Monday, August 9, 2010
I've been wandering about the country and world for awhile now and have met quite a few people. Some are friendly, some are scary, some are vastly more useful than others when your car breaks down...some are infinitely useless for any reason at all. I'm sure these people categorize me as well... God knows where.
Few people that I've met have been astonishingly kind, humble, and giving, but I have met some of them and take great pride in my acquaintances of great human qualities.
When I got an email from an Italian Restaurant in Oelwein, IA I wasn't sure at all what kind of people I would meet, but the offer was good, the timing was right and I'm always game for an adventure...so...
After a few very professional emails that both worked out the details and eased my mind that the business was a well-kept one I put the show out of my mind until time to leave.
Arriving in Oelwein, IA is a kind of experience that few people have learned or remember to treasure, but it was like opening up a page of American History for me and I immediately was thrilled to be there. The town is what's left of a Hub City boom town that once hosted music up and down every street and in cornfields to entertain 1000's of steelworkers and travelers any given night...with tracks spoking their way to the rail yard, a gas-light main st, remnants of theaters and saloons everywhere (which is an image I dearly love). The downtown area is filled with interesting little shops and restaurants and the community spills out of those streets into rural farm life. Unfortunately, the first smell I found was smoke in the air as the previous nights fire was coming to a close...the downtown antique store was now gone.
Into the bar. I'm playing at Leo's Italian Restaurant in the upstairs Lounge which is called 'Generations'. Through the door into the main restaurant area I find the room FULL...not a place to sit in the house. I was directed to the elevator to go up to the lounge but decided to go have one more smoke before going up (you know...what if it's hours before I get to or something). Outside 3 large groups of people are chatting about the coincidence that they're all there...again. I'm seeing signs.
I went back in, hit the magic 'up' button and was off. It was an awfully slow ride, although the vator seemed top of the line, clean etc. Bout a 90 second trip to the second floor...door opens...BAM! This place is pretty slick, nice floors, nice bar, hints of a good PA system, lots of staff on hand...I'm feeling good about this...but we'll see.
To the bar! Let's see what this place is about. The coolers behind the bartenders are FULL of choices, lotsa imports, lotsa local micro's, lotsa options...I like. The bar manager (or at least the lady who gave me the impression she was) greeted me as a patron, asked if I'd like a menu and a drink, which I accepted. After a short conversation she figured out I was 'the musician' which changed everything. She said very quickly, as she snatched up my menu..."you can't eat yet!"
"I can't eat yet???" I'm confused. She laughed and said the owners wanted to come down and eat with me. OK... within 10 minutes (probably 5), a sharp-dressed pair matching the photographs of the owners on the wall appeared from the door to the back deck area. They were all smiles and headed my way, but were greeted by everyone in their path so it took a minute to get us together. The greet. The small talk. We're headed downstairs because Mike Leo insists I get a good taste of his cooking and the bar has an abridged menu. Off we go!
Downstairs, I had one of the finest meals of my life in unbelievably good company. Mike and Laurie are music lovers, family people, smart business-folk, aggressive in their efforts to provide incredible service and damn charismatic. It was impossible not to be impressed. They greeted everyone who came in the room, everyone seemed to want to hug them...I was beginning to want to hug them. What's with these people?? LOL
Time to play. Mike called in the guy who set up the house PA to make sure I had all the help I needed (1 guitar, 1 mic, but he's being sure)...turns out it was a good idea, I thought I'd never find that one gain button. The room filled up, the lights came down, and a hundred or so people gave me the warmest reception a performer can receive. Nothing could have gone better. I don't know what else to say about that part. Great crowd, great room, hosts are in control of the atmosphere. Fantastic appreciation filled the air, they paid and tipped well, bought CD's, laughed at my bad jokes. GREAT!!
Show's over..."where are you staying, Jefferson?". He actually asked me earlier but I'm blogging...not writing a book...
"I don't know yet, Mike". "You're staying with us!" "deal"
Off to the Leo house! These two people, along with their son and daughter-in-law whisked me away to the homestead, so I didn't have to drive, got me settled into a nice spare room, fed me enormous amounts of alcohol (no, that was my fault), Mike and I stayed up most of the night exchanging family history, dog stories and telling each other jokes. It was a fun and fabulous night.
I woke up, had a cup of coffee, (threw up in Lauries bathroom), visited with everyone awhile, then headed off to the rest of the road trip (which was not nearly as much fun).
I've done the show at Leo's once more with the same incredible hospitality and a furthering of my belief that these people are more than good business-folk, they're not putting on an act...they are full of charity for others, supportive of everyone around them, eager to serve people, make the world a better place and a TON OF FUN!
Leo's Italian Restaurant, Mike, Laurie and Nick Leo, their staff and the town of Oelwein IA. These people and this tiny town have won my heart and moved into the #1 slot on the 'Jefferson Fox's favorite places to play' list. (they bumped Flatiron in Hot Springs, SD to #2, if you must know)
Thank you Mike, Laurie, Nick, Clay, Bruce, Gary and everyone else who have been so welcoming in Oelwein. I hope to see you soon!