Rooster and I went to the State Theatre to listen to Tab Beniot play the blues Zoo City style. The concert proved to be a most excellent adventure. #blues music #Tab Beniot # State Theater #Kalamazoo #Jake Kershaw #Whiskey Bayou Review
The Blues Zoo City Style
The reason we made the decision to have a Kalamazoo adventure was to watch Tab Benoit play the blues. (The last name is pronounced sort of like Benwaw. He’s a Louisiana Cajun. The name is French.) We’ve watched him and his band perform at The Kalamazoo State Theater three times. One summer we did the Tab Benoit concert tour on our motorcycle. We watched Mr. Beniot perform in Madison, Wisconsin, but Rooster and I stayed in Door County a little too long, so we missed his show in Michigan. We ended up in Kalamazoo instead. We made it back to Indiana in time to catch his show in Muncie. Rooster and I are big fans of Mr. Tab Benoit. Rooster and I love to hear Mr. Beniot play the blues Zoo City style with a Cajun twist.
Mr. Benoit is a Louisiana guitarist who walks to the microphone and takes command of the stage. The Fender Telecaster he straps across his shoulder would be lucky to bring in a hundred dollars at a garage sale. It has been played hard and long by the man’s talented fingers. The sound he coaxes from the instrument is evidence a master’s hands are creating the music resonating from the strings. The guitar licks combined with his soul filled Cajun voice keep an audience entertained for hours.
Why we love how Tab Beniot plays the Blues
When Tab walks on stage with his three-member band, you know bluesmen have shown up to play their songs. I have never seen these guys put on a lousy show. They are true professionals in every sense of the word. Cory Duplechin is a talented bass player who brings a truckload of personality to the stage. Terrance Higgins is always low key behind the scenes beating out the perfect rhythm night after night. The trio walks out from the shadows and enters the stage with the talent, soulfulness, and the technique required to play the blues. I wonder how these guys have the stamina to keep up with their busy schedule of travel and performance. I imagine being on the road for an extended period would take a toll on a person. Of course, it might be one exciting adventure to listen to the blues Zoo City style.
What’s so special about the Kalamazoo State Theater?
Purchasing a seat for the night at The Kalamazoo State Theater is worth the price of admission. The building is one of Kalamazoo’s treasures. It was designed by architect John Eberson in 1927 for the WS Butterfield theater chain. The venue is one of the few atmospheric picture palaces in existence today. It has become the premier live performance venue in Kalamazoo.
The auditorium was designed to create the effect of enjoying a moving picture out of doors under a night sky in a Moorish garden. There is a considerable amount of classical statuary scattered throughout the theater. Ancient looking windows line the walls, and there is an overhang resembling a windowed balcony above the stage where a statue of a lady stands in a relaxed pose looking down on the audience. We always notice something different every time we come to The Kalamazoo State Theater. We like to scan our surroundings while we wait for the show to start to see if we notice something new. The acoustics at the State Theatre make it the perfect place to listen to the blues Zoo City style.
Who is Jake Kershaw?
We were in for a musical treat on this snowy night in March. Jake Kershaw took to the stage as the opening act. The kid isn’t out of high school yet, but he knows his way around a guitar. Kershaw has the baby-faced look of a young Joe Bonamassa adorned in a suit jacket sporting a t-shirt underneath.
He’s a popular attraction for Michigan blues fans. You could tell by the audience’s reaction they enjoy hearing him play. When Kershaw was finished, Tab walked out on the stage. He explained he was going to do something a little different.
Whiskey Bayou Review
Tonight the Whiskey Bayou Review would perform for us. Two young guys he was working with were going to make some music. Tab climbed behind the drum kit as Eric Johanson accompanied by Cory Duplechin moved onto the stage. We heard Eric play with Tab a year ago in Kalamazoo. He seems to have grown as a performer since then. After Eric was finished another Eric came out to perform. The new kid on the block’s full name was Eric McFadden. I’ve heard Tab was a good drummer, but I’d never seen him in action. From what I could tell, he was as good as everyone said he was.
Tab and his band take the stage.
The highlight of the evening was when Tab and his crew emerged onto the stage. The three-man ensemble strutted from the shadows and took command of the audience like veteran bluesmen who’d been in the business for over twenty years. I wondered if all the drumming Tab had done before picking up his guitar would affect his playing. He didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the time he spent pounding out a rhythm for the Erics.
Cory always adds a lot to the performance. He puts on a good show on his side of the stage. His antics always add to the concert but never distract from its quality. The trio moved through their standard repertoire of Cajun blues and heart moving ballads. Two songs were missing from the performance. I didn’t get to hear Darkness and Night Train. They might have performed them during the encore. We had to leave early because of my plummeting blood sugar. The orange juice Rooster got for me during intermission didn’t do the trick. This diabetes stuff really sucks.
A shout out for Mellowcello
I have always been attracted to roots music. Anything that is too commercial and overproduced makes my skin crawl. I find myself drawn to sounds like the bluegrass music played by Silver Sparrow in Story, Indiana, the cello music my Twitter friend Mellowcello puts online, and the blues. It’s honest music played by people who love the art they are creating. I include Mellow in this class of roots music even though his offerings lean in the direction of classical and hymns. He’s one man with a cello playing his heart out for the pure joy of making music.
Check these musicians out on Pandora.
You don’t get any more soulful than that. Check him out on Twitter @mellowcello1. The beauty of listening to these people play their songs is that they sound the same when they perform live as when they record in the studio. These artists don’t get any radio time unless you stumble onto their Pandora station.
They won’t have a million hits on U-Tube. It might not be commercial or famous, but it is the heart and soul of America. This style of music is in danger of becoming extinct. Tab has started recording these young blues artists so that people will have honest music to listen to.
Whiskey Bayou Revue and Jake Kershaw will keep the blues alive into the future. Will the next generation be willing to listen to what these guys have to offer? It would be a shame if one day these musicians need to cross the water to get a gig. Europe tends to like America’s roots music. They listen to our artists, rearrange the style to fit their tastes, and bring it back to our shores and throw it in our faces. Remember the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Information we got from the Black Owl patrons.
One of the patrons at the Black Owl asked Rooster and me why we came to Kalamazoo. We told her we were there to catch the Tab Benoit concert that night. She told us she used to work at The State Theater.
She said the employees loved it when Tab and his band did a show. They were all great guys and treated everyone right. She said even if you weren’t into that style of music, you enjoyed it when Tab played. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be into the blues, but it was good to hear her favorable opinion of Tab and his band. It was refreshing to know they were good guys on and off the stage.
To wrap our adventure up in a neat little package at the Rooster’s Call.
There’s one final note I want to make about our adventure to Kalamazoo. We stopped for breakfast at a place called The Rooster’s Call. It is located at 6050 Gull Road in Kalamazoo. The place was packed. As soon as I dug into my omelet, I knew why it was hard to get a seat. We weren’t as excited about this restaurant as we were the Crow’s nest, but they served a decent meal for a great price.
The people who waited on us were friendly. The place was clean and filled with chicken decorations. Red gingham curtains hung at the windows. The signs on the restroom doors read ‘hens’ and ‘roosters.’ If your visiting Kalamazoo and are looking for breakfast, give the Crow’s Nest and The Rooster’s Call a try.
The trip home.
The trip home was uneventful. Like all good adventures, our trip to Kalamazoo had to come to an end. It made us sad to see Zoo City in our rearview mirror. We would have liked to have hung around this unique community longer, but responsibilities at home were waiting. I know we’ll make a return trip to Kalamazoo. Rooster says he’s coming back if for no other reason than to eat at the Crow’s Nest.
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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