Wilmington’s Denver and Murphy

dandm1I live about thirty miles from Wilmington, Ohio. It’s where my daughter lives as do some very close friends. The nearness of my own bed means there’s hardly ever a reason for me to spend the night there and the willingness of friends and family to put me up means there’s really no need to resort to commercial lodging in any case. In fact, when I first mentioned I that intended to spend a night at the General Denver Hotel, I was met with incredulity. Why would anyone, I was asked, want to stay in that old place when they could stay in a nice warm no-cost bed just a few blocks away? Fortunately, they know me well enough that there wasn’t a big fight when I explained that I wanted to stay there precisely because it was such an “old place”. I did realize, however, that the warmness of the available bed was stressed because my friend’s parents had once nearly frozen while staying at the GDH and that the temperature of my room would be a hot topic, so to speak.

dandm2I’ve mentioned the General Denver in this blog before. It’s where I’ve eaten, in addition to several other meals, my last four Thanksgiving dinners. I wrote of the one in 2011. It was built in 1928 by Matthew Denver who named it for his father, James Denver. James was born in Virginia and seems to have dropped off his parents, and eventually his own offspring, in Wilmington while he went out west to became the Governor of the Kansas Territory, a Civil War General, and enough other high profile things to warrant having the city of Denver, Colorado, named after him.

dandm4dandm3The General Denver Hotel was certainly a high toned place when it opened but it wasn’t alone. The ten year old Murphy Theater stood across the street and the nine year old courthouse was barely a block away. The courthouse and theater had cost $300,000 and $250,000 respectively. It was a pretty classy neighborhood and still is. All three buildings remain in use today. In fact, it was an event at the Murphy that allowed me to finally justify a night at the Denver on Saturday. Lisa Biales, who I’ve also mentioned in this blog, performed there as a New Lyceum Circuit artist.

The guy who the Murphy’s named after was a pretty high profile fellow too but he built the theater himself rather than waiting for the next generation to do it. Charles Murphy was born in Wilmington. He worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer and Times-Star newspapers and the New York Giants baseball team before becoming a team owner himself. The Chicago Cubs were his from 1906 through 1913. The Cubs have won exactly two World Series in their long history. Both — 1907 and 1908 — were on Murphy’s watch.

dandm5dandm6Matt and Jim and Chuck are still in town. I stopped by Sugar Grove Cemetery to see them before checking in to the hotel. There are large family markers — the Denvers have a truly impressive Washington Monument style obelisk — surrounded by smaller individual ones. Finding them took some luck in addition to the FindAGrave clues but I could now be a guide if the need ever arises.

dandm9dandm8dandm7Checking into the General Denver involved signing a real register. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve never signed one before but I certainly can’t remember ever doing it. My friend, John, met me in the bar and, although I did eat dinner there and had good intentions, lively conversation made me forget to take a picture. I did get a picture of breakfast. I had the Denver Bake which is simply a casserole version of a Denver omelet. It seemed super appropriate to eat, as I Tweeted at the time, a Denver omelet in the hotel named for the man that the city that the omelet was named after was named after. Both meals were good and the from-the-menu breakfast is included with the room. That elevator is the original with manual controls that must be operated by a trained professional (i.e., essentially any member of the hotel staff). I took a ride before I left and found it very smooth. Like most hotels more than a few years old, the The General Denver is reportedly haunted and I’ve mentioned the heating problems of the past. I saw neither ghosts nor frost during my stay and thought my room rather comfortable.

dandm10The bartender had suggested that, if the concert audience was small enough, it might be placed entirely on stage as had been recently done at another show. I didn’t give it much thought and John and I walked across the street as show time neared with me thinking we would simply take our reserved seats. The bartender’s prediction had indeed come true so our last minute arrival put us in the last rather than the first row. That was hardly a problem, though, as the last row on the stage put us at least as close to Lisa and violinist Doug Hamilton as the front row on the floor would have and the setting was clearly much more intimate. Lisa was just getting over a cold she had been fighting for several days but you would not have known that from her voice which was spot on. I think this was probably the first time I’ve seen just the two of them perform which may explain why Doug sang a bit more than I’m used to. Nice addition. Of course, both handled their instruments masterfully and the duo delivered two great sounding sets separated by a short break. Anyone with even slightly sharp eyes may have noticed that Lisa Biales is not listed on the marquee in my picture of the theater. That’s because I didn’t get around to taking the picture until Sunday morning after the sign had been changed. However, her name can be seen on an enlarged section of the photo at the beginning of this article.

