Our featured guests this Friday, Main Street Wisdom, have to be some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at those big smiles! Instead of staring at your tedious final assignments, why not start the week off with some down-home folky cheer in the Rath?
Main Street Wisdom came together as the unlikely collaboration between singer Carleen Wild, a journalist-turned-musician, and guitarist Dan Smith, a musician-turned-journalist-turned-musician. Wild and Smith met while working at WISC-TV in Madison. They had discovered mutual interests in music while working at the station, but busy work schedules had prevented them from creating a group and playing steady gigs. Eight years later, in 2009, Wild’s life had become a bit less…wild. She sent out a Facebook post about wanting to start a formal band. Dan Smith jumped on board, and brought his son Ben on board as well. Ben and Dan Smith bonded over the guitar after father Dan brought one home for a teenage Ben and taught his son three chords. Main Street Wisdom also includes Chris Krueger and Jim Usleman, two friends of Wild’s who responded to her 2009 post.
The group describes their sound as, “an eclectic mix of new and old country flavored music mixed with a few originals.” One can hear these influences on “Toasting a Memory,” written by Wild, Arenz and Smith. Wild mixes smooth country flare with powerful belted notes to keep the tunes fresh and energetic. Dan and Ben Smith assist with the vocal lines, while jiving with the chilled-out vibe that the rest of the instrumental section gives off.
The bluegrass Oak Street Ramblers sextet consists of Ian Alderman on guitar and dobro, Willie Jones on mandolin, Jeff Kunkle on bass, Betty Stattelman-Scanlan on guitar, Mark Schlutt on banjo and Tina Thompson on fiddle. Crafting a sound along the lines of Flatt and Scruggs and Jimmy Martin, the Ramblers make music that, according to their website, “wouldn’t sound out of place at a barn dance circa 1954.” The musicians first came together in 2004 at Madison’s Wonder’s Pub. Eight years later, they have released their own self-titled CD, and they’re reputed to be one of Madison’s best bluegrass groups. The album was nominated for the best bluegrass/country MAMA (Madison Area Music Award) in 2012, and the group is even featured on Season’s Greeting, a holiday compilation from Madison, WI bands. In a 2010 Isthmus poll, the Oak Street Ramblers were voted second-best bluegrass or folk act, and they perform regularly at anywhere from the Brooklyn Bluegrass Festival to the popular Barrymore Theatre.
“Wagon Wheel” demonstrates the “tight vocal harmonies” on which the Ramblers sell themselves. One may find up to five of the members singing at any given time! Jones and Stattelman-Scanlan harmonize for the majority of the song, and their blend combined with the instrumentation exudes a delightful bluegrass charm.
Check out both tracks below! And don’t forget to see them live this Friday for a fun, free stress reliever!
Main Street Wisdom: