I imagine the swag bags you’ve been given include all sorts of samples of Indiana culture. If they’re like ones I received over the years, they might even include a CD or two featuring music by area artists. However, just in case they don’t – or if they do but the music is limited to the obvious, expected, or bad – I thought I’d offer up a few musical artists I think you need to hear if you’re to truly appreciate Hoosier humanity. PLEASE NOTE: I don’t pretend that this list is exhaustive, fully representative, or even a reasonable “Top Five.” Truth is, if you asked me to list my five favorites a week from now, the list might be different. As a result, I happily invite Punchnel’s readers to answer this question: If you could take travel writers out to enjoy some Indiana musicians, who would you want them to hear?
Meanwhile, here’s my perfectly subjective, subject-to-change list of five musicians you should hear if you really want a full Indiana experience.
1. The Rev. Payton’s Big Damn Band. Sometimes you need to kick up your heels, sometimes you need to growl, sometimes you need to grin, and sometimes you need to do all three at once. At least that’s the gospel I get listening to the good Reverend. Want a sample? Check out this video, which nicely encapsulates what The Big Damn Band is all about. You’ll never again wonder whether Hoosiers know how to have a good time.
2. Cara Jean Wahlers. Joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain … it’s just life. But when Cara Jean Wahlers sings, it all weaves into a lovely, delicate, and sweet reality that makes you appreciate life’s foibles and follies. And when she collaborates with cellist Grover Parido, you can virtually wrap the sound around you like a blanket. Listen here.
3. Gary Walters. It’s just a box filled with steel wires, but when Gary Walters sits in front of it, the piano becomes a big old hunk of happy. While you often find Gary contributing key elements to Carrie Newcomer’s beautiful sound, you haven’t REALLY heard Gary until you’ve heard him go solo on jazz pieces. To get some samples, go here.
4. Jennie DeVoe. The blues offer us a pretty little paradox: lyrically, they talk about how hard life can be, how painful it is to be human and, generally, how much it sucks to walk around every day. On the other hand, performed well, the blues tap into that secret sector of the soul that just screams to live more, more, more. And that’s exactly what happens when Jennie DeVoe steps to the mic. John Mellencamp might have said, “It hurts so good,” but Jennie DeVoe shows you want that means.
5. Frank Glover. I first heard Frank Glover play classic jazz standards. In fact, that’s what he was playing every night in a Michigan resort when my wife and I stayed there for our honeymoon – we had no idea an Indy musician would be the inn’s featured act when we booked our room, but it turned out to be a wonderful coincidence. In the years since, I’ve enjoyed watching Glover delve into increasingly complex, challenging, and innovative music. I’ve never failed to be amazed by his creations. While you’re listening, lift a glass to the late, great Clause Sifferlin, who was Frank’s partner-in-crime for two decades before he passed away far too soon in 2010.