Feb 16 Saturday Night Hoe-down

band board dancers 2

The Saturday night hoedown is alive and well on the Northern Plains.  Across the region, farm work slows for the winter.  Wednesday nights are reserved as church night, but Saturday night still reigns as dance night.  There was a time when the weekly ritual was in the “freshly-strawed” barn, but that’s a rarity by any count.  Instead farm folk head in to town to their local watering hole to get down.  That was the case at the generations-old Stage Stop Bar and Grill in Mandan this Saturday night.  The Low Down Dirty Dogs brought their talents to set up on the end of the building.

Amie

Amie wraps her vocal cords around a song that was popular 30 years before she was born.

There under the mixed up colored lights of beer signs, musicians set up next to the wide-screen TV with an outdoors program, hunting and fishing videos.  There wasn’t much a dance floor.  Old time dances had saw dust on the floor so dancers could slide and shuffle.  This well-weathered Berber carpet didn’t allow for much sliding and shuffling. Classic rock lovers packed the room, listening to the music, catching up with the neighbors and doing their part to make a profitable night for the bar. The crowd listened to and sometimes mouthed the words to songs that  Amie powerfully belted out — songs that were popular a decade or two before she was born.

All the band members have day jobs. Bob, for example works at the North Dakota

Bob the hydrology engineer

Water Commission.  He’s well past the age when many people retire, but he’d rather keep working his day job to support his weekend love: classic rock, classic country rock, outlaw rock, Americana.

Banjo pickin

North Dakota’s rural mindset doesn’t allow for much specialization of music genre.  When neighbors drive to town to mingle, drink and enjoy music, they don’t separate to their own respective establishment, some to a jazz club, others to a country western club, some to a blues club and others to a rock club.  Instead, one band at one place is expected to fit all the music tastes. That’s why the Low Down Dirty Dogs can shift from Janis Joplin to Waylon Jennings to Bob Dylan to Queen. It’s about keeping the audience entertained and giving them what they came to hear.

The Low Down Dirty Dogs were only one of several offerings in town Saturday night.  There must have been five or six bars, clubs and taverns with music, talented musicians playing their recognizable variations and arrangements of songs most of the crowd has heard on their tractor radio.

Bob Butch Drumer Amy Guitar

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Good music makes cold weather bearable — January ’11

Dirty Word Dad and Daughter

Music runs in this family.  Dirty Word is a fun talented regional bar band.  Well, actually a cut above most bar bands because even though their music is mostly covers, they put their own twists to the songs they do, their own arrangements if you will. That tells me the band members are talented. More so, to see the lead singer and his daughter together on the stage tells me the talent is in their DNA.  For just a couple songs at Burnt Creek, a dance bar north of Bismarck, dad and daughter entertained the crowd.  She not only has talent, but has poise and confidence — enough to stand alone to sing to a building full of respectful and admiring adults.

After a couple of songs, off she went, out the back door — I assume to the motel where her mother or other caretaker was waiting. After all, though it was 9 p.m. when she was on stage, it’s still late for a girl of her age.  From then on, the crowd danced to and was entertained by the good music of Dirty Word.  It’s a Minneapolis band that is too good for little smokey bars and clubs, but probably not good enough to hold the stage at a festival or other music event such as 10K lakes.  If you get the chance however, pay the cover charge and check out Dirty Word.  I endorse the band on a cold winter night. It will get you out of the cabin, down the trail, in to humanity for an evening.

Bands seem to flourish in the winter in Bismarck.  Take Midnight Noise Orchestra.  These guys have been parts of other bands and they’ve come together for a year or two now, entertaining at local venues, usually free.  No cover charge. They play at street festivals and other artistic and open venues.  They hold your attention and keep you coming back for their own tunes.  They’re a little bit of a jam band, folk, reggae, rock, jazz, blues band. Each song does not sound like the next song, the next song, the next song….  They’re original and entertaining.

