Whenever talk turns to the late Frederick's Music Lounge, the word "community" is tossed about quite liberally thanks especially to the weekly Noiseday Hootenanny open-mic nights.
And even though the venue closed earlier this year, this sense of camaraderie lives on. That owes to the Chippewa Chapel Traveling Guitar Circle & Medicine Show (which we named "Best Open-Mic Night" in this year's Best of St. Louis issue), a weekly open-mic that lands at different venues around the city every Thursday.
Paul Stark, a fixture at Frederick's Music Lounge and the founder of Chippewa Chapel (www.chippewachapel.com), says his goal is that the Chapel last at least a year. That anniversary will take place in the first few months of 2007, and then, Stark says, he'll "figure out what's going to happen after that." It's this flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude that's allowed the CC to survive and flourish.
"We get so many different surprises," Stark says. "Some venues started booking music because of us. Those have been the most fun: the places that [didn't] have any other kind of music until we arrived. We tell them to give it a try with us. In a lot of ways it's a religious mission bringing something to an environment that didn't have it before."
Even more important, Chippewa Chapel is also leveling the playing field for St. Louis musicians. Stark stresses that the night "is a place where you can go play; you don't have to be slick and professional," and that Chippewa Chapel shows tend to draw an audience that's uncommonly accepting. He recalls a particularly memorable night at the Soulard bar the Shanti, where an audience member found his confidence as a performer.
"Early in the night he said, ‘I'm going do this. I promised my brother I'd be playing at his wedding in a few weeks,'" Stark recalls. "This guy pulled out this classical guitar and did this complicated, elaborate version of ‘The Rainbow Connection.' He was incredible. I was really happy for this kid. [The crowd] begged him to do another [song]; it was pretty great. He said, ‘Paul, thank you for inviting me.'"
The Chippewa Chapel lands at Kicker's Corner (6201 South Broadway) on November 2, with stops also planned at Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Road; 314-775-0775) on November 9. Hosting duties for these nights will be split (as always) among usual suspects Justin Brown, Jesse Irwin and Brian Andrew Marek.
Brown and Irwin are no strangers to the power of the open-mic; both men credit these nights with encouraging them to play in public. Additionally, the duo plays country covers under the moniker Dock Ellis (yes, in reference to the notorious major-league pitcher who in 1970 fired a no-hitter on LSD), which formed because of Frederick's Hootenanny.
"At this point, we're like a honky-tonk band without a honky-tonk to play in this town," Brown says. "We're kind of a loose, fun band. [Jesse and I] just hit it off and both liked old, dorky country songs."
He's not kidding. "We're getting into doing these old monologue songs, like ‘Drunken Driver' by Ferlin Husky [and] ‘Teddy Bear' by Red Sovine," Irwin says. "More theatrical things."
Higher-profile gigs, plans to start writing original tunes and the addition of Fred Friction on drums ("He knows everybody, and he's just got gobs of stage presence. We're not going to be good, but we're going to be so entertaining," Irwin laughs) might prompt a name change, however.
"We heard another band got sued by Dock Ellis," Irwin says.
"It was like twenty years ago, though, so maybe he's mellowed out. I don't know," adds Brown.
In the meantime, the pair is keeping busy with another project steeped in the concepts of community and collaboration. Called the Band-With Collective, its aim is to further dilute the cliques that so often divide the St. Louis music scene.
"We're trying to network a little more effectively than what's gone on in the past," Brown explains. "You always have the same three-band bill happening once a month. It gets old playing with the same people and seeing the same people all the time. We just wanted to have a bigger list of guys to call."
Adds Irwin: "We want to make it lucrative for club owners to book local bands. And where that comes from is getting these crowds to cross-pollinate and get outside of their clique so they know all these bands that are playing and are likely to go out on a weeknight and see a band, just to where we can get bigger crowds for local music."
One of the first events the Band-With Collective is organizing is South Side Rocks Off 2 (www.southsiderocksoff.com), a fundraiser for KDHX (88.1 FM) that will take place all over South Grand Boulevard on Saturday, November 25. Nine different venues including Erato Wine Bar, CBGB, Mangia, the Upstairs Lounge and the City Diner (!) will feature 40 different musical acts, visual artists and more.
Speaking of South Grand, CBGB will host instrumentalists Psychic Paramount a.k.a. the band featuring ex-Laddio Bolocko members Drew St. Ivany and Ben Armstrong on Wednesday, November 8. These ex-locals create viscous grooves beholden to heaping helpings of static, stoner tranquility and Can on Gamelan into the Mink Supernatural; new music is due later in November.