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Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:05 pm

Millikin’s Bluegrass Weekend

Asleep at the Wheel - Apr 4, Kirkland Fine Arts Center of Millikin University in Decatur

When I saw the famous and fantastic band Asleep at the Wheel scheduled to perform at the Kirkland Fine Arts Center of Millikin University in Decatur, that alone seemed to be enough for a column. Then upon further investigation I discovered a couple more living legends coming to the same place on the same weekend: bluegrass band The Special Consensus and the folk duo version of the Gordons. Now what’s up with all this?

The concerts are advertised as part of a Bluegrass Weekend on April 3 and 4, but that’s not all, folks. In conjunction with the music shows, the KFAC, through a new program called Kirk-Out, is hosting a conference pertaining to music in rural America, with the concerts basically being the evening icing on the conference day cake. For details on registration, schedules, subjects and speakers visit www.kirk-out.com/conference on the KFAC Web site. There you’ll find a diverse array of programs all day Friday and Saturday discussing the situation of making music in America’s rural areas. The full title of the conference tells a tale itself: The Train Just Don’t Stop Here Anymore: An Interdisciplinary Colloquium on the Soundscapes of Rural and Small Town America.

Along with the official conference stuff requiring registration and fees, three very fine programs are free and open to the public. The first begins Friday at 10:15 a.m. with a panel discussion relating the state of traditional music in downstate Illinois to the rest of America. The keynote address follows at noon given by Paul F. Wells, a true scholar of real country music — the kind literally played in the countryside — and a professor of music at Middle Tennessee State University. On Saturday at 2:15 p.m., Neal Smith of Millikin University hosts a panel discussion with Gary Gordon of The Gordons, and Greg Cahill of The Special Consensus, titled Pedagogies of Traditional Musics that covers playing traditional folk and bluegrass in today’s music industry, specifically relating to rural Illinois.

I know, I know, so far it’s nothing but a bunch of yapping about music, which is fine for musicians and scholars, but you, music fan, could hardly give a hoot or a holler about all that. Where are the jams, when do they begin, and what do they sound like, those are the questions needing answers, right?

I’ve written about the Gordons before, but I can’t say enough wonderful things about Gary and Roberta as good people and superb musicians. Playing music reflects your inner self, there is no getting around it, and the Gordons play honest, beautiful, uplifting, acoustic music that soothes and entices, comforts and enthralls. They’ve been at it for well over 30 years and counting. Well what can I say; I think they’re the greatest.

The Special Consensus is nothing less than one of the most highly recognized and respected bluegrass bands in America. Since forming in 1975 they’ve traveled the globe, brought bluegrass to schools through educational programs, released several recordings, and, interestingly enough, are based in Chicago. Take that Nashville and Austin.

Asleep at the Wheel does not play bluegrass. They are the most genuine producers of Texas swing around today, with nine Grammy awards to their credit and more than 20 recordings released. Leader Ray Benson, in charge since the group’s beginning in 1970, continues to emulate the famous sounds of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, purposefully keeping alive the provocative mix of country and big band jazz called Western Swing.

Here’s some ticket info that may entice you or allow you to make both shows. The Kirkland Center box office cooked up a sweet deal offering the otherwise $12 tickets to The Gordons and The Special Consensus on Friday for $5 if you purchase Asleep at the Wheel seats on Saturday that range from $14 to $24. If you sign up for the conference, the concerts are included with the registration fee. Check it out at www.milikin.edu/kirkland or call the box office at 217-424-6318.

Soy City here I come.

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