Welcome back to your city paper's most unconventional column! I'd like to bring to the attention of my readers a very special event which took place this past Sunday (and no, I'm not talking about the Super Bowl).
I am walking around Amery, which is just a stone's throw away from our fair city of New Richmond. Soon I amble into the Amery Classic Theater, an historic downtown treasure. The lobby is red, majestic and naturally inculcated with a strong sense of history. That's where I see Nici Peper. She is wearing a vibrant red top hat with a long feather displayed in back. Nici is a singer-songwriter and performer. Anyone who has seen her perform will attest to the fact that she is extraordinarily talented and an altogether unique and special human being. Today is her birthday, and she has decided to celebrate it by inviting her talented friends down to the Theater for an open mic show.
The first thing I do is say, "Happy birthday!" to Nici. Then I meet some of the kind folks managing the theater and shake their hands. Suddenly I feel the call of nature and enter the nearest bathroom. After relieving a full bladder, I flush the toilet only to find water overfilling the bowl and cascading down the sides like a wild water fountain. I step out of there, making wet tracks all through the lobby. I inform the man with snow-white eyebrows about the situation. He is kind enough to go in with a mop and bucket and fix the problem. I quietly leave the embarrassing scene behind, trying my best not to be noticed...
I sit in one of the red plush seats in the back row. Musician and podcast extraordinaire, Chris Snyder, approaches me.
"Hey, buddy. Would you help me test the sound levels by picking at the guitar a bit?"
"Sure thing," I said.
I get up on the stage and pick some chords on the guitar. It takes about 15 minutes of fiddling around, but soon enough the house speakers come to life. The audience is steadily trickling in. The seats are filling up. And now it is show time.
Nici Peper walks on stage for the first act. She plays three songs, opening up with a beautiful rendition of "Blue Moon." She sings the opening lines:
"Blue moon, you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart,
Without a love of my own..."
Everybody in the theater swoons, then she sings two songs after that. Now that she has warmed up the house, it is my turn. I nervously grab my guitar from its case and throw the strap over my neck. I put on my harmonica rack too and fit the correct harmonica into its grips. I walk on stage.
The stage lights are so bright that I can barely see the audience. I start out singing a John Prine tune, "Fish & Whistle," which is met with applause. Next I read aloud a poem I've written about Amery, as well as last week's column. Then I hop off the stage and out of the spotlight in the midst of applause.
The Good Neighbor Parish enters stage left. Lori Peper leads a band of six women all armed to the teeth with ukuleles. And so it goes: one after another, local gems are shining their brilliance from the stage: the handsome Jim Ehlers singing humorous love songs. "The Concrete Cowboy" doing classic country tunes. Singer-songwriter, Lori Loftstrom, belting out original songs which make you want to cheer her on and cry all at the same time.
For about three hours, The Amery Classic Theater was transformed into a powerhouse of local talent, an event which will surely not be easily forgotten by its attendees. And here is the moral of the story, folks: locations which foster and champion the arts are indispensable to us. If we want to keep art and creativity alive within our communities, then we have to support these local venues which are doing the important work.
The Amery Classic Theater, unfortunately, is at risk and requires funds for a new roof. Care to donate? Just check out the following website and discover how you can help out: www.amergyartsalliance.org
In other news, Nici Peper will be performing her very own birthday show this Sunday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. Music lovers will not want to miss out on this opportunity!
Lastly, I will sign off with our creative quotation for the week, this one from W. Edward Brown: "The artist has one function-to affirm and glorify life."