Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Plein Air Painters and Ayla the Mermaid Take Sol Fest Over the Top

Last week I did my best to encourage you to join us in Carlton for Sol Fest at the Oldenburg House and now it seems a follow up is in order, along with photos worth a few thousand words.

The setting, as I noted previously, was spectacular, the weather cooperating with enthusiasm. And the performers, as anticipated, were not only determined to make Sol Fest a spectacle, they were accompanied by some wonderful embellishments. I refer here to the plein air painters and Ayla the Mermaid.

Glenn Swanson, who assembled the high caliber talent, asked if I would add something to the event by painting live there. I declined, choosing instead to contact another whose live painter  who could bring much more to the event than I and none were disappointed.

Ken Marunowski
Plein air is French for "in open air." Think French Impressionism. This school of art is such that there are national organizations devoted to its expression, and national competitions dedicated to its preservation. Lee Englund, a retired art teacher who relishes his retirement, has won at least one if not more of these competitions.

I first met Englund while he was showing wares and painting at a tattoo convention a couple years back. I'd been invited there to do live painting along with several others while the Fractals played. When I broke from my "dance of color" I circled around and saw that Englund had a table showing his works and simultaneously captured the scene in a series of small canvases. In fact, this coming Thursday his work will be one of three art openings the Duluth Art Institute, which I do hope you'll attend if you live in the region.

So, I contacted Lee and he liked the idea so much that he brought along three others: Bob Luedtke, Diane Lewis and Ken Marunowski. And what a delightful addition it proved to be.

As noted, the talent was stellar. Local performer James Moors from Superior kicked it off with "I Used To Run Around" follwed by "Leaving for Cove" and several more songs from an engaging set. Larry Long followed, accompanied by Jason DeLaire on sax, Jack Gunderson, Billy Peterson on bass, an assortment of others and Pippi Ardennia. I was inside the living room as Larry ran through the chord structures with pianist Peter Schimke, Pippi singing in the dining room while making posters for the entrances.

Let's get real for a minute. The talent Glenn Swanson pulled together for this event was beyond phenomenal. Here's a short list of the musicians Sol Fest's musicians have performed or recorded with: Donny Osmond, Michael Bolton, Prince, Alexander O’Neal, Richard Marx, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Anita Baker, James Taylor, Mavis Staples, Joe Sample, Sting, Sergio Mendes, Brian Wilson, Ben Sidran, Rodger Waters, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Phil Upchurch, Jimmy Buffet, Fine Young Cannibals, Steve Miller Band, GoGos, Paula Abdul, Boz Scaggs, Dave Koz, Lalah Hathaway, Sheryl Crow, Jonathon Butler, Bruce Willis, The Jets, Jermaine Jackson, Rhythm Syndicate, Chaka Khan, Robben Ford, Howard Hewett, Benny Carter, Mose Allison, Dave Leibman, Dewey Redman, Lew Tabakin, Slyde Hampton, Clark Terry, Larry Graham, Tuck & Patti and John Mayer. For a Northland event it was equal to none.

Let me add Bob Dylan to this list. Billy Peterson modestly excludes this one from his accolades, but Peterson was there in the studio playing bass as Bob Dylan recorded Blood on the Tracks, an album sometimes cited as Dylan's best. (I quibble because there are so many, but it's definitely in the short list.) Billy had nothing but the highest regard for Dylan's manner and sensitivity to the other artists in the studio. I spoke with him briefly about the experience and he shared several anecdotes. One of the many favs from this album is "Lily, Rosemarie and the Jack of Hearts." Peterson described how it was recorded in one take, no paper in the studio with notes or lyrics for Bob and team, just a straight up "go for it" swipe. Dylan's instructions: "Just keep playing. This song is longer than you think." You can grab Peterson's bass on the icebreaking "Idiot Wind" from side one as well.

How did Swanson put together an event like this? He's got a big heart. From hanging about it was evident these were friends, and friends do what they can to rally around friends. Did I forget to mention Sheila Raye, daughter of Ray Charles? Her gospel interlude, accompanied by Jason Croft, came straight from the heart.

Then there were those special accents you won't find anywhere else. Where do you get to hear a grand piano on an outcropping of bedrock? And how often can you strike up a conversation with a live mermaid, a friendly one at that?

A few days have past, and we're all back at our jobs... but this little exposure to heaven on earth was worth much for all who shared in it. A big thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.


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