"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Ode to live music

By on October 25, 2020 in Arts with 0 Comments

Remembering a time before the music stopped

Chumlilies: From left, Adina Scott, Emily Keenan, Christina Winter and Molly Elder. Photo by Ariahna Jones

By Emily Keenan

Just last year, together with my bands, we sang amongst the beauty of the vineyards. We attended parties, weddings, grand openings and hippie festivals. We played alternative covers at church functions and sang gospel after hours at the bar. 

At times, we were showered with praise and once we were showered with grapes thrown by a mischievous little boy. 

We dressed up in costumes and closed out the night for a sweaty mass of ski bums. We have learned to protect our microphones from over-zealous fans and steer them toward the nearest karaoke. We have been gifted instruments by fans. 

We’ve played outside in the bitter cold with frozen fingers that quit working. I once played a six-hour long performance solo. The memories blend together into a whirlwind of nostalgia.

Knowing that concerts and live music are one of the last things to reopen, a lot of musicians have packed up and left town. 

We are getting by, exploring other options, but certainly missing music. 

Meanwhile there is some time to reflect on what we had — the music scene we enjoyed in our own backyard. Joni Mitchell is right: You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Leavenworth may not be on the map of top musical destinations in the country, and we have yet to produce any hit singles or Grammy winners (prove me wrong?), but we have a healthy musical community and for those of us who participate it is a joyful affair. 

Our people love music. We play on the porch, attend concerts, and support, hire and host musicians from around the world. We generally agree that live music is a necessity. 

In Leavenworth’s busiest season, a beer garden with live music has the competitive edge over a beer garden without. 

Pre-COVID, on a busy Saturday, there were often 10-15 options within walking distance of each other where you could find someone playing music. Jazz at the Alley Cafe, Bluegrass at the Brewery, Rock bands at Stein, and Electronic dance music leaking out into the streets from under the door of some underground hotspot.

When I first came here, I climbed onto an open mic stool in Cashmere and let some chords ring out to the small, mostly musician audience. 

I met people and started seeing them perform full sets in Leavenworth. I thought that if I worked my act up a little bit, maybe I could do that. 

I got my first “gig” at Der Hinterhof (RIP) when a musician friend double-booked himself and needed someone to cover. Soon I was playing at the Farmer’s Market, Eagle Creek Winery and Icicle Brewing Company. I said “yes” to everything. 

Like many hopes and dreams, when they start to materialize, they change. I decided what I wanted next, and that was collaboration.

Bluegrass music is built around jams where musicians play in a group, passing the lead in a circle and singing harmonies. 

At my very first jam I met Trevor Wire, a banjo player with really good posture. We started playing music together with a band named River Dog Shakedown. 

Now we are engaged, but that is a whole different story. 

There is a great community of bluegrass musicians and fans centered around Cashmere. We attended the Cashmere Community Concert Series and the Wenatchee River Bluegrass Festival. We met local instrumentalists, luthiers, and songwriters. 

There were musicians twice our age who stayed up twice as late picking out tunes and refusing to acknowledge the need for sleep. Were they cranky the next day? No. They did it all over again. 

Were they cranky on Monday? Probably!

A few years went by, our band grew and changed, and I took up playing bass guitar. This instrument felt powerful and connected me straight to the vibe of the song and the entire room. 

River Dog Shakedown: From left, John Meriwether on fiddle, Emily Keenan on guitar, Trevor Wire on banjo. Photo by Jessica Alderson

River Dog Shakedown had lots of sit-ins and rotating band members and my dream of collaboration was coming to life. 

We sat in with Sergio Cuevas, Sean “Rib” Horst, Seth Garrido and other local favorites. 

I wandered around town one night and came upon Christina Winter (guitar) and Molly Elder (banjo) playing a set together. Later that week I approached Molly, cool as a cucumber. “So, do you ladies’ need a bass player?” 

Along with Adina Scott on the violin, a brand new all-female band, Chumlilies, was created in February 2019. 

We had an incredible first year together. 

We had a weekly show at Yodelin, some very enthusiastic fans, and a lot of momentum. We developed each other’s original songs and have now finished recording an album that will be available soon on all of the major musical outlets (Spotify, iTunes, etc). Check out “Chumlilies!” 

We have been polishing up our River Dog Shakedown setlist this summer with a five-piece lineup including John Meriwether on the fiddle, Owen Wickenheiser on the drums and Aviathar “V” Pemberton on the keyboard. Our weekly practices have been a highlight of my socially distant summer. Check out “River Dog Shakedown” on facebook.

Now that we are through a whole summer of canceled music, the memories feel like a distant dream. 

Was I really that person who reached for what she wanted and grabbed life by the horns? Am I really so lucky to have friends like the Chumlilies? 

Will we be able to start where we left off? 

I think we will and I hope you will join us when the time is right.

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