Nature’s Table. As someone who didn’t come of age until the mid-2000s, it’s always been one of the legendary venues/scenes to occur in Champaign-Urbana. I could list some of the countless stories and shows from the venue that my dad has told me about, or type you up a list of who played there, but that would be superficial and a waste of space. Instead, I sat down for a first hand account of the action with Bruce “Bruiser” Rummenie, guitarist for the Mudhens and Freak Brothers and seasoned veteran of Nature’s Table.
SP: Could you start by summing up Nature’s Table to someone who never went?
Bruce: Well, it was this tiny little health food restaurant, and it just attracted this whole contingent of artists, hippies and free thinking people. And it was this really cool little enclave in the middle of, uh…
SP: In the middle of Illinois?
Bruce: Yeah! Well, and it was right in the middle of campus too, it was right across from Krannert in that huge building, before eminent domain came and took ’em away. It was this funky little place, people used to hang out, if you wanted to get like hummus…*laughs*, but on the weekends they would have music, and it would just rock. They’d have a ton of jazz music and then they’d also have blues bands in there. So when they first asked us to play — I was in this band the Mudhens, which was like a blues band, and we played at Mabel’s, which was right on Green Street. And they were like “come on over here, play here”, and I was like “this is a funky little hippie place,” but we went over there and it was a blast. It was this health food hippie thing in the daytime, and at night it turned into a beer joint, and it was just a hoot. I don’t know, it was sorta this locus of interesting people, and it was literally twenty years ago. And what’s really cool is that it still has enough of a vibe that people are coming to this reunion. We were flattered to be able to play there, and flattered to be able to do this thing, ’cause the last couple years that they’ve done this, and we’re hoping this year too, it’s been all these people coming back from town that you haven’t seen in all this time, just to check it out, and all these great musicians, so it’s really an honor for us to be asked to do it.
SP: Are most of your band-mates still around town?
Bruce: No, [the show] is a big deal for us — Kevin, our singer, is in Colorado, he’s got three kids, he’s like a stay at home dad, he’s comin’ back for this, and my brother, who played bass, is in Portland, Oregon. He has two kids and he’s a designer at Columbia, and then our drummer’s been in Carbondale — he’s a physical therapist — for probably twenty years. So there’s people coming in from all over to do it. And it’s not just us — Friday night, a lot of folks are coming in from Chicago and all around.
SP: So has all of your rehearsal been crammed into these few days, then?
Bruce: Yeah, the Mudhens were big on rehearsals and arrangements, and so everyone’s in town Thursday and we’ve got a rehearsal that day and Friday. I think that’ll be good — I mean we played together three years, we made a cassette and we’ve been exchanging that and everyone’s been listening to it and deciding what’s gonna be on the setlist, so we’ve been doing a lot of woodshedding and we’ve got our two sets. We’re all older too — it’s like “ok, what are we doing? don’t waste time, it’s not gonna be sitting and messing around, let’s get this down!” And then the other band, the Freak Brothers, that was basically Kevin, the singer of the Mudhens, and Jay Rosenstein who played in this band called Otis and the Elevators who were big back then too. Jay and I have been playing together, we kind of rekindled the relationship in the past year or two and we started playing together, so it’s this big kind of homecoming/incestuous relationship, but in a good way. We all know each other, we played together, we all sat in with each and played with each other’s bands and stuff, so hopefully that’s what it’s gonna be, just a big fun reunion.
SP: Do you have a favorite memory of Nature’s Table, either of playing or just being there?
Bruce: Well, one of my strangest memories was — I’ve taught at the middle school for many years — I remember nights when I’d be down there and there’d be kids from my class sitting there, drinking a beer or whatever, so you know…that’s back when you could do that, though. Also, when closing time would come up and it would sorta just drag on, it’d get to be like two hours later sometimes, but if the band was really hot and the place was jumpin’, they would just kinda let it go, it was a house party sort of thing. Less buraucracy and less of the big brother crap that’s going on now.
The fourth annual Nature’s Table reunion begins tonight at 5 p.m. at the Iron Post, with performances from the Traditional Jazz Orchestra, the Jack Webb Band, and Kelly Brand Quartet. 9 p.m. tomorrow at Cowboy Monkey, the Freak Brothers and the Mudhens perform. Both shows carry a $10 cover.