Monday, March 11, 2013

Marty Stuart's Mandolin

One of the reasons we got close to the Telecaster formerly owned by Clarence White (see previous post) was because my son wanted to see Marty Stuart's mandolin.

The Bomber, my nine-year-old, always likes it when my buddy Bill Melton plays mandolin. Bomber wanted to get a closer look at Marty's.

After the concert, most of the audience moved to the Theatre's lobby. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives were there to meet fans and autograph CDs. 

When the crowd in the Theatre disbursed my sons and I walked to the front of the stage. A crew member was putting the instrument in its case about 20 feet away from us. I asked him if he could hold it up so my younger son could see it. The guy took a look at the Bomber, grinned, and then brought the mandolin over and put it on a stand right in front of us.

Bomber, my other son (Colin), and I were delighted.

The mandolin is covered in autographs. The crew member showed us the carved initials "JRC" and explained that Johnny Cash had been the first one to make his mark on the instrument. He pointed out where many famous people carved or signed their names on it. He even explained the tape on the back of the headstock.

I wish I'd written down the crew member's name. He could have ignored us, packed everything up, and finished his work earlier. He made a great evening even more special.

See if you can spot some familiar names (comments, especially about the tape, are encouraged):

Pictures for Guitar Lovers

Marty Stuart owns an iconic Fender Telecaster. It was Clarence White's guitar - a 1956 sunburst. Guitar fans know the story behind it -  which includes modifications to it by Gene Parsons.

A member of the Fabulous Superlatives' crew showed me the guitar, up close, after the concert in Watseka. He may have let me hold it, I didn't ask.

In Marty Stuart's hands, through his Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier, this guitar sounds amazing.

I snapped photos with my iPhone.

I also, because it was close, took pictures of Kenny Vaughan's amplifier (a silverface Fender Princeton Reverb) and pedal board. He is an incredible guitarist. For those of us who grew up hauling heavy high watt amps, and are now told boutique custom amps and myriad pedals are the way to go, it was refreshing to see and hear a real pro play through a small Fender amp with very few effects. I can't describe how good he is . . .

Kenny Vaughan's gear:

Marty Stuart's guitar ("Clarence"):

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Watseka Theatre

Smack dab on Main Street in Watseka, Illinois, sits the Louis Skidmore-designed Watseka Theatre. It’s a timeless Art Deco beauty. It opened in 1931, after over four years of construction. 

The Theatre was recently renovated and reopened by Chuck Gomez and Debra Lidell. Chuck and Debra have been hosting music and variety acts at the Theatre for a few years.

Like most Watsekans, I saw my first movie, ate my first movie popcorn (isn’t movie popcorn the best?), and maybe stole my first kiss at the Watseka Theater.

In the seventies we knew it as “Don Merrill’s Watseka Theater.”  I’ve been anxious to get inside since it reopened a few years ago. After two tries, I finally cleared my calendar . . .

Some of you know I’m a big fan of guitar music and harmony singing. Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives played Watseka on February 16, 2013. That band has the hottest guitar playing and harmony singing going.

For a couple of dozen reasons, I didn’t give much thought to going to the show.  Then, mere days before the concert, my schedule cleared. Within minutes of things opening up a Watseka friend let me know there were still tickets available.  

I checked at home. Only one of the boys wanted to make the trip. I called the Theatre and ordered two tickets. Debra helped me pick seats – she was awesome. The seats were on the aisle of an otherwise full row.

After I bought those seats, another of my sons said he’d like to come along. I called the Theatre again and talked to both Debra and Chuck about a third ticket. Rather than have me trade for seats that weren’t as good, or separate my family, Chuck and Debra said they’d put a chair in the aisle for us - - that was awesome.

I told Chuck I was as excited to see the Watseka Theatre as I was to see Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. Chuck seemed delighted and told me about some of the work he and Debra had done – and that he was sure we would appreciate it. More importantly, he was super friendly and welcoming. He demanded that I introduce myself when I arrived.

We made the trip from Iowa to Watseka on the day of the concert. We could have had dinner at the Theatre. Chuck and Debra have added a dining area and I’m told the food is well worth the very reasonable cost.  The boys, however, wanted burgers at the Iroquois Café.

After we ate, we headed to the Theatre. As we entered, I felt like I stepped into 1976. Déjà vu was in overdrive. The ticket booth was as I remembered. It's perfect:

After we got our tickets, we stepped into the lobby. Except for the absence of a concession stand to our left, everything was as I remembered (but it was brighter and more grandiose – from the renovations). 

When I stood in the lobby my first thought was that entering this building in 1931 must have been a profound experience. The Theatre would have stood out among the shops on Main Street and dwarfed City Hall. The lobby is gorgeous.

The boys and I made our way to our seats. As Chuck and Debra promised, there was a folding chair in the aisle.

I looked up and saw two murals I’d forgotten existed. Princess Watchekee is on one, a Native American is on the other. I was surprised to see them and impressed that they have been restored to glory.  The balcony is as I remembered.

One thing I noticed, and another Watseka expatriate asked me about it, was that the Theatre was smaller than I remembered.  Over the years I’ve had that experience regarding a number of Watseka’s buildings.

We took our seats and, as happens in the Midwest, ended up in a conversation with the people around us. The discussion was about going to the Watseka Theatre as children, seeing first movies, eating our first movie popcorn, and maybe stealing kisses. 

Every time I go to Watseka I make new friends. The Watseka Theatre is a great place to do that.

I got some water and introduced myself to Chuck. As soon as I said my name he grinned from ear-to-ear and thanked me for “coming all the way from Iowa.” That was cool. He asked what we thought of the Theatre and went out of his way to make us feel welcome.

Chuck Gomez has a lot of personality.  What I saw of it was good. He is a bit of an entertainer. He expertly worked the crowd before the opening act and again before the main act.  After talking to Chuck, being on the receiving end of his hospitality, and watching him on stage, I was struck by how much he loves Watseka and the Theatre. He and Debra have clearly invested their hearts in the community. 

Chuck on his stage:

During the concert (which was phenomenal) Marty Stuart announced: “Man . . . you can’t fake goose-bumps.  It feels like there are ghosts in here!”

I think Mr. Stuart felt the presence of all the Watsekans who saw their first movie, ate their first movie popcorn, and maybe stole their first kiss at the Watseka Theatre.

If you get a chance, catch a show at the Watseka Theatre.

Another Watsekan's blog about the Theatre: