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Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008 05:41 am

Introducing the Sangamon Songwriter Series

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The Gordons, Gary and Roberta, perform at the Trout Lily Café Sept. 18.

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I must admit a strong weakness for writing about any locally inspired and produced, live music series. Last week it was the Bedrock 66 Live! and this column through the years (that would be eight of them with this issue or the next, thank you very much) has enjoyed supporting the efforts of individuals and the respective groups they create. The Prairie Grapevine Folklore Society, Illinois Central Blues Club, Greater Springfield Jazz Society, M.I.C.E., Springfield Classical Guitar Society, Freejazz Forum, Sangamon Valley Roots Revival, Springfield Area Arts Council, Downtown Springfield, Inc., and even the City of Springfield, come to mind as functioning organizations sponsoring live music on a regular basis. I'm sure others, now lost and forgotten in my faded memory, once impacted our scene. Well, here we go with another, brother.

Allow me to introduce to you the Sangamon Songwriter Series, inspiration of freshly imported, singer-songwriter Lucas Westcott. The New England native arrived in Springfield a few years ago, accompanying his fiancée, a newly-hired professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Westcott spent some time exploring avenues as a regional performer, then, after consultations with friends and fellow musicians, decided to take the plunge this summer as an organizer, committing to a once-a-month concert of original music performances from out-of-town artists through the fall of 2008. He has the full intent of continuing into 2009.

Upcoming artists in the fledgling series include Noah Earle, Jonathan Byrd, Jon Vezner, and Celeste Krenz with Sally Barris. The first event happens at the Trout Lily Café, around 7 p.m. on Sept. 18 featuring The Gordons, a duo from southern Illinois familiar to folk and bluegrass aficionados of central Illinois.

The Gordons, Gary and Roberta, met in high school and first performed together in their hometown of Sparta, Ill., (population, 4,419, Salute!) during the '70s. In the ensuing decades, the Gordons firmly established their music as a solid bridge between the traditional sounds of bluegrass and the enduring legacy of folk music. The couple achieved commercial success and received critical acclaim, both here and abroad, for their many performances and numerous recordings.

Gary picks on a flat-top guitar and slides on an occasional Dobro; Roberta strums the Appalachian-style autoharp, while both share lead vocal duties and harmonies. From years of singing and playing together the wife and husband duo developed an intense and understated symbiotic relationship. As with great works of art that veil a complex reality beneath a simple exterior, the stunning beauty and subtle attraction of the Gordons' music originates from a place of honesty, desire, faith and ability that underpins all this couple does. They live as they play and play as they live — simply, with thankfulness to God, expressing a marvelous innocence at the glory of this world, brimming with sincerity and affirmation.

I'm not the only one who believes this: the Gordons' most recent recorded project, Our Time, immediately climbed to the top of the Folk Music DJ charts upon release, hanging out near and above Emmylou Harris' latest offering in July and August. The songs, recorded and produced at the Gordons' Inside Out Studio in their cabin home near Sparta, are a mixture of original, traditional and contemporary compositions, highlighting Gary and Roberta's talents as well as the extraordinary group of musicians contributing to the exceptional recording.

Other recent Gordon-based accomplishments include: a re-release of their mid-'90s album, Family Bible by Canadian record label Rosedale, Gordon-composed tunes recorded by popular bluegrass singers Janet McGarry and Valerie Smith, a possible inclusion of original material on a movie soundtrack, the opening of a new and enlarged studio facility, and continuing the operation of Alligator Music, a family-owned music store in downtown Sparta, plus capitalizing on the radio success of the new CD, through interviews and performances. As Gary says, doing all that, "Keeps you in it," and in it they are.

So there you have it: a new music series with a fantabulous kickoff show. Please join me in wishing the event well and for continuing success in all our area concert series. Hooray.

The Gordons play the inaugural performance of the Sangamon Songwriters Series at Trout Lily Café, Thursday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at the door.

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