I’ve been sick for a little while now. Last month I spent a few miserable days in the hospital and the repercussions from that continue to linger. Nothing life threatening but the kind of thing that causes low level of ongoing misery. The point is I haven’t felt like myself in a while, until the other night for just a little while.
I am a big fan of Trapper Schoepp, the folk rock musician out of Wisconsin. I’ve written about him and his wonderful music a couple of times, most recently when his new album “Primetime Illusion” was released earlier this year. Two nights ago he played a free concert close enough in Pennsylvania for me to give it a shot.
Normally, driving an hour for a concert of a favorite artist is a complete no-brainer. I usually only begin to question going if the show is more than three hours away. I might still go, but I’d at least give it some thought. Right now things are a little different. With the medical issues both mobility and energy levels can be problematic. Leaving the house to just run errands takes a lot of effort. This isn’t to martyr myself or complain, but it’s my reality for a little while. After some deliberation I decided to go. The concert was an outdoor show at a park, part of a summer concert series, which meant that it would be a seated picnic-oriented affair. I figured I should be able to handle sitting down for a couple of hours outside. It’s not my preferred way to see a rock and roll show, but I guess you have to make due sometimes.
As I began to prepare to head up to the show it started to rain, and not just a drizzle. I went through all the things I needed to do to leave the house and watched the rain come down, wondering if it was all going to be for naught. Eventually I was ready to go and as I headed out the clouds parted and the rains stopped. The sun came out and the air was less ridiculously hot. I took it as a sign that I had made the right choice.
After a longer-than-expected drive I reached my destination, a place called ‘Eagleview Town Center’. When I said that this wouldn’t be my preferred way to see a rock and roll show, I had no idea how right I was. The park is situated next to a row of restaurants and shops, surrounded by condos, all snuggled in the center of a very large corporate park. It’s a designed community built from the ground up for, based on the crowd, wealthy people who don’t want to interact with the world much. I will admit to being a little put off by the fakeness of it. I’m probably being too judgmental, but it felt a little creepy. None-the-less, I found a spot in the park, set up my chair, and hunkered in for the show.
When I arrived there were very few people in the park, but lots of chairs and blankets set up. It looked like people showed up, found a spot, then headed to the restaurant row. As I sat and watched people come back for show and settle in I saw lots of little tables set up with cheese, chips and salsa, and a liquor store’s worth of white wine. By the time the opening act, a blues outfit from Boston called GA 20, took the stage the lawn reeked of heavily oaked chardonnay. Not to keep belaboring a point, but this was as far from the crowds I’m used to at concerts as it could be.
GA 20 were a lot of fun. Plenty of good blues guitar and songs drenched in echos of Keb’ Mo’, Buddy Guy, and the rest. Watching them made me think of my friend John who passed away recently. Way back in high school John did a presentation on B.B. King whom at the time I was unfamiliar with. After the presentation John and I had a long conversation about the Blues and it went a long way towards getting me interested that foundational branch of our musical story. While I’ve never become a blues aficionado, I am a fan and I owe that largely to John. Listening to this blues band so soon after hearing about John’s passing, it was both a sad and wonderful experience. It’s weird how memories of conversations like that can linger and influence us down through the years. I feel like this should be more than an anecdote, but I’m not sure I’m ready to write that piece yet. I think the point is, as I’ve made before, show up on time for the opening acts because you never ever know.
Once GA 20 wrapped up it was time for Trapper Schoepp. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen Schoepp twice before, both times were just him playing with his brother. I haven’t managed to see him as either the main act or with a full band. Needless to say I was excited.
Schoepp opened with the fierce rocker ‘Freight Train’. The crowd didn’t exactly get up and dance, so I remained seated, but it wasn’t easy. There was at least one other person in the crowd who was a fan of Schoepp prior to the show, and not just the regular Tuesday concert in the park crowd. I imagine that person had a similar reaction to the roaring opening song.
After ‘Freight Train’ they barreled into probably my favorite song on the new album, ‘If All My Nine’s were X’s’. I didn’t have a lot of hopes or expectations prior to the show as to the setlist, but this was the one song I was really hoping he’d play, so I was excited. Hearing his faster songs played with a full band was everything I hoped it would be.
The next song was the 60’s Neil Diamond-esque sounding ‘What You Do To Her’. Following that Schoepp told the incredible story of how he ended up co-writing the song ‘On, Wisconsin’ with Bob Dylan and then played the tune. It’s such a fun song that hearing it live for the first time was a delight. They followed it up with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. I’m not gonna lie, hearing one of my favorite artists cover a Bob Dylan classic was almost the highlight of the night for me. Unexpected cover songs are usually pretty cool, especially when you love both the band and the song. I was at a Jesse Malin show where he covered the Clash’s ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ and I still haven’t recovered, for instance. I’d probably pay to see Schoepp do a whole covers show. I loved his takes on songs.
The opening song on the new album was next, ‘Shakedown’. Schoepp told a story about seeing some planes flying through the night while he was out canoeing and how that inspired the song. I had no real idea what most of the lyrics to the song meant so getting that tidbit really made the whole thing make a lot more sense. They played it a little slower than the album version. Not much, but a bit. It was cool hearing it played a different way. He followed that with ‘It’s Over’ another great some from the new album.
After ‘It’s Over’ they played a couple of songs from the mini concept album about Bay Beach Amusement Park, ‘Bumper Cars’ and ‘Ferris Wheel’. Those happen to be my two favorites from that album, so the nights theme of ‘play all the songs Jacob wants to hear’ kept on going. I was certainly pleased.
The next three songs were the only ones on the night that I had heard him play live before. First was the tale of being snowbound in Nebraska called ‘Ogallala’, followed by the tale of Schoepp’s ancestor being snowbound under a covered wagon called ‘The Ballad of Olaf Johnson’, and then ‘Run, Engine, Run’ the story of his grandfather’s ruby red ‘64 Mercedes Benz. These are among the songs that Schoepp played when I first heard him a few years back at a house in Northern New Jersey, and I’ll never get tired of them.
The final song of the evening was another wonderful cover, the beautiful ‘Helpless’, originally by Neil Young. This is a song I’ve gotten to know through various covers (mostly by Jesse Malin) and hearing Schoepp’s Midwestern voice sing it was close to perfect. It’s such a delicate and pretty song that the emotive honesty that Schoepp sings with did it a lot of justice. I was a little miffed that the crowd didn’t sing-along during the chorus because if you’re not going to sing along to that, why even go to a concert?
With that the show was over. They played for just about an hour, maybe a little less. During that time I felt human again. All the aches and pains and general misery of the last couple of weeks seeped out of me and I was myself again, if only for a little bit. It might be a bit dramatic sounding, but I think I needed that music more than I have needed just about anything before in my life. It will always be a wonder how much power music can have to heal, to help us remember, to just make us feel like ourselves in a difficult world where it’s easy to get lost. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those songs were the best medicine I’ve gotten in a while.
I got a chance to chat a bit with Trapper after the show. I mentioned the crowd and how they mostly felt like lawn ornaments rather than people who came to hear a rock and roll show. He laughed and said, “They listened, can’t ask for much more than that.”
I guess he’s right. Some days just listening is enough.