This Saturday night in Grass Valley, audiences who attend the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains (UUCM) Coffeehouse Concert will catch a couple of debuts: singer/songwriter Tom Wernigg will preview songs from his upcoming CD, and multi-instrumentalists Randy McKean and Luke Wilson will perform together as a duo for the first time.
Café Culture is nothing new to these two acts: Friday nights you can hear reedman McKean and string player Wilson perform as part of the European street band Beaucoup Chapeaux at Nevada City’s Classic Café, and Saturday afternoons, you can catch Wernigg at the Greek Bistro in Colfax. For this fundraiser for the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains, these experienced music makers will bring the distilled highlights and energized ambience of their weekly sessions into UUCM’s intimate sanctuary space, transformed for the night into a coffeehouse gathering place.
McKean and Wilson first met in 2003 when they were both playing at a UUCM fundraiser organized by Utah Phillips. This initial meeting with Wilson and partner Maggie McKaig eventually led to an invitation in 2009 to McKean to play clarinet in Beaucoup Chapeaux.
“I admire Luke’s go-for-broke style of playing the tenor guitar in Beaucoup,” said McKean. “The thing is Luke is also one of the best five-string banjo players in the world, as well as a great singer and songwriter, talents that don’t get featured in that situation.”
When McKean recently was asked to put something together for this UUCM fundraiser, he saw it as a chance to showcase — and benefit from — Wilson’s many talents.
McKean also saw an opportunity to highlight the duo’s shared love of genre-busting.
“Often people have misconceptions of what you should sound like based on the instrument you’re playing — with the saxophone, they expect jazz, with the banjo, bluegrass. Luke and I certainly draw upon those traditions, but the combinations of instruments we’ll be playing, like the tenor sax and dobro, the piccolo flute and piccolo banjo, automatically create their own unique sound world,” he said.
To that end, Wilson and McKean have worked up a set of eclectic originals and cover tunes that emphasize their alchemical combination of talents.
Wernigg, like McKean a longtime member of UUCM, will start off the evening. Utah Phillips called him a “great songwriter”; MidwestRecords.com called him “a bar room folkie in the Steve Goodman mode.” On “Already Home,” Tom’s first CD, his subjects ranged from aliens to alienation, in a style both humorous and deeply personal. For this concert, he’ll be playing works from his second disk in progress.
Expect sparks galore as the casual and the creative collide: doors open at 7 p.m., with wine, coffee and goodies for the cafe crowd, music starts at 8 p.m. for the concertgoers. Who knows, it might be the beginning of another regular gig.