On this night, I caught Midnight Noise Orchestra at Captain Freddie’s in Mandan.  The bar caters to a young crowd and the river crowd — even has it’s own dock for Missouri River boaters to stop for a brew.  Since there’s not much of a boat crowd in the winter, music brings in the patrons.  Midnight Noise does it well.

I like shooting bands. I hope to put together an entire portfolio of my photographs of local musicians. They’re talented, but don’t have much marketing to take them up the ladder of success. I can, however, provide them with a few good shots for their own portfolio.  In the mean time, I get stretched as a photographer.  It’s not easy working with low light situations — changing colors of the stage lights, and fast moving people. I’ve found that setting my white balance to “auto,”  cranking up the ISO to about 1,200 and opening up my aperture as far as it will go allows me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to freeze the players.

Not only that, I get to enjoy the good music, connect with band members — and get a break from cabin fever.  Bismarck-Mandan has an abundance of talented musicians, so cabin fever will have an abundance of opportunity for relief.  What about you? Are you more likely to catch a good musical group in the winter or the summer?

December 30 — Grindhouse Theater Blues

Grindhouse Theater blues

We leave 2010 with a recurring theme — local musicians.  It’s been an unexpected pleasure this year to shoot the bands and musicians I’ve hooked up with such as these fellows.  On the left,Weston Shick. On the right Arnold Jordan.  (I have yet to be introduced to the guitarist in the middle.)

North Dakota is blessed with rich musical talent.  I think it is because there are people in this culture who realize if there’s going to be entertainment here, they have to make it. So, they make entertainment for themselves and for us.

For my part, I try to capture not only the moment as it existed, but add to it in a bit of a creative burst of energy, my own interpretation of the moment with processing and framing.  That’s the entertainment I make for myself.

There are few places for them to perform, but the East 40 Chophouse in Bismarck is one.  The lounge with its cozy atmosphere and warm fireplace is a great place to enjoy a respite from winter with good friends such as these.

November 23 The Walrus makes music

Weston Shick

Now that winter has descended, people start looking for things to do, to liven up the long cold days.  Places such as The Walrus in Bismarck accommodate those looking for life.  In this case, the Phil McBand band and Weston Shick.

Weston is a young man, 25 years old, who stays busy with his talents. He’s a musician who plays several instruments in different bands in town.

In this case, the little narrow eatery, The Walrus sets aside a tiny part of the front for the music. The place fills up quickly when good jam bands, bluegrass, blues or jazz bands are playing.

It’s cold outside, but the entertainment is hot inside.  When it’s hot outside as in the summer, live music becomes a bit more rare.

Do you see an increase in live music options in the winter where you live?

November 12 Main Act

Sue DaBaco and Wise Fools

Sue DaBaco and the Wise Fools, a magical blues band, three musicians with wicked licks and hard-driving mojo — the main act on this night. The group followed Charlie Horse and took the crowd in to the deep end of the blues waters of the blues pool.

The drummer never quit. He opened the show, alone and never stopped sometimes sliding in to the percussive harmony of others, sometimes taking the spotlight. Never stopping.  Never even breaking a sweat as far as I could tell.

Again, the luxury of up close photography at the Doublewood Inn ballroom, courtesy of Steamer Productions, and I got a taste of how good it would be to do this for a living, for a full-time gig.  To get to work AND play at the same time.

Sue DaBaco is an amazing gutsy blues singer and guitar player.  She makes that Fender Strat scream the way it was meant to scream, melodic and precise.

Her energy is mesmerizing.  She loses herself in her performance,  in not only the tune she plays but the words she sings.

Frankly, I was almost afraid of her until after the show when I visited with her.  She is real. She is friendly and humble.  I joy to know.  Since then, I have extended the communication (via FaceBook) and have learned she’s a woman with a friendly spirit, quick humor and a deep passion for victims of ethnic and genocidal atrocities such as the Holocaust.  She’s one smart woman, pursing higher education in her field of sociology.

