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Friday, December 17, 2010

Knowing Limits: Inotherwords, So Long but not Goodbye to Bill & Em

Blog for 12/17/10

The kind of courage it takes to admit you’re overextended and that something has to go seems to be natural to some sagely humans, and a learned behavior for people like me (hardheads). You have to have gone through a few similar situations in life to know your limits – and then some (hoping to learn mine before my tipping point).

Musicians – as it’s commonly believed – are a breed apart from the norm, or whatever you consider “normal.” As if normal people are savvier at knowing their limits!

At any rate, I’m referring to the decision made by our friends and bandmates in the Small Town Concert Series Big House Band, Bill Calhoun and Emily Lisker. This week, Matthew and I got an email from them with a decision they (and we) have been dreading: they need to cut back and can’t participate in our shows in the foreseeable future. This is due, however, to a happy circumstance: Bill’s part time Science Teacher (in a private RI middle school) job changed to full time.

Now, as long as we’ve known Bill & Em, they’ve been fully committed to living their lives authentically and on their own terms. But that also meant a great deal of financial struggle. None of this seemed “fair” (as if life IS fair, right?) because, between the two of them, there are mind-boggling oodles of artistic talent.

Other than her compelling stage presence and tuneful tooting on the bari sax and accordion playing (plus a few good vocals), Emily Lisker’s paintings and drawings create a colorful mondo bizarre, taking viewers to a place somewhere between imagination and chimera. I think of her brave delvings into the unconscious that create these vivid canvases. I also think of Emily’s writing – blogging – as being expressive, heartfelt, and wonderful. And who could forget her irrepressible laugh, often and hearty when she’s feeling up and silly.

Able to play piano, organ, and banjo with proficiency and precision, Bill Calhoun’s love of pianos extends from his superb playing to his repairing, refurbishing, and piano tuning skills. He also designs graphics with Emily, notably (for us) our signature posters for Small Town Concert Series.

Let me say that again: Bill & Em designed our distinctive SMALL TOWN CONCERT SERIES posters that award-winning Peter Good considers “brilliant.” They must have designed 40+ posters, drawing more and more curious music fans to STCS shows.

Bill would also kick my butt (in a GOOD way) during STCS rehearsals, figuring out song arrangements. His sweet, patient, good-humored nature, so caring and honest, has been vital to our sanity and continued success. Bill’s laughter, too, is contagious – music to our ears.

Their songwriting has been coming along, as well; I especially love “I Live in a House,” a Calhoun blues song. Emily sometimes rewrites lyrics to polkas, as she’s a huge Brave Combo fan (like me).

Bill & Em have been stalwart Small Town Concert Series Big House band members since inception in Fall 2007, at our first Leonard Cohen tribute.

We met them at our July 2006 wedding, in fact: Brave Combo leader Carl Finch asked me if they could invite a few friends from the area to our wedding who are Combo fans and can dance up a storm. Being game for anything that sounds interesting, we agreed and two nice couples from RI and MA danced the whole time the Combo played.

Kind of hard to miss, Bill & Em look really “interesting” (and cool, I think): he has a large long white beard & mustache, twinkling blue eyes and wire rim glasses; she has a thick, long, wavy-curly head full of hair that can whip around wildly as she twirls in her full-skirted ‘50’s dress.

We arranged to meet them in August 2006 in Northampton, MA, to hear Brave Combo. We sat upstairs at a table, together, through the opening act, Young at Heart, then Emily, Bill & I took to the dance floor when Brave Combo hit the stage.

As I knew Bill & Em were regular open mic goers, I threw out the offer for them to play in our Leonard Cohen show. Happily all around, they agreed and ever since have taken up the challenge of learning new material and shining on the stage with us, brilliantly.

For every big show, Bill & Em would drive to an average of six weekly rehearsals from Woonsocket, RI. And then, they’d come to the dress rehearsal AND the shows (sometimes three nights in a row). They might have stayed with us overnight, but their dog needed them.

NOBODY was more dedicated or worked harder for Small Town Concert Series. We really loved the communal dinners we’d assemble with the musicians after rehearsals, and Bill & Em would always bring yummy home made bread & eat heartily, their laughter booming regularly like timpani thunder in a symphony.

At any rate, nothing is forever so maybe their ability to do music again too will change and they can join our shows again. Their contributions and their friendship will always remain. I look forward to seeing them again.

I need to sign off now – feeling happy for them that their fortunes have improved, but sad too ‘cause I’ve been missing them since the last (amazing) Leonard Cohen IV tribute in September. And then, they kindly designed an incredible poster of our STCS accomplishments for the INK Magazine article that just came out in December.

I know that changes are necessary, inevitable, and (due to my optimism) usually good, but the absence (? temporary) of Bill & Em will take a lot of getting used to. . .

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