By Dayle Quigley
This past weekend I took by first official foray into the world of small venue entertainment in small town Wisconsin. Oh, I have done this for years, but not with any planned critique of the spot where I was headed. My quest has now begun, however, for the best out-of-the-way spots.
On Saturday I traveled north to Washburn, Wisconsin: population 3662. Washburn is situated on the Bayfield peninsula jutting into Lake Superior. It is a sleepy town on the shores of the lake with a bustling artistic and particularly musical community. As a matter of fact my favorite luthier, John Gray, makes his home here. The man works wonders on strings instruments of all shapes and sizes and all at a cost I can afford. Not an easy task.
Washburn is also home to Stage North, a performance art center. I am not sure in which building it initially resided for its first 7 years, but for the past 3 years it has resided on Omaha Avenue in a beautiful building overlooking the lake. The building contains a small auditorium with 100 seats on the main floor and 43 seats in the balcony, the StageNorth Bar, and an ever-changing visual art exhibit. There is a large patio out front for further dining arrangements, but as winter has arrived in the Northwoods, this area is no longer open. In addition to musical performances, Stage North puts on a new play each month, and hosts the Bay Area Film Society. There are DJ’d dances and holiday celebrations. There is something going on 4-5 days a week, and the bar is open 7 days a week.
On Saturday night, I chose not to eat from the bar but instead to eat at a local restaurant, Good Thymes, located just north of Washburn on Hwy 13. The restaurant had been located in downtown Washburn until a couple of years ago when it went up in flames. Their new location is in an old stately home about 2 miles out-of-town. It’s a beautiful location with a wonderfully warm atmosphere inside. We had an early reservation in order to have a relaxed meal prior to the 7:30 show but even at 5:45 the restaurant was quickly filling up. In all honesty, the meal was wonderful, even if our food did seem to come out of the kitchen a little too quickly. The wait staff was pleasant and helpful, without being overbearing. It was not an inexpensive meal but reasonable for the quality of food and liquor. It is a restaurant that is perfect for a before the theater meal, adding just the right touch.
The entertainment for the night was Rachael Kilgour from Duluth. Rachael was the biggest surprise of the evening and an incredibly pleasant surprise at that. I’ll be honest I had never heard of Rachael Kilgour prior to deciding to go to StageNorth. She did fit the bill however, Midwesterner (grew up and still lives in Duluth) and playing at a small venue. Rachael is a singer songwriter who also plays the fiddle and has traveled with Catie Curtis as a backup singer and violinist. I’ll admit that the audience was small and I believe made up mainly of people associated with the Bayfield Food Shelf, the recipient of half of the evenings proceeds, and their friends. The rest of the community missed out. Ms. Kilgour was wonderful. She is a true folk singer, who not only sings of loves found and lost but of the inequalities of the world and the need to change them. The venue was perfect for her with the concert feeling more like a home concert then a grand performance. She did not have a band with her, performing solo most of the evening with her wife singing harmony on a handful of songs, but her voice and guitar filled the stage beautifully.
So here is my take on the evening, for what it’s worth:
1. Good Thymes Restaurant – worth it as part of an evening out when you are in Washburn but not a destination in and of itself if you are driving more than 45 minutes.
2. StageNorth – a great spot. Worthwhile to travel there if there is a performance you have been dying to see. Should be a must stop, if you are in the area overnight.
3. Rachael Kilgour – worthwhile seeing no matter how far you need to drive.
Stay tuned for next week’s entry.