Parisians at Play

Ricky Nye and the Paris Blues BandThough far removed from their natural habitat, these Parisians appear to be well acclimated and enjoying themselves. And so is everybody else. Local boogie woogie master Ricky Nye makes at least one trip to France each year and, for the last three years, these fellows have been returning the favor. Using the name Ricky Nye and the Paris Blues Band, they do a few shows in and around Cincinnati and I’ve managed to catch one of them on each of the visits. The first two years, it was at Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, where they performed Friday night. This year I missed the Rabbit Hash show but saw the group on Saturday at the Big Song Music House. This is the remarkable venue that Marc & Lisa Biales have created near Oxford, Ohio, and which I visited for the first time just about a month ago.

Paris Blues BandThe Paris Blues Band, which doesn’t really exist without Ricky, consists of Simon Boyer on drums, Thibaut Chopin on bass, and Anthony Stelmaszack on guitar. Chopin and Stelmaszack both sing and, as you can see, both play harmonica. Ever hear twin harmonica powered locomotives steam across a stage? Killer!


Paris Blues Band with Lisa Biales and Doug HamiltonThe excellent Ville Du Bois, recorded in Paris, is the group’s only studio offering to date. (Wrong! See note below.)
I apologize for being unfamiliar with a collection of live recordings that is also available. They are doing quite a bit of recording while in the States and that includes some with Biales. The songs they recorded together were used as openers for both sets and violinist Doug Hamilton even joined in for a couple of tunes. There will definitely be a new Ricky Nye and the Paris Blues Band studio CD available before too long and I’m sure those tracks with Lisa will appear somewhere somehow someday.

Simon BoyerThibaut ChopinAnthony Stelmaszack




Ricky NyeIt’s a good thing when Ricky pushes himself back from the piano in a move that looks a little like something Jerry Lee Lewis might do. It’s an unintentional signal that some extra hot keyboard action is about to take place and it’s kind of rare. Maybe it was the band or maybe it was the acoustic (rather than electronic) piano but there were three or four of those moments tonight and one that ended with Ricky standing as he joyously worked the keys. Fortunately for those seated just a few feet away, he stopped short of sending the bench sailing as Jerry Lee often does. There’s a little better view of the 1930ish Wurlitzer Butterfly Baby Grand here.

Paris Blues BandI left my camera in the car until intermission so all of the preceding pictures are from the second set. But it was during the first set that Lisa surprised everyone, including Thibaut, by filling in on bass while he played harmonica. In another “If you want a picture really bad, I’ve got a really bad picture” moment, I tried capturing that with my phone.

CORRECTION: I somehow missed a second studio CD but Ricky very politely filled me in. The CD is here and the cover actually looks familiar though some track samples don’t. It shows up at CDBaby with a search for Paris Blues Band though not with a search for Ricky Nye. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it but I’m still sorry and embarrassed.

Big Music in Small Places

Lisa Biales at MontageIt was double good news when I learned that Ronstadt Generations would be performing nearby. Not only was it a chance to see the talented guys from Tuscon, it was a chance to see a venue I’d only heard — and only heard good things — about. Then, when I began to make arrangements to attend,
I discovered that there was another show happening a couple of nights earlier that I was also interested in.

The Ronstadt Generations performance would be a “house concert” on a Saturday at the home of Marc & Lisa Biales. Lisa would be the opener and would almost certainly be joining RG for a few tunes. When I looked at Lisa’s online schedule, I spotted Greenville, Ohio, listed for the preceding Thursday. Greenville!?!? That’s the big city in my home county. I’m there every couple of weeks. This was big news. I have lots of family there and contacted an aunt who I knew would like Lisa’s music. We made plans to attend and my step-mother surprised me just a little by agreeing to go, too. We got there early and ate some rather tasty sandwiches as we watched a sound check and the arrival of other attendees. My aunt has been to several performances at Montage and told us that the acoustics weren’t great and that the place could get pretty noisy. Lisa and friends proceeded to prove her wrong for at least one night.

