Saturday night

Eddie Money didn’t stroll in for a post-concert stint with a local band, but fortunately a lot of other people were with us from beginning to end at the Wine Café Saturday. This is getting to be a common complaint of mine, but it went by too fast.

A sore throat kept my prairie yelps and back-alley falsettos to a minimum, but the middle ground wound up blending nicely with what Ann was doing, which was taking control and saving our sound.

We recorded the first few tunes of the night, but the recorder clunked out somewhere during “Hydraulic,” and it’s a shame because we played a few led by Ann that we haven’t done in a while – “Favorite Ache,” “Blue” and “If Only.” Three songs from Konsbruck, recorded WWWSFF (When We Were Still Fish Frye).

And they were great. I’m not sure what I was thinking going with “Ohio” with a bummer throat, but it worked OK. Wish I could say the same for “Jackson.”  Funny how a bad throat will not affect a Neil Young tune but can seriously threaten Johnny Cash.


Six years ago, when we were playing Tuesday nights at McGoff’s, writer and poet Ron Gower and his wife Anne would drop by to see us on an almost-regular basis. And sometimes they were the audience. Anne enjoyed requesting songs – she really liked “Cardboard Boxes.” The encouragement we got from Anne and Ron helped us feel like we actually knew what we were doing, as though we could someday get people to come see us on a Saturday night.

Early in the evening last night, Ron came into the Wine Cafe and sat at a little table near us. He had a bottle of beer and took in about four or five songs before heading out. We’d all said goodbye to Anne in May of this year, at a celebration of her life that involved stories and songs. It was unforgettable, and we were touched to be invited and proud to provide a couple of tunes we hoped she’d like.

So last night we were of course proud that Ron dropped by. And we remain thankful.

New name, big gig.

For starters, the name changed.

We are now formally, officially The Frye. It feels great, much more suited to what we’re doing these days. Which is playing a lot, not plunging cod into Crisco. We’ve had fun with the old name but as we enter our seventh year, we’re going for something a little less novelty-sounding. This is, after all, serious business.

And I can’t help but think club owners will breathe a little easier posting The Frye to their entertainment rosters rather than a menu item they might not be able to provide. It’s happened.

We had named ourselves Fish Frye because we’d just written the song and were crazy about it. We added the “e” and away we went.

Which brings us to The Frye of today, which is happy to announce we’ll be at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater Friday Sept. 7 as the opening act for Indigo Girls and The Shadowboxers. Tickets are available at the Verizon Wireless Civic Center or Ticketmaster, but get them at the Civic Center box office and avoid the extra charges.

See, we’re already picking a fight with Ticketmaster. Told you it was serious.

Weekend Update

It was a fast, fast weekend, one that had us giving performances Friday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday morning. I’m sitting here Sunday night feeling as though I haven’t even sat down for a meal yet. Can it really be time for bed?

Nah. One more run-through.

Friday was for the after-work brethren and sisteren (?) of the Wine Cafe for happy hour. We opened with Loudon Wainwright’s “Unhappy Anniversary” and proceeded with an array of happy songs about crummy relationships until, 15 minutes later, two hours had gone by.

Saturday night we were honored to play for a 70th birthday party for Patty, who we hadn’t met until that night and … wow. Let’s just say we had a fun three hours and after packing and loading everything up we noticed Patty and friends and family were still going strong. Judging by the “toast and roast” that took place during a break, it sounds like those gathered have been going strong for a long time.

We also tried out “Diamonds and Rust” which Ann delivered so beautifully it put chills on the regular chills I get when I hear that one. Call it an extra-chill night, whatever that means.

This morning, Sunday, we played the early show at Pub 500 where former Blue Velveata songstress and now star of stage and screen Zillah Langsjoen was kind enough to watch and take notes. She’s helping us with sound and staging and other stuff. So like any raging narcissist I loved the opportunity to shamelessly play for the note-taker and of course hope that her notes turn into a report that’s a complimentary love fest. At the same time, “Joe’s guitar and voice need to be quieter” is maybe the tough love I need.

Speaking of guitar, there were no hand issues this weekend and no medication, either. So who knows? Maybe that’s gone. Which is a relief. Because more and more that guitar is dropping me into some good places.

Those include Savoy Thursday and Indian Island Winery Friday.



The Sting

News from the doctor’s office: A reality TV star is ready to begin a new life after a quick divorce and Dr. Benson says my hand is fine – a little carpal tunnel, little tendonitis but nothing serious. Keep the wrist straight when you can, he said, give it some rest but play guitar all you want.

