Real-Phonic Radio Hour welcomes Amanda Shires for first anniversary show
Amanda Shires performs tonight as part of the Real-Phonic radio hour.
"Erik told me it would never succeed, and so I bet him twenty bucks that it would," asserts a somewhat facetious Thom Middlebrook from a carseat-turned-couch in the practice space of illustrious Erik Koskinen and Molly Maher bands. The "it" he is speaking of is the Real-Phonic Radio Hour, a live monthly production that is held in the historic James J. Hill Library in downtown St. Paul. "I was called a jackass at one point. I didn't really care, I just wanted to get the twenty bucks."
Today, on the one-year anniversary of the show, it would appear that success is relative when you're doing what you love. Since the series began in November 2011, Middlebrook -- the show's creator and host -- has seen it expand and take roots in the music community in ways that, perhaps in another parts of the country, would have taken years.
Real-Phonic Radio Hour -- which Middlebrook admits its neither on the radio nor an hour long -- is formatted in the tradition of a variety show performance. There is some music from the Real-Phonic House Band (Erik Koskinen, Molly Maher, Paul Bergen, and Frankie Lee), poetry and words from the Real-Phonic Poet Laureate Julia Klatt Singer, sets from featured guests (who have included Bo Ramsey, Charlie Parr, and Pieta Brown), and a few quips from the ambrosial Middlebrook.
"I grew up with this show called Midwestern Hayride out of Cincinnati, and it was when Willie Nelson was young and Dolly Parton and all these people, and it just kind of extended. It was like the Grand Ole Opry to me," says Middlebrook of the show's influencers. "That's kind of what we were trying to get to, that kind of vibe of the Opry and Midwestern Hayride, and I love that every month there is a cast of musicians that you can turn a quarter-turn and you've got a whole new band."
Ultimately, the Real-Phonic Radio Hour ends up being a lot more than your average night of folk music. The show represents a renewed dedication to craftsmanship, the kind of thing you won't find wandering into a random bar. It's a place where artists are absolutely in the spotlight, in the company of people that are as much there for the music as they are for the experience of hearing it.
For their anniversary show, the Real-Phonic Radio Hour welcomes Texas Music Monthly's Artist of the Year Amanda Shires, a violinist and vocalist who has played with artists from Devotchka to Justin Townes Earle. Local country darlings the Cactus Blossoms will also be featured, as will local author Dana Thompson, who will be reading an excerpt from her upcoming book. Even Mayor Coleman of St. Paul will be there to kick off the evening. Not a bad lineup: Middlebrook and company have managed to tap into the kitsch of an old-fashioned radio performance without exploiting the tradition, and they do this with a no-frills focus on artistry.
"It's about the band we've got and the people that we're inviting. I think every show we've had, we've had great musicians showing up, and music that I don't think you can get anywhere in town at a venue that is the best thing going," says Middlebrook easily. "It's more than a concert."
"It's not a bar show, it's a performance," emphasizes Bergen quietly, between drags from his cigarette. "You've got twenty minutes or you've got forty minutes, and no one is going to mess around. Everybody's watching, no one is drinking and talking. It's about the music."
It's pure magic, really, that moment when you realize that what the musicians want to do is exactly what music fans have been wanting to hear all along. Real-Phonic audiences span generations and zip codes, and while part of it is owed to the masterful music of Koskinen and Maher, the larger truth is that listeners crave authenticity -- and there is no better group of musicians to deliver on that front.
Join the Real-Phonic Radio Hour for their first anniversary show at the historic James J. Hill Library tonight, November 15. Special musical guests include Amanda Shires (Texas Music Monthly's Artist Of The Year) and the Cactus Blossoms, and local author Dana Thompson. Mayor Coleman of St. Paul will kick the evening off with a special introduction.
Doors are at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. $20. Tickets here.
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