Several times in the last few weeks, I've found myself watching a band play live and thinking that those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.
Live music lovers know that attending shows is often a demonstration of faith. Going out requires time and money. Plenty of folks are short on both. I have small children. At my house, we either hire a babysitter or flip a coin to see which parent goes to the show.
The fact is, it's easy to just stay home and discover new bands on the Internet.
It's easy, but I think it costs us. Never do I feel more certain of this than when I have made the effort to get out of the house on a Saturday night, and I'm standing in a crowd of people who live in the same community that I do, and we're all watching a non-famous band of musicians play through a set of tunes they have practiced and polished and made ready for public presentation.
I felt that way the Saturday before last when I saw Still Lookin' at the Caldera Tap House. This is a six-piece band made up of musicians with a healthy respect for what the Grateful Dead were able to accomplish on a good night. The bar was packed, the area in front of the stage crowded with dancers. It felt to me like a scene from a previous era — some version of the good-old days.
Frank-o Dunlop plays the flute and a variety of saxophones, Terry Miner and Judd Pindell play guitars, Lori Plaxe splits time between guitar and mandolin, Craig Johnson plays bass, and Bill Exley is on the drums. Miner, Pindell and Plaxe all write songs and share lead vocals.
The night I saw them, Still Lookin' opened with an acoustic set, then switched to electric for the remainder of the evening. Both versions of the band were excellent, but do yourself a favor and make sure you stay late enough to hear the electric set. Miner and Plaxe play nearly matching red Les Paul guitars and, along with Dunlop on his horns, take turns leading the band through various improvisational cycles.
The songwriting is excellent, and the band's delivery feels honest and heartfelt. Still Lookin' doesn't have that canned feel you get so often from the latest assemblage of would-be local session pros. Rather, they come across like a true band of friends who share a deep love and respect for the cultural vein they are mining with their music.
The band has a First Friday show set for 5 p.m. Feb. 7, at Waterstone Spa, 25 E. Main St., Ashland.
The other two live-music moments I mentioned earlier occurred at The Wild Goose Cafe, 2365 Ashland St. The first was watching the last set from a band called The Blue Notes. I don't know how often they play, or when the next chance to see them will be, but keep your eyes open for the listing and go see them when they show up in the weekly music listings. The band is Detlef Eisman on tenor sax and vocals, Mike Vannice on alto and baritone sax, drummer Chicken Hirsh on a low-slung Slingerland drum kit that looks like it belongs in a museum, Jeff Addicott on bass and Dal Carver on piano.
I won't try to place their music genre in its historical time and place because I'd get it wrong. Suffice to say it's some particular type of old-fashioned R&B, and if you like having those "this is what makes it all worthwhile" moments, you need to go see this band.
Finally, The Wild Goose threw a party to celebrate the Charles and Quinn era of live music at the recently closed Alex's. With the couple at the helm, Alex's was a great venue and a community resource that I believe we are all culturally poorer without. Many great acts played at the celebration, among them 100 Watt Mind, Craig Wright, LEFT, Frankie Hernandez, The Wild Goose Chase Trio and Wine Without Reason. Robbie DaCosta closed out the evening with Tom Stamper on drums and Jeff Addicott on bass.
Watching DaCosta play to a capacity crowd of dancing music lovers who clearly didn't want the show to end and didn't want to have to go home, I had another moment. It doesn't matter what you think about expensive downtown real estate and the forces that control it; folks love music, and music is going to be OK.
Jef Fretwell is a musician and freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org