Her sideman, bassist Scott Walters is a Green Bay Packers Fan — of course since he comes from Wisconsin as does the rest of the band.  I mention that because he too is a real human, and not some arrogant untouchable icon on stage.  Like the drummer, Scott can shine as a soloist or as a bridge between rhythm and percussion.  He’s a fanatic about bass guitar player legends, not only studying them but adding his own technique to the stylings he has picked up from others.

On this night, North Dakota was treated to the sound that biker bars, blues clubs and other venues in Milwaukee and other populated midwestern cities get to hear more regularly.    For my taste, we out here in North Dakota don’t get enough exposure to such music.

I’m fortunate to be able to capture the sight.  Now, to get the sound, that’s up top you.

November 12 warm up act

Charlie Horse

Two bands, back to back — a frequent occurrence anywhere but in Bismarck.  Here, you’re lucky to get one band playing one time in one venue.  But thanks to Steamer Productions, Charlie Horse, a local blues band opened the night at the Doublewood Ballroom.

I’m generally pretty amazed by the local talent, people who have day jobs but come out at night to show their artistic creative side — a side that remains hidden during the day as print shop printers, mechanics, cooks and teachers.  Charlie Horse is one of those hidden talents.

I like shooting bands like this. They’re very appreciative of the attention and the respond with a general friendliness.  After all, if you’re not one of their family or friends, you probably know someone who is.  It’s a small world.

As a fledgling musician photographer, I like the freedom I’m afforded to get up close, get behind and get down in front of the band to get the photos I like.  None of which I’m allowed to do with big-name acts.  But who knows, just like they have a day job, so do I.  Just like they’d like to make it full-time in the music circuit, so would I be able to make it full-time shooting musical acts.  I guess that’s on my (gut) bucket list.

October 28 Can you say Dirty Word?

Dirty Word

Autumn brings indoor entertainment back to North Dakota, and that includes live music such as Dirty Word. The Maple Grove, Minnesota band is popular in the upper-Midwest. The talented musicians put their own flavor on the cover tunes they dish out.

Dirty Word is not your average bar band, drunk and loud.  Their musical background has been adapted to the popular stage where the audience can listen or dance to the rockin’ fiddle playing, the precise percussion or the gutsy vocals.

Winter in North Dakota doesn’t lend itself to much travel or outdoor activity.  So, just as theater-goers will develop their entertainment calendar to the performances of the local community theater, music lovers develop their winter calendar to local musical offerings such as Dirty Word.

For me as a photographer, I like shooting bands.  It’s a huge challenge. Generally the shutter speed and aperature must be set for the low light of the environment which can just as easily be switched up by some sharp light changes on stage.  So, when one band member shows up blue, and another yellow, and the drummer sits in the dark, a band photographer can be challenged to get a good even image.

When a band such as Dirty Word comes to town (in this case Bismarck’s Stadium Bar) I try to catch them for both the entertainment value in an otherwise shut-in winter season, but also for the experience of capturing expressive emotion of the musicians while keeping on top of the changing light.

October 3 — Singing the blues on a Sunday night

Bob T and Wayde S pair off

I love shooting artists of another genre: musicians such as Bob and Wayde.  They are a couple of the finest blues players in this part of the U.S.

Bob Tikippe

On this night, they’ve teamed up as the opening act for the Joe Moss Band, thanks to Steamer Productions.

Bob Tikippe has appeared here earlier in the North Dakota 365 blog.  In that entry he was performing  in another venue as an acoustic blues player on his steel-bodied National.  In this entry, he’s here on a Fender Strat — the leader of the pack for those country, blues and rock guitar players who like the precise sound of the Strat.

Wayde Schafer

Wayde’s down home authenticity is woven in to blues with his Gibson, the other leading choice of blues, rock and country guitar players.  (Back when I was a blues bass player, Wayde was the man whom I aspired to back in a public performance.)

