Hot Music in a Cold Month

TravelingSuitcaseBy George Halas

After New Years’ fireworks fade into memory, there will be musical fireworks in the Fox Cities throughout the month of January.

It will be a big month for one of the hottest bands in the area, The Traveling Suitcase. Fresh off breakout performances at last summer’s Mile of Music, the trio led by singer/songwriter/drummer Nicole Rae, featuring Brandon Comer playing bass and keyboards and guitarist Bill Grassley, will release their first album, Nobody Wins, on January 5. A tour that includes stops in Chicago, Indianapolis and Michigan will culminate with an appearance at The Algoma Club in Oshkosh.

“We worked very hard on the album,” Rae said. “Everyone in the band, on our team and engineer Marc Golde are all very excited.”

In addition to attracting legions of new fans every time they play, The Traveling Suitcase has earned the respect and admiration of many of their peers as well.

“Nicole is one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met and it’s about more than just music,” said Michael Underwood, drummer for The Jazz Orgy, Sly Joe and The Smooth Operators and Greg Waters and the Broad Street Boogie. “I think she had a major life transition when she first sat at a drum kit––not only is she a killer singer, songwriter and guitarist, she is a ridiculous drummer.

“Sitting at a drum kit gave her a new way to express her passion, and it took her voice to another level,” he continued. “She has an awesome band supporting her and I think they are going to do very well.”

“Her songs are as good as any indie rock out there, and they are even more passionate than many of the songs that have already made it,” he added. “I am looking forward to what they are going to do next––I think it’s going to be big––and they are all such nice people; nobody deserves success more than they do.”

Jazz vocalist and American Indian advocate Gwen Carr will host a musical and spoken word tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. anchored by The Jazz Orgy and featuring several special guests on January 19t at the First Congregational Church in Oshkosh, beginning at 6:30 PM.

Citing the release of the biographical pic Selma as yet another example of the increasing attention being paid to King’s legacy, Carr is convinced that “the dream still lives. We dropped it somewhere along the way and we need to pick it up again. This will be a tribute to the ability of people to survive and thrive as well as an affirmation of the fundamental principles of social justice.”

“Dr. King’s message of peaceful change,” she added, “is more important today than it was sixty years ago. We are at a pivotal point in our history.”

Carr, who worked on social justice issues as a member of the Clinton White House, was the first American Indian to be named political director of a major political party and the first to head a state political party. In addition to performing relevant, poignant songs like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and “Abraham, Martin and John,” she will include first-person narratives about her experiences with civil rights leaders and social justice issues.

Since before the beginning, one of the primary missions of The Inquisition has been to alert loyal Inquisitors to the greatest values in live music and the venues that showcase the artists and performers.

While many may believe that “greatest value” translates directly as “no cover,” The Inquisition has also observed situations in which money can be exchanged for things of great value and theorizes that the $29 general admission and/or the $39 reserved seat price to see/hear Vic Ferrari Symphony on The Rocks at Waverly Beach on January 22, 23, and 24 is arguably the greatest entertainment value around.

What The Inquisition insists is the best live music in Wisconsin emanates from the combination of the Vic Ferrari Band with The Fox Valley Symphony. What separates VFSOR from the pretenders are the genius-level orchestral arrangements written from scratch for each instrument by Vic Ferrari keyboardist Aaron Zinsmeister. The set list, which typically includes iconic rockers like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” Bill Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” “Here Comes The Sun” by The Beatles, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who and the six-part harmonies of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will be expanded with five new Zinsmeister arrangements.

Debuting as part of the VFSOR repertoire in January will be Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” “Africa” by Toto, “Carry On” by Fun, “Take On Me” by Aha and “Make Me Smile” by Chicago, which will open the show.

The Fox Valley Symphony includes some of the best musicians in the area, having tons of fun.

“I’m very happy with the consistency of the musicians,” said Vic Ferrari singer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Bailey, “and their meanness, their aggressiveness. They really want to bite into it, and when they play, they want your hair to start on fire.”

“The show is fun visually and the production is second to none,” he added. “It’s the one week of the year when we get to play with all of our toys.”

In addition to the music, a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales, raffles and silent auctions goes to support the Menasha Rotary and its work to improve the way of life in the community through fine arts programs, parks and the Neenah-Menasha Dive Team.

“I think their work is very important,” Bailey said. “I’m a big supporter.”

The Inquisition strongly recommends getting tickets as soon as possible; the Friday and Saturday shows typically sell out long before show time. It will be an even tougher ticket in the future as VFSOR gains national and international notoriety. Paula Brusky, Ph.D., was recently added to bolster marketing and business development.

“What I’m really happy about is that we have had offers from many theaters around the country as well as an offer to do 20 shows in China and one in Hawaii,” Bailey said. “It’s fun to bring music to places you never thought you’d play.”

Well, they are playing Menasha…

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