Music has never been finer. That would be a take on my concert experience two weeks ago. I could have stayed all night.
Let me explain. I went to Brian Wicklund’s camp in Marine on St. Croix in June. Ninety-five budding musicians met in a church 6 hours a day for 4 days in hopes of coming out the other side challenged, motivated, and inspired. This is the third year of the camp and it continues to escalate in number of participants. The ages ranged from 6 to ……let’s just say gray-haired. We don’t need to go there. There were fiddlers, mandolin players, guitarists and my group…the bass players. Okay, I’m not really a bass player. I took my cello and pretended to be a bass player for the week. Personally, I think I was in the coolest group. There is a cool factor to the bass group no matter where you are. This week was no exception particularly with Kevin Rowe at the helm. The man is amazing with a bass.
Anyway, the camp culminated in St. Croix Falls with two spectacular concerts. The first happened at the Overlook. If you have never been to St. Croix Falls you have missed out. Someone at sometime was smart enough to realize that a stage overlooking the St. Croix River and the Falls would be a marvelous idea and they completed it. Now on Friday evenings throughout the summer concerts occur at the spot. What a crowd drawer and pleaser. So the first concert of the night happened here and consisted of 95 amateur musicians along with their instructors playing 9 new songs all learned during camp. I may be partial but I thought it sounded magnificent. Of course on a beautiful summer evening, it could have been one scratchy beginner violin and the location still would have made it all worthwhile.
The second concert occurred a little while later across the street at the Festival Theater; a gem of a spot once again totally supported by a volunteer staff. The theater is charming and holds approximately 250 seats. I love old theaters and the thought that a community cares enough to see its beauty, opting to restore and maintain a piece of history instead of tearing down and building new makes me happy. The St. Croix Festival Theater exemplifies that concept. The theater was initially built in the early 1900’s for traveling theater and opera companies. It then became a movie theater but was restored back to its original intention in the 1990’s. The first floor houses the box office, public restrooms and a concession stand while the theater itself is on the second floor. It’s charming, absolutely charming. If you want to read more about the history, check it out at http://www.festivaltheatre.org/about.htm#history.
On the night of June 24th, the concert was billed as “The Fiddle Masters” but it was so much more. The concert was really Brian Wicklund and the Barley Jacks with the addition of the fiddle camp instructors. The whole thing rocked. The Barley Jacks (Brian Wicklund – fiddle, Kevin Rowe – bass, Joe Cruz – guitar, and Joel Arpin – percussion) are a wonderful mixture of blue grass, swing, R&B, and blues. The energy is contagious. They are a combination of well written lyrics and hot instrumentals. You don’t want them to ever stop. In terms of the other “master fiddlers”, the stage was also shared by April Verch and Randy Sabien. Typically when one sees a group of three fiddlers they are all similar and it is obvious that each are at about the same level or that there is a leader with two other “backups”. This was so not the case this night. Each fiddler has their own area of expertise. Not one would consider themself better than the other and yet each can provide something the other two can’t.I love watching musicians go drop mouth on the stage as they try and figure out how the person in front of them just produced the string of notes. Truly it can be like an Olympic event. April Verch is a stellar musician. I ran across a CD of her’s about 6 years ago after reading about it in a string magazine. I have never heard a fiddler play as clearly as she does. You can hear every note no matter how fast they fly out the end of the instrument. Oh, and did I mention that she is cute as a button and every bit as nice. When it comes to Randy, I hate to admit that he continues to get better but he does. The songs may have the same titles as those he has played in the past but the songs are not the same. The learning curve has not leveled off.
Joining these three was the remaining staff of the camp. Hannah Kalisch (fiddle), Ben Winship (mandolin), and Bill Cagley (guitar). All three added not only to the excitement on the the stage that evening but also to the success of the music camp and the possibility of 95 new faces on the theater stage some time in the future.
1. St. Croix Festival Theater – a true gem, go enjoy the Overlook and then cross the street and enter another time in history.
2. The Barley Jacks – look up their concert schedule and travel to wherever they are playing, you won’t be disappointed.
3. April Verch – I have never been to an April Verch stand alone concert but I can only imagine that everyone leaves there smiling and tapping their toes. If you have ever considered going to a music camp on the fiddle, figure out where she is an instructor and sign up.