Maple City Music: The Year in Review
By Jason Samuel
Simply put, it’s been a great year for live music in the Maple City.
When you consider a town the size of Goshen has five local outlets for fans of live music to enjoy local, regional and national touring bands, one could take this fact for granted. Sure, we’ve had live performances in town for years, but nothing compares to the incredibly talented and diverse line-up of 2012.
My hope is that we don’t become spoiled or simply assume the music will always be there. Live music needs our support if the artists are not just to survive but thrive in Goshen.
You could travel a great distance to enjoy the same quality of performer. Go on, hop in your car; it’s only 125 miles to Chicago or 150 to Indianapolis. Ann Arbor has a great music scene too; just remember that’s a 320-mile round trip to see a show. Detroit? Two hundred miles one way; even Grand Rapids is over 100 miles from home. Goshen might not have the seemingly endless array of artistic choices as do larger cities, but for our size nobody does it better.
Part of what I do, both officially and unofficially, is to help bring bands to town and offer support through 91.1 The Globe. When I’m on the phone with promoters or managers from Nashville and Los Angeles who want to know how they can help their bands get a gig in Goshen or exchanging emails with Madison Avenue talent agencies that keep offices in New York, L.A. and London who write, “We love Goshen,” I know we’ve got a great thing.
By all rights Goshen should not have the quality of live music that we do filling up venues, bars, theaters, coffee houses, streets and courtyards nearly every weekend. Seriously. Other towns are jealous. I promise you.
Many of you enjoyed several concerts over the past year. Thanks for supporting live music. December seems like a natural time to look back on some of the shows we saw together and a few we missed. Credit to Constant Spring, Downtown Goshen’s First Fridays, Goshen College Performing Arts Series, Goshen Theater and Ignition Garage and their dozens of employees and volunteers who do the work to make sure quality music comes to Goshen.
This year we were treated to local and regional favorites as bluegrass aficionados Goldmine Pickers, Celtic group Kennedy’s Kitchen and the acoustic based Midnight Cattle Callers played at the Goshen Theater. The Theater featured a wide range of musical genres from the sizzling guitar of Kelly Richey to the blended voices of Red Molly and the Christian hardcore of The Skies Revolt.
Easily their biggest shows centered on a pair of homecomings. Goshen College alums and jam band superstars in the making, Lotus, played their first show in the Maple City in seven years. Back in ’05 the overflow crowd packed the sidewalk outside The Electric Brew like it was Black Friday at Walmart. This time more than 450 people gathered in the Theater to see a nearly three-hour light and music show that will live memorably in the musical soul for years to come. A few months later a crowd nearly as large filed into Theater seats to hear The Steel Wheels offer up their unique brand of bluegrass harmonies and jug band progressions.
The team at First Fridays mixed in local musicians with regional acts and national tours. First Fridays treated us to a brand of jazz, fusion and rock that has brought South Bend’s Half-Pint Jones regional acclaim. The Ladybirds, a Louisville-based quintet, gave Goshen its first taste of rockabilly resurgence since Bar Brawl III and a Goshen native, Chris Rhodes, played the Spring a year earlier.
Speaking of the Spring, if you’re a really good band, you’re coming back. Constant Spring provided us with two shows each from Chicago-based The Main Squeeze, featuring homegrown drummer Reuben Gingerich, and their high-energy funk as well as the Washington D.C. band Justin Jones, and their hard-driving bar band energy. They also hosted two South Bend bands, the B.E.A.T. and Indika, broadening our musical landscape with hip-hop, live loops and special effects and an authentic reggae vibe that will keep them coming back for years.
At times overlooked but not without a significant history in the Goshen music scene is The Electric Brew. This is a place where up-and-coming artists from the region can entertain latte-sipping attendees while they work through new material and old standards for the contents of a tip jar and the sales on a few pieces of self-released merch.
The Electric Brew was one of the original live music venues in Goshen. Walk out the back door and look along the south wall and you’ll see hundreds of photos representing artists who’ve played The Brew since it opened in 1996 as Elkhart County’s first coffee shop. It’s the best place for a relaxed music experience. No pressure and not too many expectations; just good times. Don’t forget to tip.
Goshen College’s Performing Arts Series offers the most eclectic mix of national artists. One of this year’s highlights was a performance by the incomparable Del McCoury Band. He’s a Hall of Famer and may be The American Bluegrass musician, doing what he’s done for half a century. Showing the “wanna-bes” and “kinda-ares” who is master.
Kansas Bible Company just keeps getting better with every album. Eleven guys, some still matriculating through Goshen College, others recent grads or with college on hold, staking their claim in Nashville while building the legend of “Hotel Chicamauga.” These boys bring a wall of sound, choreographed dance moves, a horn section, clever lyrics and a unique winding rock sound the likes we haven’t heard or seen in Goshen.
If you saw them at the Spring or the Garage you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, well, imagine early Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears in their prime mashed together with George Clinton & Parlaiment-Funkadelic and a dash of surf rock. You will be there next time they perform.
The Minor Profits christened Ignition Garage in February and ushered in a new level of national touring artists. Anne McCue blew us away with her power trio twice this year. In June, at First Fridays and then capping off the year with a show at the Garage. Each time enlisting the backing talents of locals, Joel Jimenez on bass and Andrew Hauser on drums. Their encore of Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” will be the talk of local legend.
Whitehorse drove down from Toronto again and made Goshen a stop on both their North American tours with shows at the Garage in March and October. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland evolved between shows. October was actually their third trip to town in a 16-month period and this last one was the best. Offering a synergy in musicianship that wasn’t part of their earlier performances. This time, two were one, and it showed on stage.
Some shows loomed large. The Spring Standards had just played Conan and fans came out in droves. Sold out. Woe to the group of young fans from Syracuse forced to enjoy the show standing on the Washington Street sidewalk. Shovels & Rope were just coming off a few dates with Jack White when they dropped by the Garage for a show. They didn’t break the fire code for attendance but I doubt you could have shoehorned a small child into that capacity crowd. Music fans got lucky with The Deep Dark Woods, too, with the Canadian band gigging at the Garage before they blew up nationally and spent the summer playing the biggest festivals in the U.S.
Marc Scibilia was a pleasant surprise. Opening for a veteran touring musician, Will Hoge. His 40-minute set captivated the audience. Two words describe Scibilia: Lady. Killer. His weapons of choice: unassuming demeanor and a velvety voice. Hoge was more than equal. He sells out Chicago venues regularly so the full house was nothing new. He drove home his polished brand of clever lyrics, captivating roots rock and country jams to an already engaged audience.
A word about the radio station while I’m at it. Early in the year we constructed a remote studio affectionately dubbed “The Moon.” In April we did our first live interview with members of New Country Rehab. In May I had the good fortune of broadcasting our first live show, a two-hour all vinyl extravaganza that drew in people from off the street who sat and watched me do something I hadn’t done since college. Spinning vinyl is hard work but a lot of fun. We’ve also had live in-store performances by Buxton, Tora and The Deep Dark Woods broadcast over the airwaves. And our afternoon jock, Jim O’Day, now spends Friday afternoons in the booth.
So, yeah, it was a great year. Here’s to 2013. Maybe you can set your sights on adding a show or two to your entertainment schedule. Be sure to invite a friend as well. Don’t keep all this great music to yourself. And as always, remember to say, “Hi,” when we see each other at a show.
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