The Christmas holidays have come and gone. The children are back at their respective locations and I have once again started to travel the state in search of great small venues and interesting musical endeavors.
This past weekend after returning my son to school in De Pere, (go Green Knights!!) I headed over to the town of Wautoma and the McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center. I knew nothing of Wautoma prior to selecting it for a visit, other than the fact that it was just a hop, skip, and a jump from De Pere/Green Bay and therefore “on my way.” Wautoma is actually very similar to Hayward, my own home town. It has a population of just about 2000 with what appears to be a large number of homes on the adjacent lakes. It has a beautiful little downtown and a large number of incredibly friendly individuals. Since I did not want to drive over 4 hours after the concert, I booked a room at Pine Ridge – I’m sure at one point it was a farm with the farmhouse and barn still on the property but now it houses a lodge, restaurant, bar, and bunk house. With no room in the inn, I was in the bunk house. That doesn’t sound overly attractive but it was very very nice. No complaints at all – clean, new, well-appointed. I will have to say that even nicer than my accommodations was the friendliness of the hotel staff. They helped me find the Performing Arts Center, went on a wild goose chase for my lost mittens in the restaurant after hours, talked me through getting my direct t.v. working at almost midnight, and then found an open restaurant for me on Sunday morning since brunch didn’t start until 9AM and I needed to get on the road home. Without a doubt I will always stay here when I’m in the area.
The concert for the night was being held at the McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center. I will admit that I wasn’t overly excited about visiting this venue. Most performing art centers are nondescript; they look the same; they feel the same. There is little to write home about. This is not the case with the McComb/Bruchs. I think I will now refer to it as MB as this is shorter and thus faster to type. The MB has been in existence for the past 20 years. This is their 20th Season. The center was built when two women with foresight and presence of mind bequeathed significant funds for the sole purpose of building a performing arts center in a small Wisconsin town. Ms. McComb donated one million dollars and with it specific requirements for the building – everything from its approximation to the school, to the distance of the furthest seat from the stage (57 ft), to the necessity for bathrooms and showers within the dressing rooms. The seating is also very unusual as the rows are long; 38-40 seats with no center aisles. The only way to enter the rows is from the ends. This is not the traditional American model but Ms. McComb wanted it this way so that the performers would look out and see a sea of faces instead of an empty aisle. How brilliant is that? I should mention that Ms. Bruchs donated more than $200,000 to further the cause. The center is utilized not only for monthly concerts by nationally recognized artists but also by the schools, and the community choir, and the community theater guild. The center was to be seen as a resource for the entire area and it is obvious that they are fulfilling their mission beautifully. This is a performing arts center that I would be happy to attend on a regular basis.
Finally, the entertainment for the night was Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues. Okay this is a traditional string quartet (2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello) with Frank Donaldson seated on the floor playing percussion and Corky Siegel on harmonica and piano. This is a combination that shouldn’t work. This sounds like a combination where between it and three banjos, one should pick the banjos. But, and here is the big but, it works. It really works. The fusion of musical tones is a whole new and wonderful experience. It’s a marriage between the past and the present. Perhaps producing a new future. On this Saturday evening the ensemble was joined by Randy Sabien, jazz violinist. In a sense Randy plays with this idea of two worlds colliding on a daily basis playing “alternative’ music on the violin. In this case, however, he is involved in bridging an even further distance; bringing the classical world and the world of blues and jazz onto the same musical page. With or without Mr Sabien, this is an act that is worth experiencing. I will admit that I have no idea if the music plays out as well coming through your speakers as it does as when one experiences it in person. It may be one of those acts you need to experience initially up close and personal in order to fully appreciate.
1. Pine Ridge at Wautoma – worth every penny
2. McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center – my favorite to date
3. Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – don’t miss them. You may question the sanity of it all but you won’t go home disappointed.
Next week – Door County and Mojo Perry