Music can be truly uplifting, but that is far more true when it is shared. Not just with the audience, but with fellow musicians. Live music forms a kind of community, and the longer you’re involved, the more people you a get to know who happen to know others you’ve met. It’s an ever expanding circle of friendship.
A month or so ago, I booked a show pretty close to home, and was asked if I’d be performing alone or with others. These days, I’m usually a soloist, but I thought about it, and took the opportunity to invite a couple of friends out to share the stage. Bobby Pennock and Vernon Tonges (aka Spoo Willoughby), accepted, the show was a green light.
For those who aren’t in the know, Bobby Pennock is an extremely talented singer-songwriter, versed in guitar, bass, keys, percussion, and mandolin. With a voice like silk and a gift for lyrics that are truly inspiring. I first met Bobby about three years back, when I opened for his full band, and we’ve crossed paths, shared the stage and attended one another’s performances since that time. His music has an acoustic pop vibe, with trace elements from other styles tossed in for good measure.
Vernon Tonges is a rare breed. Not remembering him is never a problem. We met at an open mic a few years ago, and my daughter adopted him as crazy enough to be worthy of her time and attention. Larger than life, raukus and loud or restrained and melodious, his animated performances take the audience back and forth between side splitting laughter and heartfelt empathy with equal abandon. His effortless fretwork, done with comedic recklesness would have you believe he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, until he unleashes a flurry of notes up and down the neck with lightning speed and surgical precision. At home on the banjo, guitar, and pedal steel among other things, Vernon is a rare treasure, as he truly goes for it, and holds nothing back.
My music is an acoustic Americana amalgamation of country, folk, and pop, and of the three, I’m the newcomer to the stage, despite being involved with music for years. By the time I got off the couch and in front of an audience, my co-conspirators had been doing it for years. Where that might be a problem for some, that’s not how we do things in Michigan’s live music scene. Since I had booked the gig, they had no problem taking first and second slots respectively. If anything, my respect for their talents made it more awkward for me than for them, and having to follow either is never an easy task.
As you can see by this lineup, it was destined to be an interesting night. We’re all songwriters, belonging to the local chapter of Songwriters Anonymous, so the lions share of the nights offerings were original songs, ranging from long lost and forgotten to brand spanking new and everything in between. During our load-in and setup, the rush began to build. We had discussed a 3 song, 3 performer finale, but hadn’t been able to rehearse. Ideas were discussed, but nothing really concrete. The result, we brought stuff. Three guitars, a mandolin, a banjo, a pedal steel, a cajon, a porchboard, tambourine, shakers, harmonicas, and even a washboard arrived on scene, and it was all used to great effect! We each led one song, kicking off with a ballad in honor of Father’s Day, then turning up the heat for the next two numbers. When you’re working with talents like these, magic happens, and you can’t put a price on that.
There was laughter, comeraderie, new friends and old, and most of all, some truly wonderful memories made. I could have done the show by myself, but I’m really glad I didn’t, and it was all the better for that decision. Vern, Bobby, thanks so much for coming out and doing what you do. Thanks to Mike at The Dovetail, in Warren, MI for trusting me to invite random folks out to perform with me and supporting live music as you do.