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|"Companion" Companion: The Bucktown Revue, April 18 at the Nighswander Theatre|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Thursday, 10 April 2014 10:41|
For pianist Jonathan Turner, “It’s a really unique kind of entertainment experience in the area. There isn’t really anything like it.”
For performer Korah Winn, “It’s kind of like if you take the best play you’ve ever been in, with the best cast, with the best audience, and you get to do that once every month.”
Producer/writer/musician Mike Romkey, however, has a slightly different take: “It’s kind of like a local Prairie Home Companion ... but not in a way that would get us sued.”
The “it” in question is the Bucktown Revue, a stage show of proudly “old-timey” musical acts, comedy sketches, and storytelling that Romkey originated seven years ago, and one that’s presented monthly, October through May, at Davenport’s Nighswander Theatre. (Its next performance takes place on Friday, April 18.) For Romkey and the hundreds of patrons who regularly attend its performances, the Bucktown Revue is also an excellent showcase for area talents whose particular gifts might not have a frequent outlet elsewhere.
“For example,” he says, “the hammered dulcimer is not an instrument that most people know ... unless they’re really into hammered dulcimers. So where can you go to play your hammered dulcimer? Well, you can go to the Bucktown Revue.”
A two-hour celebration of (as is stated on the BucktownRevue.com Web site) “Mississippi River levee culture” with a definite emphasis on folk and bluegrass tunes, Romkey says the inspiration for his creation came from a simple directive: “Make your own job.”
He explained: “I have an Irish band called the Barley House Band,” which now serves as the in-house ensemble for every Bucktown Revue performance, “and we are of a certain age and temperament, and we didn’t want to be packing up in bars at two in the morning. And so we started to think, ‘Where can we get some really good playing jobs?’
“We thought, ‘Well, we want a really nice venue, we want a really nice audience that really pays attention and listens instead of basically ignoring the band, and we’d like to be home at 10 o’clock.’ And so I kind of came up with the idea to just invent our own gig. If there’s a stroke of genius in any of it, it was that.”
From the start, and with friend Scott Tunnicliff recruited to be the show’s emcee, Romkey says that he hoped to deliver “a down-home, folksy, folk-music kind of experience,” much like Garrison Keillor’s beloved public-radio series A Prairie Home Companion.
“It’s mainly music with selections from different local artists,” he says, “and it sort of runs the gamut from American songbook to jazz to bluegrass to jug band. And one of the things about the revue which is pretty cool is that we typically have people come on and do two songs. So, say you discover you really just don’t like barbershop [quartets]. Or maybe bluegrass isn’t your thing. Well, just relax – it’s not gonna last forever. We cover a lot of ground.”
“It’s just quality, overall, that every act shoots for,” says Turner, who has been playing for the show for roughly five years. “And even though it’s a lot of folk and bluegrass and certain kinds of styles with the house band, the stuff I usually play is more the standards, jazzy pop, Broadway-style stuff, all obviously piano-based. But it’s a really good mix.”
Adding to that mix, says Romkey, “we have various elements of humor in the show,” with the regionally themed comedy designed for immediate – and, specifically, local – audience recognition.
“One of the funniest skits we had,” he says, “was ‘At Home with the Eagles,’ which was a little skit about a husband and wife eagle sitting on a tree by Lock & Dam 14, conversing about the Quad Cities. And usually, we have some fake commercials. Like one of our running sponsors has been the Iowa Wine Council, so we’ll have a representative from the council on to talk about how fabulous the new vintage of Chateau Wapsi Bottom is. Or Buffalo Muscatel.
“This year, the big-deal skit has been ‘The Pleasant Valley Hillbillies,’” says Romkey of the monthly feature that – as with most of the comedy sketches – he himself writes. “I live in Bettendorf, and when I moved there, I thought Bettendorf was sort of the upscale community. But over the past 20 years, Pleasant Valley has really become the place to live. So we have this sort of take-off on The Beverly Hillbillies where this poor dentist who lives in Bettendorf wins the lottery and finally has enough money that he can buy a house in Pleasant Valley.
“Obviously,” he adds, “the emphasis is on fun,” and singer/comedienne Winn – who began performing with the Bucktown Revue in 2010 and plays the mayor in the ‘Pleasant Valley Hillbillies’ sketches – couldn’t agree more.
“The Bucktown Revue is one of the few things that I’ve found in life where every time I go, I leave feeling more fulfilled than when I walked in,” she says. “It’s just ridiculous fun, and when we all sing ‘Good Night, Irene’ at the end, and do that last a cappella verse, it’s just overwhelming; I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.
“The show is just a beautiful thing,” she continues, “and it hooks you, and you keep coming back for it.”
It’s also designed to be a low-pressure environment for its performers. “There really isn’t any rehearsal,” says Romkey with a laugh, though he does add that the show’s musicians, as would be expected, do rehearse their numbers prior to performance night. “We perform with scripts, just like you would with a radio program, so it’s not like people have to memorize their lines. But one of the key talents to be in the show is being good at ad-libbing, because somebody might miss their lines, or say the wrong thing, or something else won’t work at the right time ... .
“I don’t want to create the impression that it’s incredibly slapdash,” he adds, laughing further. “But there’s really nothing quite as gratifying as to have something go really wrong, and then to have somebody make a joke out of it, and have the audience think that’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen.”
With this month’s show featuring, in addition to its recurring performers, Iowa City bluegrass musicians Marc and Brandi Janssen, guitarists Steve Flatt and Tom Rood, local artist/singer Heidi Sallows, and former Rock Island mayor Mark Schwiebert (“who’s going to come and read some poetry”), Romkey calls the April 18 presentation “off the charts” in terms of talent.
Turner, meanwhile, calls the Bucktown Revue “my favorite time of the month. This next show is on Good Friday, but for me, every Bucktown is a good Friday.”
The Bucktown Revue will be presented at the Nighswander Theatre (2822 Eastern Avenue, Davenport) at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 18, and Friday, May 16, and tickets are $12 at the door. For more information on the monthly event, visit BucktownRevue.com.
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