It was about two months ago that the ring finger of my left hand started seizing up — hurting like hell — when hitting certain bar chords. I’d hoped it was something weird that first night, but it still felt tentative and tender over the next few weeks of playing. Fish Frye, of course, made do. I dumbed-down those chords and on some nights just ruled out certain tunes (till next time, “New Wave Girl.”) Sometimes it wasn’t pain but numbness, either in the hand or up and down the entire arm. Sometimes it was absolutely fine.

So in an experiment with being preventative, I spent hours of web-based research that amounted to watching lots of Leo Kottke. Further research suggested I should just go see the doctor, who today took my hands and pushed, pulled, twisted, tapped, jabbed, turned and squeezed and concluded it isn’t a blood flow issue or anything novel. It is, in fact, common – a result of over-use. It’s irritation that’s not going to do any damage if I keep playing during painful stretches. It’s just going to piss off my nerves, he said.

Tonight I can play like a champ, painlessly. And this past weekend all went fine at a winery, two wedding parties and a trucking company party. So with a confident smile from the doc, I’m choosing not to worry about it. But can you really do that with something you love? Just not worry?

It’s hard to tell, it’s hard to tell.  Maybe the daylight hour gigs will be the suspenseful ones. And wouldn’t you know there’s one coming up this Sunday at Pub 500, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Oh, and do catch us Friday at 5 p.m. at the Wine Café.

Set break

Ann and I were walking down the golf club stairway after the first set Friday when a woman approached us from behind. Didn’t recognize her, but she was smiling in that way that said she needed to say something and it might involve hiring us.

“Excuse me,” she said. “You guys sound WONDERFUL.”

Thank you. Thanks a lot.

“Are you from around here?”

“Yeah, Mankato.”

“Wow. And how wide an area do you play?”

“Mostly around here. We did just get back from Madison. And this fall we’re doing a thing in Memphis. But mostly we play in this area.”

She was taking it all in.

Memphis. Really? That’s so neat. How long have you been playing together?”

“About five years.” We always check with each other on this question and usually go with five years. I think it’s been six, though.

“And a lot of what you do is your own material?”

“Yes. We’ll play lots of covers here, for instance, and put our own material in the mix.”

“Well. I just wanted to say it’s wonderful and you sound fantastic.”

“Thank you. Thanks a lot.”

“You’re so welcome,” she said. “Do you think you could turn it down a little?”

A refusal to sleep

Greetings from the Stoughton, WIs. Quality Inn. There’s a Denzel Washington movie on HBO, a pizza on one of the beds and a fridge full of Old Style that won’t be attacked as heavily as planned. Scott and Ann are next door and Wendy and I are enjoying the air con and HBO. I think we’re all tired, physically, but it’s tragic to think of actually sleeping. That would too closely mean we’re in the final stage of a road trip that yielded what we wanted to do as a band, which was to play the Crystal Corner in Madison again, the Fourth of July Milton beer tent again, have Kenn’s sound equipment savvy save my ass again and hang with my dad in Stoughton when it was all done. Again.

It’s been a great couple of days of agains. Makes sense — they’re what any band thrives on as much as anything. Doing it again. Coming back again. See you all again. Etcetera and repeat.

There were a few firsts, though, like the guy blissfully freaking out at the Crystal because damn it if he ever heard any band do “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder.” There was the first of having former high school and college bar-bandmates Matt Arnold and Tam Arnold show up and join us Saturday on “Surrender.”

It was a first to have in the audience Matt’s brother Jeff, the area’s reigning master guitarist (and a musical hero of mine since he brought his electric into Mrs. Fagan’s sixth grade class). I caught him singing along to Ann’s dose of “Bell Bottom Blues,” and all seemed pretty right with the world.


Jeff Arnold and Stacy, Matt’s fiancee.

It was a chance to catch up briefly with Mike Flaherty, my first Mankato roommate and a great songwriter himself, responsible for “Sold To Conoco,” the lyrics of which I submitted in place of my final exam in an Intro To Political Science class. Still wound up passing.


Mike once knew all the words to “Lonesome Cowboy Burt.” He had no choice.

There was also the first of getting impatient stares from the parents of little girls dressed in all sorts of Vegas showgirl duds, ready to stomp up a storm as part of the Milton Fourth of July Tap Dancing Squadron (my name, not theirs). Sometimes life puts you in a beer tent in Wisconsin playing for a large group of people who want you to finish so their daughters can hoof it to hot-new-country tunes. Sometimes life gets surreal. Behold:


There was a ribeye steak sandwich from St. Mary’s Parish booth, a couple of beers and the hope we can play next year, but maybe a little later in the day. Seriously, these girls were not amused.

Meanwhile, a new song has been hatched while here and should be performance ready by the time we play back home, again.

