Smile Politely

What makes a hootenanny, a hootenanny?

What to do on Monday night?  Big Brother at 7:00 p.m., Burn Notice at 8:00 p.m., Wilfred at 9:00 p.m.? Or, some of the very best live music you can hear in the area.

On Monday nights, at a cool, funky little bar in Urbana, you can belly up to the bar, order a PBR,  a CC on the rocks, or anything else you care to imbibe, and settle in for an evening of music by area professionals, amateurs, young folks, old folks, first-timers, touring bands; just about anyone musical playing just about anything musical. The name for this Monday night excursion: Urbana Hootenanny. The place: Rose Bowl Tavern on Race Street.

What makes a hootenanny, a hootenanny? The Scottish word means “celebration, or, “party.” When Scots began emigrating to the U.S., they brought the word with them. The largest group of Scots settled in Appalachia, and the word became an American colloquialism. The gathering in Urbana on Monday nights would certainly qualify as a “celebration” or a “party.”

The Hootenanny is the brainchild of Sam Payne and Dustin Norder, two musicians from the Champaign-Urbana area, who had some help from Bobby Watson, a local steel guitar player, and Steve Campbell, owner of the establishment.

On any given Monday night, you may hear Tom Turino, ethnomusicologist, author, professor, and world class musician, specializing in just about any instrument that makes a sound, John Coppess, billed as the Limpin’ Cowboy, play classics and originals, Alfonso Valdes playing hot Flamenco or Hawaiian slack key guitar, Kenna Mae Reiss playing and singing original tunes, and Payne, Norder, and any number of other musicians who have coalesced into various bands with names like Black Coffee Fridays, Bones Jugs N Harmony, Wagon Fire, Cornstalkers Cajun Band, the Corn Desert Ramblers, and the Flower Jax, to name a few.

You will also experience the stylings of neophytes to the live music-performing scene. One of the newcomers is Danville attorney and guitar player, Nancy Livingston. Nancy began by taking guitar lessons at the Community Center for the Arts (C4A), in Urbana last September, from Sam Payne, and Rob Krumm, that ubiquitous guitar player, music promoter, member of Dennis Stroughmatt’s Cajun touring band, Creole Stomp, and all around great guy. The lessons lasted six weeks. She says:

I came to play at the Hootenanny because my friend, John Coppess, encouraged me to come out on Monday nights and also offered to perform a song with me, thereby getting me on stage with my guitar for the first time.

Cody Jensen, a Hootenanny regular, banjo player, and member of Black Coffee Fridays, Bones, Jugs N Harmony, etc., etc., said of the Monday night music mixer, “It has even spawned new musical projects, such as The Flower Jax. Band members Chris Strand and Kenna Mae Reiss played together for the first time at the Hootenanny!”

Charlie Harris, bass player, band member and also Hoot regular summed it up this way:

I think the biggest impact is that it gets people together every week to share an evening of music and hanging out. You start to know people’s names, to share stories and songs, it’s as much about the relationships as the music and that’s good for the music and culture. If the music isn’t doing it, then you got the people. If it’s not a night for people, the bar’s there, if that doesn’t help there’s always free popcorn!

Yes, he correctly said “free popcorn”.

Sam Payne, Hootenanny co-host, began playing piano at age seven, played coronet through grade school, and got an electric guitar for his thirteenth birthday. He also plays the mandolin and has been recently teaching himself the upright bass. He just turned twenty-eight. 

At twenty-nine, Dustin Norder, the other co-host, has been playing music for about ten years. He started playing harmonica at an earlier age but got his first guitar at nineteen. Over the years, he learned to play the mandolin and currently teaches. He has been spending some time teaching himself to play the fiddle, as well.

“Players young and old find a warm reception at the Rosebowl. The host gives everyone who wants to play a chance to show their stuff”, says John Elder,  Hootenanny regular and veteran Piedmont-style guitar player.

Tom Turino puts it this way:

It has been the context for experimentation and new collaborations for experienced musicians as well as a comfortable and welcoming situation for relative newcomers; it is also a really nice social scene.

Alfonso Valdes, a managing director within the College of Engineering, moved here about two years ago from Silicon Valley. He has been playing Flamenco music for quite a while. He likes playing gigs but admitted that there isn’t a big call for Flamenco players, so he diversified.  He started experimenting with a Hawaiian style known as slack key tuning “because I have always liked Hawaiian music.” You can catch him at the Hootenanny from time to time, and he recently released a demo for his Hawaiian music on Soundcloud.

Rob Krumm, musician, teacher, and Hoot enthusiast, likes the Monday night event because, “it is an open stage and it tends to attract a nice mix of established musicians and other talented people who don’t perform on a regular basis. In addition, the Hootenanny provides a good performance opportunity for aspiring musicians.” 

JP Goguen, a member of Bones Jugs N Harmony, and unofficial Hootenanny photographer, has known Payne for about six years.  He has been playing guitar for years and had been drawn to the music of Mississippi John Hurt. Goguen was playing that style at our first introduction, in the green room at last year’s C-U Folk and Roots Festival. He says about the Hoot,

If an out of town act happens to be there, Sam will usually give them a good half hour and let them promote any shows they want. Sometimes this metal-head kid gets up and shreds on an acoustic guitar for ten minutes. I think because people there are willing to give anyone a listen, it creates a lot of goodwill among local musicians and fans, and that leads to bigger crowds at other venues like the Iron Post 

…or as attorney Livington puts it:

Its impact on music and culture in the area is subtle yet ubiquitous — each musician that performs at the Rose Bowl on Monday nights causes a ripple effect that is felt all over our community. Local musicians are introduced to various musical styles, songs, songwriters, and instrument playing styles, all which contribute to shaping the music and culture at other local venues.

And how does the venue owner, Steve Campbell, proprietor of the Rose Bowl feel about the Monday night Hootenanny? “Mondays are good,” he says. The tavern opened in 1946, and,  “the Rose Bowl has been known for live music since the mid-50’s”, states Campbell. During that time, his establishment became known for country and western swing music, but the place was no stranger to bluegrass music, either.

The Corn Desert Ramblers, a bluegrass band, used to play the Rose Bowl every Tuesday night. Both Sam Payne and Dustin Norder were members, and when the band decided to move on, Payne and Norder approached Campbell about keeping the music alive in some way. Payne, Norder, Campbell, and steel guitar player, Bobby Watson, put their heads together and came up with, the Monday Night Hootenanny.  “It’s a different crowd from the people who show up for western swing. Those folks do a lot of dancing.” Campbell seems to like the mix his establishment has to offer. He likes the country and western music crowd that originally brought live music to the place, but he is also very fond of the younger, bluegrass and acoustic crowd. Moreover, it’s good for business. Monday nights are usually slow nights in the world of taverns, pubs and bars, but Campbell is pleased with the business he does. 

This past March 25, a record-breaking snowstorm hit central Illinois. Urbana had over 20 inches in some areas. The university closed. Most businesses closed. By the early evening, road crews had done a good job of clearing the roads and making them passable. Most businesses were still closed, but not the Rose Bowl. The Hootenanny went on as it always does on Monday night, and attendance was much larger than expected. Snow, rain, sleet or hail, can’t keep local musicians and music lovers from gathering to share a drink, some great music, and, oh yes, free popcorn. 

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