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Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006 01:05 pm

Classical class act

Russel Brazzel performs at a benefit on Saturday

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Russel Brazzel
“An unfortunate side effect of being a classical guitar player is, you end up spending a lot of time in a room by yourself,” says Russel Brazzel, musician and co-founder of the Springfield Classical Guitar Society. In March 1998 Brazzel met with other local classical-guitar enthusiasts to encourage a regular gathering for social interaction. After the first formal meeting was met with a miserable lack of interest from area players, Brazzel faced up to the facts.
“I found out I was an alienated social person,” he says. “Then we went ahead with our idea of a classical-guitar concert series and formed the society.”
For the first couple of years, Brazzel says, the series artists were “beer-drinking friends of mine that would come play and hang out” — and who also happened to be excellent musicians. The concerts grew in popularity and range of performers until 2001. “We had a concert right after 9/11, and the audience level dropped from around 150 regulars to about 40,” Brazzel says. “We never really have recovered, though we still have a solid core of 60-some that make every show.”
The society now hosts four concerts a year, down from a high of six, with one being a benefit by Brazzel to help pay for the remaining performances. “I’m not really comfortable using the series as a vehicle for personal promotion,” Brazzel says, “but it’s become a popular tradition and I love to play, plus it helps to pay for the other performers.” The society is adamant about paying classical guitarists what they are worth; as Brazzel puts it, “I absolutely, positively do not want to lowball a brother.” A musician and teacher who has been diligently and lovingly perfecting his art for nearly 35 years, Brazzel is fully aware of the commitment necessary for achieving classical guitar proficiency. “It has to be a reason-to-live kind of a deal,” he explains, “and that gives you a happy heart when you are on the stage.”
He also knows something about getting paid for “playing” as opposed to “working”: “Sometimes the saddest thing about being a musician is not having that comfortable life,” he says, “but I have enough money to live and I’m having a wonderful life.”
Russel Brazzel performs works that “call me to get out of bed at midnight” at the First Presbyterian Church, 321 S. Seventh St., at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21. Proceeds from the $12 admission price ($9 for seniors and students) help cover the costs of the Springfield Classical Guitar Society Concert Series.

Kathryn Raistrick, that ever-popular singer of Australian folk songs, has returned to the Trout Lily Café (218 S. Sixth St., 217-391-0101) from a South American visit during which, it is quite likely, she learned a new folk song or two. With our female troubadour filling the Tuesday slot, the Trout Lily is now the only place in town to see live music during the lunch hour each and every weekday.
56 Hope Road rolls into the city on Wednesday, Jan. 25, for a rollicking show at Mojo’s (225 E. Monroe St., 217-544-3400) with Green Mountain Grass. Since you last saw the Road, all they’ve done is travel around the country, playing music. If you don’t believe me (and why should you?), believe this: The online music resource JamBase ranked the band the top “Road Warriors” the most live shows performed during 2005 — and they only had to beat out 12,000 other groups for this honor.
The delightful Holly Holmes drops in at Robbie’s (4 Old State Capitol Plaza, 217-528-1901) for the “Uptown Friday Night” show, 5: 30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 20.
Our old pal Stolie from Tres Femmes, the wildly popular girl band not from here, is playing at the Office (1919 W. Iles Ave., 217-546-0580) on Saturday, Jan. 21. Accompanied by her friend Scott, the Chicago-based singer/songwriter will be playing all covers, all night long under the name Acoustic Sideshow. In other Tres Femmes-related news, Victoria Vox, another member of the trio, is releasing an album in February that embraces the ukelele in all its four-stringed glory. VV, it seems, was taken by the seductive instrument on a recent Hawaiian vacation and proceeded to record a full CD of standards and originals, all backed by her faithful “jumping flea,” the literal Hawaiian translation of “ukelele.”
Those of you who have yet to see Backyard Tire Fire in action despite the advice of your friends, neighbors, and local journalists need to break down and get yourselves to Jazz Central Station (Hilton Springfield, 700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530) on Friday, Jan. 20 for the full force and fury of the band’s live show.
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