual Steve for just a short time. I might be wrong about this (and if I am please correct me guys) but I gathered that Derek, who does lead vocals, does most or all of the songwriting as well...and their songs are dang good too...bluesy and lyrically smart. We're going to schedule the guys for a gig at Stumpjack sometime soon, so pay attention and mark your calendar when we firm up the date(s). Pete (Honzik) thanked the guys as they left the stage by calling them his "favorite new band" and I know he's not alone in that.


Kerry Michaels was joined by Tim Fab and the two of them made an interesting guitar duo, with Tim really playing some fast and dense stuff next to Kerry's raspy vocals. It was cool to hear Tim's playing add something different to some of Kerry's tunes that we've come to know so well. And Tim was very gracious in acknowledging Kerry's songwriting to the crowd. After the set Kerry was a little bummed because of some sound problems he had
early in the set...My 2 cents: "Loosen up dude! You sounded great!" We're hoping to do some recording with Kerry sometime in the near future, as well as get some more of his CD's in the cafe soon.


Matt Schroeder is a truly excellent guitar player. The guy's playing is simply outstanding...extremely skilled, effortless and tasty guitar work. When he's done you just go "Man, that guy's good..." And a darn nice guy he is too. Matt's brother, Mark, was one of my roommates at UWM and it was really nice chatting with Matt after the set and saying hi
to his Mom and Dad again (it's been a while). Matt's daughter played a tune with him on stage too (I think she's 10), which was very cool. She's got a heckuva teacher. Matt said we might be able to do something at the Stump this fall, so that's another one to mark on your calendar when we set a date. His family (uncles) own Schroeder's Department Store in Two Rivers, and he's played there before, so if you've seen him there you know how special this guy's talent is. Good seeing you again Matt.


OK, Janet Planet with Tom Theabo. What more can be said about Janet Planet...the voice, and the total ease with which she draws you into the song...she is the reigning jazz queen in many people's book. I was thinking as I was listening to her and Tom Thea
bo, what a great or serendipitous job Pete Honzik did with the order of the lineup for AcousticFest. The mix of acoustic folk, blues, rock and now jazz was perfect; always fresh, and nary a moment of boredom or sameness. Janet Planet will be playing at Stumpjack Coffee...oh, sometime in the future, hopefully...have to actually ask her first I guess...

Unfortunately, my camera batteries died in the middle of Planet's set, so I didn't get any pics of any other performers after her. But I'll toss in a few others from the day here on this post and then add everything else to a Flickr set later.


Mike Retzinger did a powerful set that made me think of those earlier 20th century powerful folk singers who sang songs of social and political commentary. Not that all his tunes were social commentary, but rather that he portrayed that kind of intense passion and lower register guitar sound that I associate with those folks.

Gloria and Pete Pivonka, Unw
ound, were great too. Besides being excellent musicians they're married to each other as well, and that makes for a very nice dynamic between the two of them on stage. They've been in to Stumpjack for coffee and after the set we talked about doing something at the cafe sometime, which will be a lot of fun. Gloria and Kim (my wife) graduated from Lincoln together and used to waitress at Big Boy in Manitowoc back in the day. I met Pete's Dad after the show; a very sweet guy who was clearly proud of his son. It just strikes me as very cool that folks like Pete and Gloria...who are very talented musicians, gifted performers, are old friends (with Kim), and just lovely people who exude a lot of joy and love, live right here. You don't have to drive far or pay big ticket prices to see and hear extremely talented artists perform; they live right here in your own backyard. Note to Pete: am planning a trip to Fish Creek for that shirt...I must have it!

Kim and the girls before the show

Joe LaForce and Mark Kimmes were the final local performers to play and, again, what a good way to end the lineup. I don't know Mark, personally, but Joe and Kim worked
together for a while at the Aging Resource Center in Manitowoc (Joe is still there I believe). Joe and Mark are mighty easy to listen to, with a smooth and relaxing style that just makes you want to stretch your legs out, put your hands behind your head, close your eyes and smile. And Joe again showed himself to be the gracious and humble individual that he is, with kind words for the other performers and show organizers. We've been talking with Joe for quite while about having him at the cafe but our schedules just haven't meshed up to now...sometime this fall I'm thinking.

