By Dayle Quigley
A musical venue icon – I do believe that is the only way to view the Cafe Carpe. Perhaps with its long history and popularity, it is the venue from which all others should be compared. You decide.
Let’s first take a trip down memory lane. Back in the late 50s Joe and JoAnn Moore bought the No Exit establishment in Evanston Illinois. The No Exit was alcohol free. It served espressos and pastries and was home to classical music, except when live entertainment made its way through town. It was home to more than a few singer/songwriters. The Moores moved to Wisconsin in the 70s and started the Green Dragon Inn. The Green Dragon was the No Exit done bigger. It was eclectic and smoky and home to Chicago style deep dish pizza and again a long list of visiting singer/songwriters. Interestingly one of the musicians was Bill Camplin, and when Bill moved on it was to the Cafe Carpe. The Cafe Carpe is the baby of Camplin and Kitty Welch. According to their website it started in 1985 although my source thought they had been going strong for 27 years. The Carpe is located on Water Street in Fort Atkinson and backs up to the river. The first floor houses the main bar area, the music/performance room, and a back porch overlooking the river. The upstairs is home to Bill, Kitty, their 2 children, and the dog. The atmosphere of the Carpe is like your best mid-western friend’s house. It is unpretentious. It is lived in. It feels like it has been there forever and will remain there indefinitely. It is solid and warm. It is not “staged” to look good. It has not been done over by a decorator to coordinate the scene. I’m not sure if anything matched. The walls are covered in a mish mash of wonderful things. My favorite was the stuffed fish, I”m assuming a carp. The requisite mid-western stuffed deer head was missing. There is artwork and certificates and a wooden airplane prop. One wall is covered with a large chalkboard listing the daily specials. The menu is like the rest of the Carpe, unexplainable and yet perfect . The main menu doesn’t change – routine sandwiches, burgers, salads but then there are the specials – jambalya and curry dishes, thai shrimp and eggs as a combo with their brunch. Oh, and I almost forgot, the deep dish pizza from the Green Dragon moved with Camplin. It doesn’t quite make sense but it’s perfect. I should mention that they keep a complete bar and have wonderful bartenders. (That’s an aside)
The music for the evening was by Redbird–a foursome of Pete Mulvey, David Goodrich, Jeff Foucault, and Kris Delmhorst. I wish I could give you a long history on this group but finding information is frustratingly difficult. I will give you what I can. I am probably going out on a limb but here goes. Jeff Foucault is a home-grown boy from Whitewater Wisconsin who currently lives with his wife, Kris Delmhorst in Western Massachusetts. Peter Mulvey hails from Milwaukee but spent time in Boston … playing in the subways. Finally David Goodrich, Goody, grew up in Washington, D.C., but went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Thus I’m assuming it would be the Boston connection that brings this foursome together. Whatever the impetus, I see why it has stuck and why their concerts sellout on a regular basis. The group has a wonderful rapport with each other as well as the audience. The banter is as much fun as the music but certainly does not overshadow the wonderful mixing of styles and tones. The real story though has nothing to do with the music. The music was enjoyable but the real story is that the music venue and the performers so perfectly fit with the rest of the Carpe. Hearing music in a small room filled to capacity (72), filled with various sitting pieces (pews, cafe chairs, stools, auditorium rows), and encircling a stage that can’t be more than 5 feet by 5 feet, makes you feel like you are in your own mid-western home spending an evening with your closest friends and making music together. It is in these instances when music is accessible. When you can imagine that if you had an instrument you could join in and you would be welcomed, and it would sound good. Okay maybe only in my imagination it would sound good but it is in this case that music is no longer passive. It is something to be more than enjoyed. It is something to be bathed in, to be heard and felt and if it could be tasted, then tasted. This is what music should be and what the Carpe does so well from the moment you open the front door. This was the start of my musical weekend.
On Sunday, I had a totally different experience. On Sunday, a friend and I headed to Arlington Heights, Illinois. Yes once again I ventured across the state line but this time in a south east direction. We were headed to the the Metropolis Performing Arts Center for a “cocktail holiday party” with Corky Seigel, Megon McDonough, and Randy Sabien. I do think however that I need to set the scene. We started the evening by getting dressed up; sometimes you just need to get dressed up. We had reservations for dinner at Le Titi de Paris prior to the show. I have to tell you that I may have just found another “favorite” restaurant. I ate recently at the Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee for brunch. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Two hours of gastronomic pleasure and if I hadn’t had a 5 hour drive I would have stayed for another 2 hours. I have never eaten dinner at the Lake Park Bistro but Le Titi de Paris would be what I would imagine it would be. The food and drinks on Sunday night were amazing. I’m sure there are culinary experts out there who would have all the correct words to describe the sensations I experienced but I am not them. So let me just say … if you like to eat food where every bite demands to be singularly experienced, where the thought that you could drop your spouse and simply visit the restaurant a couple of times a week seems more than reasonable, do not drive past this place without stopping. That would be a travesty. So after eating once again for more than 2 hours, we headed off to the Metropolis. The Metropolis is located in downtown Arlington Heights if that is even possible. I am not from the area but the buildings are taller and closer together. There is parking on the street or for free in a garage right around the corner. It looks like a thousand different performing art centers I have been in. It is clean and comfortable. The staff are polite and helpful and enjoyable to deal with. The seating is intimate although the auditorium can seat 350. It didn’t feel nearly that big. I will admit that although it was billed as a “cocktail” party there were no cocktails to be purchased. That was a major bummer from my point of view. A really thought something like a sour apple martini with a cherry (green with a splash of red) would have been so fitting for the holiday theme. The lack of a cocktail however did not blemish the otherwise magnificent performance. Corky Seigel is a genius, a musical genius. There is really no other way to say it. Whether he is blowing on his harmonica or tickling the ivories of the grand piano, the man is in a league all his own. I have to admit I have never seen him in concert before but I have already memorized his next concert dates. The second of the trio for the evening was Megon McDonough, she hails from Chicago as does Seigel and she is best known for being an inaugural member of Four Bitchin’ Babes. As a teenager in the 70s, she opened for such acts as John Denver and Harry Chapin. I am not surprised as she has a tremendous voice. On Sunday she was fabulous whether she was singing solo and accompanying herself on piano or whether she was singing harmony for someone else’s song. She sang old jazz tunes, and carols, and original, very funny songs. Each one was better than the last. I could have listened to her endlessly. The final member of the trio was Randy Sabien. He is the only one who does not hail from Chicago but he did grow up in Rockford. That’s practically next door. Randy is well known for his jazz fiddle but like all the musicians on the stage that evening he is multi-faceted and multi-talented. The evening started with Summertime, a jazz stable but rocked through such iconic songs as Arthur the Ardvaark’s Boogie Woogie Christmas and my favorite High on Love, a duet with Sabien and McDonough. Sabien played not only his fiddle but pulled out his viola and blasted away on the piano. At one point the audience was regaled with both Randy and Corky on the piano at once. It just doesn’t get much better. The concert was wonderful and a definite holiday treat.
Here would be my bottomline:
1. If you are ever near Fort Atkinson, don’t miss the Cafe Carpe. If you go, take in the whole thing, the food, the drinks and the music. All of your senses will thank you.
2. If someone you want to see is at the Metropolis, it’s a nice spot with good acoustics but you are going for the show not the location.
3. Performers – all worth seeing individually or together.