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Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:55 pm

Blues Club birthday bash

The 20-year-old organization celebrates at the St. Nick on Saturday

art2908
Big Time Sarah
“Let’s Keep the Blues Alive!” — the earnest wish at the bottom of the hand-drawn fliers advertising the coming of the Central Illinois Blues Club in February 1986 — signifies all that the organization has stood for since its inception more than two decades ago. Credit for instigating the club goes to Vicki Biddle Chmura and her sister Jan Eaton who were, according to blues-club lore (and Chmura’s impeccable memory), sitting at a bar in Davenport, Iowa, talking about the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, an organization promoting blues music in the Quad Cities. After a conversation with the MVBS president, Chmura began contacting other central-Illinois blues enthusiasts, checking into the feasibility of a local blues club. Groundwork was laid by Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois at Springfield) professors who, in the early 1970s, sponsored blues concerts at SSU and purchased the tavern in the old Crows Mill School to host barroom blues. The original 13 founding members of the Blues Club — Chmura, Dan Bringman, Bob Sipe, Mike Townsend, David Balmer, Mike Beatty, David Benner, John Corbett, Bill Engle, Pat Hickey, Dick Hofman, Fred Johnson, and Mike King — met on Feb. 5, 1986. Within a month of the meeting, the club boasted more than 40 card-carrying, dues-paying members, the Blue Monday jams were rolling at Bruce’s Tavern, and the name of the group had been changed to the Illinois Central Blues Club. On May 9, 1986, a concert at SSU featuring Chicago bluesman James Cotton was the first official ICBC-sanctioned special event. Throughout the years the organization has hosted Blues in the Schools, a program in which musicians are paid to play the blues for kids during school hours; sponsored many indoor concerts and outdoor festivals; and has altogether been a stalwart supporter of live music in the community. Now, after 20 years, membership stands at about 200, the Blue Monday jams have a steady home at the Alamo, and the ICBC is a respected institution on the local music scene, still avidly keeping the blues alive and well.
The Illinois Central Blues Club celebrates its 20th birthday with an all-day party in the St. Nicholas Ballroom, 400 E. Jefferson St. The KMC Blues Brothers and the Low Down Blues Band, plus a classic Blues Club open jam, cover the music from noon-6 p.m. From 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., check out Springfield Shaky, one of the first local blues performers to host a Blue Monday jam, and Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express, a group first booked by the ICBC in June 1986.

If you missed Zolar X many years ago when they were LA’s coolest weird band or if you just missed last Wednesday’s show at the Hoog or, heck, if you just plain miss them for any reason whatsoever, go see them on Friday, March 24, at Viele’s Planet (126 E. Jefferson, 217-525-9029). Opening for the aging alien-looking musicians are NIL8 (Springfield music heroes) and the Dials (Chicago band of pop-loving women). You have my personal guarantee that Zolar X is the only band dressed up to look like imaginary space travelers appearing in Springfield this week. So don’t be a disbeliever and get your alien-loving ass over to the Planet. I mean it. Well, perhaps the previous guarantee was a bit premature: Now we have Neanderthal Alien at Jazz Central Station (700 E. Adams, 217-789-1530), opening on Friday, March 24, and headlining on Saturday, March 25. They promise no costumes from outer space, but their music sounds as it could be rather alien to some ears in a jazz-improv sort of way. The group hails from Amsterdam, with one member, formerly of Springfield (well, where would you rather live?), bringing the rest of the band to his former place of residence for a midtour stopover. Now try to get out of this world with the band Frog Holler (you think there really is a place called Frog Holler?), playing at the Underground City Tavern (700 E. Adams, 217-789-1530) on Tuesday, March 28. The name conjures images of hollering frogs, and that seems a bit alien, but the music is all down to earth and based on bluegrass and roots-rock music. Instrumentation consists of Dobro, banjo, accordion, mandolin, electric guitar, bass, percussion, and drums. Led by the pride of Reading, Pa., songwriter Darren Schlappich and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lavdanski, Frog Holler has been at it since 1996 with only a few personnel changes and has become quite acclaimed on the Americana circuit. You should really go see them and be the first on your block to have heard and heard of Frog Holler. While you’re there, heckle the players by asking just what in the hell a frog holler is and why they would name their band such a thing.
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