What a bar band plays when it’s not playing a bar, volume II


We had an enjoyable time performing at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater as the opening act for a triple bill that culminated with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra. It was one of those performances that seemed to last about three minutes. That happens often with this band, but Saturday’s event in particular felt way too fast for the hour that it was. The weather helped — the heat wasn’t holding everybody hostage and attendance was great straight from the beginning. It was nice to meet Ken Freed, the MSO director who along with Sara Buechmann seems to be keeping programming fresh and energetic for the Orchestra and its fans.

But back to Fish Frye. Our set included FF originals “Saigon Dance,” “Lie” and “Ford Bronco II (formerly “Let’s Drive.”) We covered Gram Parson’s “Grievous Angel” and “Sweep Out the Ashes” among the non-FF tunes, and ended with the feel-good bloodbath of “L.A. County.”

A highlight of the day had to be our idea of utilizing the rustic scenery for some cool promo shots, which Quiet Storm Productions Manager Mohammed Alsadig agreed to shoot. Hope you like the feel as much as we do.


We performed for an hour at the fundraiser for the Grand Kabaret. The only pictures I took were of a fender bender that happened when I went to park. The other party involved was one of the nicest people who’s car you’ll scrape. We swapped insurance stuff, called a cop and waited around for the report to get written. While waiting, this guy gave me a prayer pamphlet authored by Billy Graham. With an adult son who was very ill, he found the prayers in it to be very meaningful.

He told me he had been on his way to work. I told him the music we could both hear around the corner was where I was headed. He listened for a minute and said … “that’s an old Johnny Cash song.” I hadn’t been paying attention. I asked if he knew which song. “The one that ends “Never speak hard words to your true love or husband,” he said.

“Wreck of the Old 97!”

“Yeah,” he smiled. And we stood there in the sun. That song’s album, the San Quentin concert is great enough to make two men pause and take it all in on a hot Sunday sidewalk. And when the officer emerged from his car with  paperwork, implying that I may or may not be hearing from the City Attorney, this man wanted to make sure that I didn’t get in any trouble for this, that it was a complete accident.

We’re back in New Ulm Aug. 18. I’m sending this guy an invite and doing that song.

What a bar band plays when it’s not playing bars


We were asked by Lisa Coons to play the Solstice festival at Good Counsel Hill, an event the School Sisters of Notre Dame do annually to give props to the earth and the nature that unites us on the historical celebration of light triumphing over dark. Lisa and Ann had met earlier in the week to discuss the program and how Fish Frye would fit in. Wait, though. Did you see that first sentence about uniting us? I wouldn’t have talked like that a week ago. But this event has stuck around well after we said goodbye. And why not? Optimism, warmth, earth … it was all part of this gathering of a couple dozen people, many of whom we knew. Lisa and friends guided it beautifully. No politics, warnings, lessons or – double bonus points – hand-holding. It was truly a gathering for all. Anyway, as a veteran of Catholic mass sing-alongs and, in third grade, a fan of Lou Fortunate, it was a pleasure to put something together for use in a religious setting. Granted, it was just a refrain and about as complex as Twinkle Twinkle, but there it was. We entertained for a half hour or so, then in a a small “ceremony” Lisa would read, Ann would read, and then everybody sang the refrain: Deep Peace to All. And I found an unexpected shot of pride – I think we both did – being connected to the melody sung by the good sisters and the great people. I’ve since found myself using that line, that wish, deep peace to all, several times. Borrow it. You’ll be surprised how well it fits so many situations.


Fish Frye’s television debut was thwarted by the lack of a third studio microphone. We were to both join Mankato Symphony Orchestra director Sara Beuchman on the two-minute KEYC-TV mid-day interview show to promote Saturday’s “Rockin’ in the Park” ordeal. We arrived to be told there were only two microphones for guests. I don’t think I literally pushed Ann, but I did engage in some behind-her-back gesturing and finger pointing. She went on, did wonderfully and of course cringed afterward. But I ask you, who leaves a local TV news program with local TV lights and says “I think that went really well.” Somebody in a different band. Here’s how I saw it.

That night we played at the YWCA fundraiser at Chankaska Creek Winery in Kasota. Scenic place (and we’re there a few times in the upcoming year) We played before at least 100 people who were milling about, sharing bottles of wine and placing silent-auction bids. There was an issue with sound equipment that resulted in being short a mike stand, so for the first time since the very first time we played, Ann went hand-held with her microphone. As our promo materials say, we’re a band that draws lots from ‘70s era pop and damn if Ann didn’t work that mic like Cher stepping onto the CBS soundstage circa 1972 — swaying, nodding and owning the hour. To switch channels for a second, there was no looking at each other without realizing we were a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll and a whole bunch of being totally fine with it.