I love in-house concerts. Before radio and TV, people in Tacoma would entertain themselves and friends in concerts at their homes. The problem is that the number of people you can invite is limited to the number of people you can cram into a living room or family room. If you can solve the problem you can have live entertainment that is close and intimate. An in-house concert also lets the guests talk to the entertainers before or after the show. I like the feel of an in-house concert, it's almost a cabaret.
A bunch of my friends (mostly Rotarians) had seen vocalist Jenny Shotwell perform "Sixties Chicks" at the Harlequin Theatre in Olympia years ago. I had maintained contact with her. When I saw that she was performing a one-person show in Seattle, I asked if she had plans to bring her show in Tacoma. There was nothing immediate, and so our little group (Rotary Culture Vultures from Tacoma and Lakewood) began making plans. A way around the family room is a friendly venue. For us the friendly venue became Ted Brown Music. Whitney Grisaffi, daughter of Tacoma Rotary past president Warren Brown and now president of Ted Brown Music, volunteered a rehearsal room at their Tacoma facility. It was a perfect pairing.
The rehearsal room has a small stage with a baby grand piano, lighting, and audio equipment. With comfortable folding chairs, we sat sixty-six people. No seat was more than twenty-five feet away from center stage.
The rehearsal room is upstairs and opens onto a runway or catwalk connecting both sides of the building. Musical instruments, sheet music, amplifiers and other audio gear form a well measured landscape arrangement below.
With two attractive and inviting tables offering finger food buffet, and refreshments, guests could skip a full dinner after work and come directly to the concert. The day we picked for the concert was Valentine's Day. Although we invited both singles and couples, the guests were predominantly couples. We also wanted to take some of the pressure off our friends, so they didn't have to think about planning anything special for the day. So, actually some of our friends went from nothing planned to something extra special!
Luckily, Jenny Shotwell had that day free as did Jeff Caldwell, her accompanist. Jeff played while Jenny sang some songs. Jenny talked about music and her life and often played the piano as well. In addition to performing she also teaches piano and voice in Federal Way. Sometimes during a song, Jeff would slide onto the piano bench from the left as Jenny slid off to the right to stand at the microphone and sing.
Besides performing at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre, Tacoma Opera, and singing our national anthem at a Seahawks game, for another local connection, Jenny graduated from Pacific Lutheran School of Music, while Jeff is the Staff Accompanist at the University of Puget Sound. Peg and I have a daughter-in-law who graduated from PLU, and Peg and I met while attending UPS.
We love local connections. As a special treat, we gave each person who came to the concert their own box of chocolates from the Johnson Candy Company on MLK Jr just a few blocks from Mary Bridge. Susie gave us a good deal on the chocolate which we ordered months ago. We picked them up the day before the concert. In the middle of the afternoon there was already a line at their cash register. As Peg picked out half a pound of dark chocolate truffles, clusters and creams, I picked up a good-sized box from Susie. By the time we left it was getting crowded.
As Peg and I left from the side door, I saw fellow Rotarian Alex Trettin go in the front door. I posted that on Facebook only to have Alex ask me to take his tag off so what he purchased could be a surprise. Ah, yes the things we do for friends.
As we drove home, Peg fed me various pieces. My favorite is the dark chocolate covered candied ginger. I was heartbroken when I realized she only bought one.
On the day of the event Peg and I along with friend Randy Melquist (set-up crew) went to The Chili Parlor to pick up party platters. The Chili Parlor and Wayne Whalen provided our finger food. We had a veggie platter, a pinwheel platter, a tray of sliders and one of sandwiches. The sliders were the hit of the buffet I think. We heard rave reviews for both the tuna salad and egg salad sliders. Wayne and his crew were busy all day preparing for our concert and other Valentine parties.
A few days before the concert, another Rotarian, Jim Harris and I had lunch at the diner (now closed) on South Tacoma Way. I had breakfast, while Jim had Cincinnati Chili, which is spaghetti layered with chili and a mound of Cheddar cheese. Cincinnati isn't local, but since retiring from the army, Wayne is. The restaurant just celebrated its one year anniversary.
Rotarian Ron Lunceford, Realtor, funny guy, and lead singer with Daryl and the Diptones is a shameless promoter. At our concert with his lovely wife Jennette, he was inviting friends to a special concert The Poodle Dog in Fife. The Poodle Dog is a Fife icon. It's a local restaurant that's done well.
I've been meeting with one particular client there since December. The client comes down from Renton and I come from North Tacoma. His wife grew up in Fife and Puyallup. The Poodle Dog serves middle-America food . . . and stands behind what they do, while on the other hand, Ron Lunceford stands in front of his group.
Daryl and the Diptones play to have fun . . . and generally make money for non-profit organizations. If you see that Daryl and the Diptones are playing somewhere you know they are doing it for fun and to help our community. They concentrate on classic rock and roll.
One of the first songs we heard Jenny sing in Olympia was the classic "At Last." It's a personal favorite of Peg's, also. It was the only song I requested. Jenny mentioned that she and Jeff had worked on the introduction. They surprised me by playing "Heart and Soul," which was written by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics written by my favorite song writer Frank Loesser. I would pay good money for an evening of just Frank Loesser songs from his musicals ("The Most Happy Fella," "Greenwillow," "Guys and Dolls," and "How to Succeed in Business" just to name a few). Jeff and Jenny's "Heart and Soul" evolved into "At Last." What a nice transition.
We just love the cabaret style. We like to hear stories and the reason why they choose to sing particular songs. Jenny knows all the Judy Garland song book and sang quite a few. She did "You Made Me Love You" as Judy would have done it, but all the time I was thinking of my favorite version of the song as sung by Al Jolson and he sang it in blackface, which is completely politically incorrect. Another time, but the song remains the same.
Peg and I know a lot of songs, but we discovered more from the concert that we really like. We'll have to visit Ted Brown and get the sheet music. One was Pink Martini's "Over the Valley" (beautiful melody with slightly discordant piano in the background). What a nice blend. "There's no denying, You are my one and only love, And we'll see over the valley, The moon rise above." In the same vein was Joni Mitchell's "River." These two songs were part of Jenny's story of traveling from Spokane to Olympia by car and watching the landscapes and the hidden places of interest like waterfalls and canyons just out of sight, but not out of imagination. "I wish I had a river, I could skate away on."
Rotarian Kathi Willis saved one box of chocolates for Jenny. After the concert Jenny chatted with some of her admirers. Here she is laughing with Mike Jones. I think he offered Jenny his heart. Mike has been in numerous plays and musicals, but his voice, even when he played a monk, couldn't hold a candle to Jenny. Mike and his wife, Dana enjoyed themselves at the concert. I got a nice hug from Dana, but not from Mike. Mike is also a past president of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8. He invited about eight guests to the concert himself.
Rotary clubs are big on fundraising events like auctions (see The Poodle Dog above). We used to donate, with several of our friends, an evening of music at our home. We would bring in fellow Rotarians and pay for the accompanist. There were wonderful events for both the attendees and those of us who paid and volunteered, but we had to limit the number of guests to six or eight people. We would serve them dinner and entertain them. Those are still some of our favorite evening memories. I think what we need are Rotarians with much larger rooms. We could party and entertain until all hours of the night . . . even past my bedtime of 7:30.
Our Rotary Culture Vulture events result from the efforts of Tacoma Rotary #8 and Lakewood Rotary. Our #1 goal is provide a social event that is both fun and affordable. Our #2 goal is to earn a profit we can share with local charities. For example our event "Smokey Joe's Café" last year at Tacoma Little Theatre gave us enough money to buy thousands of diapers for the Emergency Food Network. They asked for diapers, because many families have to juggle budgets that include both food and diapers.
Special thanks to Kathi Willis, Randy Melquist, Diane Tilstra, and Donna Haynes (who legally changed her birthday to Valentine's Day in celebration?) for working on the project. And a very special thanks to Diane and Donna who volunteered their husbands for set-up and clean-up! Peg and I volunteer each other all the time. We like marriage with surprises.