The First Annual Chubby's Reunion Fest was a two-day gala event held May 9-10 at the Indianapolis East Side music club Zanies Too, a most worthy event to honor a most worthy person, Chubby Wadsworth. The Chubster, as he's affectionately called, is the grand dean of Indianapolis original music, which he spotlighted, encouraged and actively supported at Chubby's Club LaSalle.
While no one seems to be sure when Wadsworth took over the reins of Club LaSalle, it was an active music venue in the 1990s right up to the last live performance there, the Bluesapalooza jam on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 2003 (Club LaSalle closed its doors permanently in February 2004, and the building was demolished earlier this year).
Club LaSalle is remembered fondly by musicians and fans alike as a place where both were always welcome, and where creativity and original voices were cultivated and encouraged. Unfortunately, while an artistic triumph in culturally starved Indianapolis, Club LaSalle was always touch-and-go financially, in part due to its location on the rough Near East Side in the "heart of Indianapolis's murder district." But inside the club it was always safe, and far too many now mourn the passing of Club LaSalle when they themselves didn't patronize it during the time its doors were open.
"The Chubby's Reunion Fest held to honor him was a demonstration of the love and fond remembrance that persists well after Club LaSalle's demise."
The Chubby's Reunion Fest held to honor him was a demonstration of the love and fond remembrance that persists well after Club LaSalle's demise. The Reunion Fest brought together many of Indianapolis's top electric and acoustic musicians across the genre boundaries of blues, folk, alternative country, rock and even gospel, all of whom owed their start and their acceptance to the Chubster.
But it was more than just local musicians who got their start under Chubby's aegis. National musician Andra Faye, who went on to become a member of Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, began at Club LaSalle. This active encouragement of talent extended beyond musicianship to embrace Yours Truly also, then a much-younger, still-novice blues writer who always could count on Chubby's active encouragement.
Another person from Club LaSalle was fondly remembered at the Reunion Fest -- the late Beth Stolz Powell, who hosted the open stage there for years, and who provided newer musicians a place they could come to and hone their craft in an informal, encouraging venue.
The first day of the Reunion Fest was devoted to showcasing electric music, the second to acoustic. On both days Zanies Too was packed. The musicians who played were a Who's Who of Indianapolis musicians, most of them still active in a vibrant, creative, yet too-little-noticed original music scene that's too much under the radar in this justly-called Naptown, and that has to compete against the far more popular cover bands and karaoke.
"The First Annual Chubby's Reunion Fest was a most fitting tribute to a man well deserving of such."
Chubby Wadsworth himself was on hand to help host the event, along with folk musician Mark Proctor, and musician, music act booker and record-store owner Rich Hynes. Randy Joe Duke, originator of the Reunion Fest, created a DVD collage of photos, old playbills and other memorabilia from those Club LaSalle days that played throughout the event. The lounge room adjacent to the stage room at Zanies Too was turned into a "shrine room" devoted to Chubby and Beth and also was filled with memorabilia people had donated to the event, along with a guest book for people to sign and make comments. Commemorative T-shirts were also available.
In an event characterized by many musical highlights, surely standing out was folk guitarist Dan Welling's rendition of "Legalize the Weed," an amusing ditty with a pointed message he first created and performed at Club LaSalle. And this was only the First Annual Chubby's Reunion Fest, an event that the sponsors and organizers, obviously from the title, plan to continue.
Although this pioneer effort, Chubby's Club LaSalle, is no more, its devotion to showcasing original music and giving artistic space to musicians continues on in the Circle City at Locals Only and the Melody Inn, both small clubs devoted to all-genre original efforts.
The First Annual Chubby's Reunion Fest was a most fitting tribute to a man well deserving of such. May it be back next year, and continue for many, many years to come!
Manuscript copies of the article I originally wrote for the Indianapolis Eye on the final Bluesapalooza event are available upon request by e-mailing me at email@example.com.
Strong live shows, solid CDs
I saw two strong live shows at Indianapolis's top venues for live original music last spring, two very different yet ultimately kindred approaches to creativity that stand out and deserve to be written about. The first was in mid-April, when the Austin, Texas, band, Street Light Suzie, made a special one-set appearance at Locals Only; the other was in mid-May, when Nashville, Ind., country-rock singer/songwriter Aaron Persinger appeared with his band at the Melody Inn. Both Street Light Suzie and Aaron Persinger have solid, dynamic CDs out now that contain the original music both do so well, and are well worth a listen.
"Street Light Suzie is a rock trio whose musical approach combines punk and heavy metal in a compelling way that showcases not only rock dynamism, but also solid songwriting and excellent musicianship."
Street Light Suzie is a rock trio whose musical approach combines punk and heavy metal in a compelling way that showcases not only rock dynamism, but also solid songwriting and excellent musicianship. The trio -- guitarist/vocalist Wiley Ross, bassist Ben Evans, and drummer Chur Trevino -- combine expert musicianship with an exciting stage presence that thoroughly entertains, both aurally and visually. Guitarist Ross left the stage to go into the audience and even climb atop vacant tables, recovering his balance nicely when one of the wobbly tables tipped over. His playing moved effortlessly from three-chord riffs to elaborate, well-done single-note solos, the hoarse, shouting dynamics of his vocals an exciting complement to his powerful instrumentation. Drummer Trevino was pounding and vigorous on the skins in an energetic way that was the hallmark of the late Keith Moon from The Who, while bassist Evans added comic relief with his stage patter between songs.
Many of their songs came from the group's recently-released CD, Red River Revival, which contains 13 tracks of original material, 12 of the songs written by Ross, one written in collaboration by Ross and Evans. The songs on Red River Revival are explorations of the dark side of life, the angst of desperation, and are as highly literate in their lyrics as their music is sophisticated. Street Light Suzie stretch the boundaries of punk and heavy metal, just as 1960s rock stretched the boundaries of rock 'n' roll. While 12 of the songs are in the group's punk/heavy metal vein, the last cut, "Jody" is a blues lament with Ross playing medium-tempo barrelhouse piano. While the band's Web site, is still under construction, it does have a MySpace page.
Persinger's stage presence is much more relaxed, as is his music, but certainly equally compelling. Neither Persinger nor Street Light Suzie will bore you in live performance! Persinger did the opening set of a three-band show at the Melody Inn, with the gentle flow and pleasant melodies of his songs a disarming contrast to the sharp poignancy of his original lyrics. Persinger is another one of those excellent but unheralded Indiana singer/songwriters, joining in creative solidity other Indiana singer/songwriters I've mentioned in "Blues and More" -- Jethro Easyfields, Simeon Pillar, "Fast Johnny" Scharbrough, Brent Bennett and Mike Milligan, whose music hearkens back to the creative impulse that made the 1960s and 1970s so memorable musically.
"Persinger's stage presence is much more relaxed, as is his music, but certainly equally compelling."
Persinger strummed plugged-in acoustic guitar and sang, with rhythm backup from drummer Sam Pierce and bassist Brian Petersen, and tasty electric guitar solos from Rick Nagy. The band is Bloomington-based, that vibrant oasis in the middle of the Hoosier cultural desert where Persinger is a regular performer. While Persinger's natural style is country-rock, he as far from the present-day overcommercialized ersatz coming out of Nashville, Tenn., as one can get, and the creative poignancy of his original songs hark back to the more halcyon days of Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
Persinger has two CDs out, 2008's Just a Voice with Persinger and the Echo Park studio band of drummer Kenny Aronoff, bassist Toby Myers and guitarist Jason Wilber; and 2000's The Pop Corn Guy, with Aaron Persinger and Friends (unattributed, but who provide guitars, steel guitar, organ, bass and drums, mandolin, banjo and backing vocals). The two CDs are feast and famine: while The Pop Corn Guy has 16 tracks, Just a Voice has only five. Both contain the songs I heard Persinger perform live, and are recommended to those who like contemporary country-rock. He has a Web site.
George Fish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is my first "Blues and More" column since April 19, and I hope to be contributing them regularly from now on. Unfortunately, I've been sick for some time with hypothyroidism that has left me too fatigued to write. Hope you missed "Blues and More" as much as I missed writing it--GF