House Concerts

Decades ago, there was a connection and an area wide idea. House concerts with well known folk artists who played acoustically. Mostly these concerts were actually in homes of people who listen to those types of things. Many, if not most of these singer/songwriters were well known from the popular radio show, ‘The prairie Home Companion’. This radio show was hosted by local personality and writer, Garrison Keillor.

Jack knew these performers from his immersion in the folk music scene back in the early 70’s. Jack toured with a few of them and they all played at the New Riverside Café in Minneapolis. It was pretty good music and an outgrowth of the beat generation ( Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez, Carolyn Hester, Utah Phillips and Woody Guthrie to name a few) It was the musical time of the singer-songwriters and very popular when Jack was in the Navy overseas. He even ordered a classy Martin D12-20 to be mailed overseas to his ship. Never arrived. “Lost in transit” as so many of us were as well. Middle sixties, lots of war everywhere.

Jack went to Junior college and transferred to another after a short stint in his parents basement after discharge. A common experience for vets at that time. Focus is a common experience for vets. You miss all your buddies but you don’t miss the rest of it. Authority rebellion occurred with Jack as well. He tuned in and dropped out as the saying went. Long hair and the attitude of hippies and old beatniks.

After a year in basement, Jack moved into an upstairs apartment in a somewhat unfashionable part of town and met his lifelong friend, Bruce, at the yellow cab stand at the airport. They became roommates at the crummy apartment. It worked. Jack practiced his painting on the walls of the apartment doing reproductions of art work on the Beetles yellow submarine album.

After a short time with Bruce he and jack began playing country blues together. Advertised as 16 string blues, they went under the stage name of ‘Actual Mexicans’ Before Jack and Bruce met, Bruce spent half a year on China Beach after getting blown up in a PSY OPS truck. When he and Jack met, Jack thought he was a black man. After a month or so, Bruce’s skin got lighter. “I thought you were a black guy!” Bruce then replied, after his distinctive laugh, ” Heck no, I’m a dark Norwegian” It became the subject of many humorous conversations. He is gone now and Jack misses him a lot. You know how it is. We grieve.

The two vets got a bit antsy and Bruce knew some people who lived in Berkeley. Why not ditch this joint, get some cool English motorcycles, strap our guitars on the back of them, and go west? A long story in the archives here under ‘ motorcycle pilgrimage 1-6. Jack and Bruce came back to Minneapolis and Jack wound up on the west bank and got involved at the New Riverside Café. Music, Jack and Bruce’s real life focus’ became the catalyst for the next few years. Jack joined the Riverside staff and Bruce drove Yellow Cab for a while and married one of the café women and then moved north to Trade Lake.

It was glorious to be playing on the stage where famous musicians and poets came. Jack never got paid to perform and neither did any of the others either. Record contacts helped a bit and Jack had a good friend at KQRS radio that did some recording of Jack and Bruce. Alan Stone was his radio name by the way.

Remember records? They never made one although they did some reel to reel stuff at the radio station. Tony Glover worked there as a DJ at those times too. Tony was already well known from recordings of Koerner Ray and Glover. (Gator just had contact with John Koerner late last year for a funeral for one of Jack’s good friends, another 12 string folk artist, Charlie Jirousek. Charlie also had a distinctive laugh.) How many times friends and their laughs are remembered!

Jack, finally tiring of the poverty of the café, started track labor with the railroad. Upon urging from Bruce, Jack moved up to Trade Lake too. That was in 1976. Bruce lived just down the road from Jack’s 30 acre home. It was a good introduction to the rural life. Frozen pipes, racoons, gigs with country western bands and lots of new friends. Wood heat. Chain saws and splitting mauls. The railroad work got Jack fit enough to endure the northern life. It felt right and the air was clean and the noise of the freeways gone.

Through Bruce and Jack’s music connections, they continued to visit the West Bank. It was grand times and upon meeting Garrison Keillor at a party, Jack and Gary got loaded on some of Jack’s homemade wine. First and last time they ever got together. Jack dropped the name of his good friend, Mary Dushane to get in the door. She was the fiddler for the Powder Milk Biscuit Band.

Jack was still friends with a lot of the West Bank performers from the café days. They were pretty broke and Jack offered ‘House Concerts’ up north of Highway 8 in Wisconsin for them. Actual money was made, not much, but gas and housing guaranteed. Advertising of those concerts found it’s way into the St.Paul Pioneer Press. Turn outs were large enough to get a scramble for usable chairs, baked treats and rug cleaner. It was grand for a time and Jack and his friends became a rumor and a quaint source of amusement for the locals. Most of them were Home Companion fans. Old hippies that had graduated to organic gardeners and old ford 8N tractors. Those times are gone now. Radio shows are passé with U tube, CD,s Television and the internet. Television is actually now supplanted with Netflix and other streaming computer web sites.

We are not the better for this transition. It is not nostalgia but the loss of good fellowship and neighborly entertainment. Except for a very occasional pricey large venue concert, there is little to replace this loss.

There is one platform where some of these musicians still play however. It is not billed as entertainment however. Some of these ‘old timers’ can still be seen and heard locally too. It’s in the churches and it abounds. Old hymns, gospel and up tempo current worship songs can be heard and felt. The music just starts getting in the groove of a team vouting off one another and it’s over. Older pickers, strummers and such lament the shortness of the playing but it is still very worthy to play there. It’s called worship music.

One of the greatest fiddlers Jack heard, quit the stage and it’s acclimation and applause. We all thought it was a tragedy for us. At the time, it did not make sense. Later, much later, Jack discovered why that man went on to play for Jesus. The applause from Jack’s new Friend moves more than Jack’s ego, it moves his spirit and the joy is stunning. It often causes the band to stop playing and just stand, overwhelmed with the Joy from Jesus. Jesus loves the worship. After all, the man after God’s own heart was a musician. He loved to dance for Him too. It’s pretty good. Jack Gator

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