Tony and Joe

The final act, the headliners, of AcousticFest, were Dorothy Scott and Pat MacDonald (MacDonald of mid-80s Timbuk3 fame). Dorothy Scott is an interesting musician, very intense in her guitar work and stage presence, yet seemingly incredibly shy and introverted in personality. Her vocals were both angelic and piercing, very powerful. MacDonald cuts a skeletal figure, and projects that subversive or outsider artist persona. He mostly played an interesting "cigar-box" electric guitar creation that made for some funky sounds and the songs were more extended jams, most played with Dorothy Scott, rather than singular tunes.

MacDonald spent an equal amount of time talking to the audience, and at one point midway through their set indicated that he was in desperate need of a cup of excellent Stumpjack Coffee, bemoaning that there was none to be had at the concert. We, of course, understand his craving for Stumpjack Coffee and thank him sincerely for his enthusiastic endorsement. Reading the tagline on the Stumpjack banner behind him he seemed to sob, "There's ambiance...and art...but no fine coffees here..." I'll see what I can do about sending him a pound of fine Puerto Rican or Papua New Guinea, so that he doesn't have to have his next performance adversely affected by a lack of our coffee.

The performance of Dorothy Scott and Pat MacDonald really was the only disappointing part of the whole day. From Dorothy it was disappointing because her performance was so short. I think she only played maybe a half dozen or so songs. I would have liked to have seen and heard much more from her because she is really a dynamic personality and a fierce guitar player. From MacDonald it was disappointing not only because he played so briefly, but also because what he did do was largely not acoustic at all. Before his set I heard him ask Pete Honzik if he could plug in...play electric...so I guess he really wasn't down with the concept of AcousticFest. At one point he mentioned to the audience something to the effect that since this was "AcousticFest" that they might expect the performance to be less polished, or that mistakes ought to be embraced as part of the concept. To me, this was kind of an insulting thing to say, to not only the audience but to the other performers who do take both acoustic music and their performances seriously. I'd read a number of good reviews of his performances before the concert and was expecting much more, so his performance here was a disappointment.

I'm hesitant to be openly critical like this lest some folks think it's just in response to MacDonald's silly critique of the coffee thing. I'll address that in a follow-up post but I actually think that he did us a service with those comments, albeit unintentionally perhaps, and I owe him a thank you for the promo.

Yet that was but one singular and thankfully brief disappointment in what was otherwise a stellar day of music and talent. A lot of people mentioned during the day that this was perhaps the best AcousticFest yet, with a plethora of local talent and great performances.

Pete Honzik and Dan Hildebrand played together between sets.

Pete Honzik, Dan Hildebrand, Dennis Krall and everyone else (Joe and the other sponsors) who helped to make this event the great thing that it is merit a huge tip of the hat and a beer. We're proud to have been associated with AcousticFest this year and hope to help more next year. There's some mighty talented, dedicated and just plain "good" people who make this maybe the coolest music event around, and right here at that.

Ok, I hope I never make another post that long...man...

4 comments:

Becky Markvart said...

I absolutely LOVED Acoustic Fest this year. Not only performing, but listening to the other extremely talented performers and enjoying the wonderful weather. I would agree that this year was the best I've been to. I also wish to give a big "thanks" to David and Kim for being such wonderful supporters of me and helping me feel comfortable while performing...and giving me such a great place to play! You guys are great!!

David said...

Gee, thanks, Becky...that's mighty kind of you. I need a hug now...

Becky Markvart said...

I'll make sure you get a big hug from me when I see you next! Until then...

Bobbi'sTravels said...

It was great to read such a detailed review of the Beautiful day. Beautiful in sound as well as weather. I have attended this fest for many years and have to say this was talent-wise the best one yet! Pete & Dan do an incredible job and should be praised for the time and effort it takes to put on such an event.

I had to chuckle with the review of Joe - I did sit back, close my eyes, smile, and then snooze - it is a Looonggg day and a lil nap was exactly what I needed to enjoy the last sets :-)

Oh yeah ... can't Not mention the Great Banner!