The music held everyone’s attention and everyone held their tongues. A friend who stopped by our table during intermission commented, “That’s a lot of talent to have in Greenville at one time.” The cellphone picture that leads off the post is from that show. Besides fulfilling the claim that “If you want a picture really bad, I’ve got a really bad picture”, it gives a little idea of the intimate setting and you can see all the players if you squint just right. From the left there’s the Lisa Biales Trio: Doug Hamilton, Lisa, and Michael G Ronstadt. Surprise bonus guests are on the right. The other two RG members, Petie and Michael J, (who Lisa settled on referring to as Poppa Ronstadt) came along and sat in for a few songs. A wonderfully unique and unforgettable evening.

The show was part of the Darke County Center for the Arts Coffee House Series. Although this was my first time at Montage, I have attended and enjoyed other DCCA events (e.g., Eric Bibb, Riders in the Sky). They do good stuff.

Big Song Music HouseThis is Marc & Lisa’s Big Song Music House. In quiet times, the curved array of tall windows on the left provides a relaxing view of the Oxford, Ohio, countryside. Close the big curtain, however, and the view is replaced by the perfect backdrop for performing musicians. Lisa talks glowingly of the land on which the house sits. There are trails, small critters, and two Lovers Leaps (both regular and “Luke-Warm”). I hope to see some of that on a future visit.

Lisa Biales & Michael G RonstadtLisa BialesLisa stepped to the mic at almost exactly 8:00 to get things rolling. One member of the Lisa Biales Trio, Doug Hamilton, was missing tonight so Lisa and Michael G Ronstadt just delivered a great set as a duo. Knowing Lisa would return now and then to sing with the Ronstadts made letting her go after just three songs at least acceptable.

Ronstadt GenerationsThe music was barely paused as Ronstadt Generations took the stage. Not only does Michael G get to sit while everyone else stands (a major cello plus he likes to point out) but he often gets to sit while groups of musicians form around him. Oddly enough, this was the first time I’d seen the official Ronstadt Generations live and in person. I did see them in 2010 but without Michael G. Of course, musicians of this caliber make great music whether they’re in their “official” grouping or not.

Lisa Biales & Ronstadt GenerationsRonstadt GenerationsSure, there was some overlap between Saturday’s show and what
I heard on Thursday but there were plenty of differences, too. Thursday was Lisa’s gig and the Ronstadts, other than Michael G, were featured guests. The situation was basically reversed on Saturday. But the guests got ample stage time in both concerts. The picture with all four musicians was chosen to give some hint of how much fun the performers were having and of how intimate the setting was. The heads in the front row (where I sat, on the right, for the first half of the evening) show that the audience gets quite close but the room, though fairly full, never felt crowded.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite. Lisa Biales with special guests Ronstadt Generations or Ronstadt Generations with special guest Lisa Biales. Thank goodness those two lineups will never be playing across town from each other on the same night.

Gary Sugarman at Essencha Tea HouseThis is Gary Sugarman, a neighbor of mine who likes to play guitar and sing. A few years ago, he hooked up with a couple of friends who liked doing that, too, and they had a good time playing and singing and occasionally entertaining small groups. Things changed a little when they added a drummer but they were still having fun. Next came a bassist and that “we’re a band” moment. It was still fun but not quite as much and the fun was sometimes offset with something that felt a little like work. Gary is still part of that band, the Creekyknees, but decided to try performing solo for the first time. He’s approaching it cautiously and debuted today in the small Essencha Tea House. It holds about twenty and was seeded by a half dozen friends. I made it for his second set and liked what I heard. So did his other friends plus some ten or so people who didn’t know him at all. Will Gary be soloing more in the future? Don’t know. Did he have fun? Absolutely.