Together, these  two men combined always provide a purists blend of sound, each taking rhythm/harmony to the others lead.

I like shooting musicians like these fellows because the color, the lights and the energy enhance the emotion you can read in their faces.  Do you see it?  Can you almost feel it?

The two work well together. And when Bob pulls out his mouth harp to blow some tunes, Wayde expands the sound accompanying Bob.

Theirs is a blues you can sit and relate to, feel, absorb as though they’re telling you their story — one you recognize as your own.  This night they entertained with not only cryin-in-your-beer leavin’ me blues, but some nasty hard core deep down rumbling gut-moving stories put to a 14 bar progression.

You can catch them playing as a group called Levee, but you gotta work hard cuz they’re full time employed with other careers and this kind of outlet is only their night job/hobby, and their passion.  If North Dakota were a bit more receptive to the arts, both performing arts and visual arts, they would be able to make a go of it full time as the boogie-meisters of Bismarck.

On this night the two were here to warm up the crowd for the Joe Moss Band a Chicago blues band with high energy and gutsy mojo.  Joe Moss draws in a crowd wherever he is and for blue-hungry fans in Bismarck, a night like this is one to not only attend but to remember.

The blues nights such as this, as rare as they are, bring in a crowd even on a Sunday night like this.  Joe Moss brings his Chicago blues band across this region far too rarely to suit most rockin’ blues players.  But thanks to Steamer Productions, North Dakotans can catch something that is usually reserved for blues lovers in larger cities. 

Joe Moss’ high-energy sound on this night built on the groove dug by Bob and Wayde.  The energy of this band doesn’t shock you, doesn’t irritate you, but it lifts you to the next level.

Joe can entertain as well as any, but when you pair him with Carl Davis, the crowd gets a two-for-one treat.  I love Carl Davis. He’s a misplaced 50’s-60’s rockabilly, rock-and-roller, R&B master.  I was completely unfamiliar with him until this night.  Now, I’m a fan.  What I especially like about him is that he gets in to the role as a soulful emotive guitar master.

Carl Davis

When a night of high quality low down entertainment such as Bob, Wayde, Joe and Carl hit the stage, it’s a good idea to break those doldrums you’re wallowing in, and hit the highway, head to town, and pack the house for an art form you don’t get to experience often here in the Northern Plains.

Can I count on seeing you there, next time?

September 10

 

Black Cat Rumble

 

Four extremely talented local musicians get together for good rockin’ blues. Each play on their own, in their own bands or with others.  Sarah McMahon, Adam Halverson, Arnold Jordan and Weston Shick get together to play as Black Cat Rumble. 

Bismarck doesn’t seem to have the venue for such outstanding musicians to perform, so they get together when they can, where they can such as here at in the corner of the lounge at a local motel.  I don’t know if there’s no market for such music or if there’s no venue. Either way ya gotta catch this talent when you can, where you can.

I was fortunate enough to catch them here, and in conversation with another member of the audience shared the same thoughts. Except he’s a promoter and invited me to shoot some upcoming acts he has coming to town.  What good karma!  I look forward to developing this line of photography.

 

September 6

 

Ben at East 40

 

Music the way it’s meant to be enjoyed.

Even if folk/blues/jam music isn’t your cuppa quarter notes, this is the way music is meant to be enjoyed. Acoustic.  No wall of sound.  No towering speakers and a huge mixer board.  It’s pure. It’s authentic. It’s a quiet intimate atmosphere at the East 40 where Ben Suchy was playing on this night.

A grainy, rusty look accentuates the “less-than-slick” moment.

Monday nights can be a night of recovery for the party-goers of North Dakota. It can be a night of entrenchment for the hard working folks of North Dakota who are getting back in to the grind of the week. Or it can be a night of a soothing glass of wine and true music meant to be enjoyed.