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Thursday, June 2, 2011 01:53 am

Watch for wayward, wandering minstrels


The Phenomenal Conundrum play Trout Lily Cafe at noon on June 5, 6 and 7.

In these days of well-planned careers featuring well-manicured appearances and well-kept personalities, designed by well-managed curators of societal conveniences meant to make all things acceptable, palatable and negotiable, finding a creative space to do what one will becomes a daunting challenge. For a couple of musicians traveling on the road, the challenge melted with a choice to not go with the flow of average American lifestyles, but to follow the natural course of inner conscience and choose a path against the obvious grain, one leading toward a heartfelt and sincere relationship to the surrounding world.

The twosome of Raymond and Alexinder work under the moniker of the Phenomenal Conundrum as a rare breed of entertainer, one not attached to monetary gains but to fulfilling an artistic reach. Living in the Washington, D.C., area for the last decade, the guys recently decided to “travel the country playing music.” In playing original music self-described as “folk/soul grunge/death pop” while being managed by “God,” what may appear flippant underlies a conviction to act according to personal beliefs rather than standard cultural policy.

In a 1995 Ford Ranger loaded with an assortment of instruments including, but not limited to, “an acoustic 6-string, an acoustic 12-string, a very good electric guitar, a djembe, a set of congas, (2) violins, a banjo, and a tambourine,” the fellows make the bold claim of, “we are ready to play right now,” and I can tell they mean it. But playing music is not all they do. Within the spirit of traveling to experience, they stay in an area for weeks, helping out in the community, jamming on music and touching lives.

“We’ve been in the Midwest lately and working our way to Texas,” says Raymond. “We heard Springfield was a cool place to hang out and made some calls to get started.”

One of the calls went to Kate Hawkes at the Trout Lily Café, a longtime supporter of local acoustic original music and always a friend of the creative arts.

“They called me after Googling coffee shops and Trout Lily came up,” says Hawkes. “They sounded interesting, like some gypsy hippies, so I worked them in at our noontime Original Acoustic Lunch next week on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday” (June 5, 6 and 9).

The Phenomenal Conundrum is also booked Thursday, June 9, at the Keg (11th and Ash). Expect them to pop up at a few more places around town, plus be interviewed on WQNA’s Fly-over Zone some Saturday morning soon. Check the Trout Lily Café Facebook page for details. According to Raymond, the guys will hit all the open mics in town, make acquaintances and start finding jobs, musically related and otherwise. For accommodations, they find a quiet spot to park, then sleep in the Ranger.

“We do roofing, build decks and help out tons during the day, then play music at night,” says Raymond. “We get to do a lot and play with the best musicians in the world no one’s ever heard of everywhere we go.”

Armed with a small digital recorder and permission of the players, the diatonic duo records performances then posts them at their Reverbnation website. As they continue to attract more listeners, those musicians “no one’s ever heard of” receive exposure through sharing by the PC’s ever-expanding network of friends and the extensive reach of the Internet.

“I’m 35 and he’s 24 and we both agreed this is what we want to do with our lives,” says Raymond, explaining they were and are influenced greatly by the writings and lifestyle of folksinger and activist Woody Guthrie. “We’re reaching lots of people, crossing paths and connecting while doing what we think is a good way to live.”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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