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  Snippets for the Soul   

by Kevin Robinson

Pictures by Ellie Apuzzo & Mary Martin

Tom Pacheco Les Sampou
Murali Coryell
Stephanie Fix Rebecca Riots
Caffe Aurora
145 Mill Street, Poughkeepsie 845-454-1900
Downtown Tavern
6 King St., Middletown 845-343-1386
Bodles Opera House
39 Main St, Chester 845-469-4595

I've been busy lately, launching two different business projects. There were days when I was trying to do so many things at once I thought my poor pea-sized brain might explode. Every time I put one fire out, three more sprang up. Commercials on television and in the print media are forever playing on that hectic place many of us often find ourselves in by suggesting that we make it all better by getting away to Jamaica or Disney World or (depending on your age) the Discovery Zone. We deserve it, they tell us. Who more? Well, if your bank account looks like mine, they'll be ice skating in Jamaica long before we get to enjoy that kind of R&R.

But tending to one's soul is a life and death matter. We faithfully fuel the body so as to coax it through another day, but we often neglect our souls, that inner place of fire and light where the linear and the logical give way to the free form and the abstraction. We do not "see" beauty with our mind's eye. We experience it with our hearts and our souls. So, no matter how frantic Life, the Universe, and Everything gets (In fact, the more frantic Life, the Universe, and Everything gets!), the more often I get away to the places where my soul can kick back and get right. And, best of all, these places have two important things in common: They are very affordable. . .and they feature live music.

Stephanie Fix
One of those places is the Caffe Aurora in Poughkeepsie. The suggested "donation" is five dollars, the staff is friendly, the coffee is wonderful, and there are so many kinds of pastry, you'll need ten minutes just to give the display counters a decent once-over. But mostly, I go for the music. At a resent show I enjoyed a local entertainer, Stefanie Fix, and a California trio called Rebecca Riots. Fix is driven. That's the word that comes to mind every time I see her perform. She has power as a writer and a performer, and she wields it with little or no restraint. There is no beating around the bush with Stefanie Fix, and in an original song like "Bitter Fool," the sharpness and the clarity of her message is driven deep inside you by the sheer force and determination of her delivery.

Rebecca Riots: Eve Decker, Andrea Prichett, & Lisa Zeiler
(photo by William Mercer McLeod
Rebecca Riots was on a cross country tour, and catching them live was a rare treat. Andrea Prichett, Eve Decker, and Lisa Zeiler can flat-out sing. There are moments when their dynamic harmonies remind me of The Roaches, or even The Bobs, but their range surpasses both of those more widely recognized groups. Rebecca Riots doesn't have "a sound." They have the ability to create whatever sound is most appropriate to the song at hand. All three members of the group are songwriters, and all three alto voices are quite capable of stopping you dead in your tracks. The group hails from Berkeley, CA; and, as one might expect, these three women are not shy about tackling the issues head on. Their name comes from a historical uprising in South Wales in 1843, another occasion when determined women's voices made a difference.

There are many fine singer/songwriters around the greater Hudson Valley. Maybe too many. I used to complain that at most blues jams in Kansas City there were so many harp players that you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting one. It might be like that here with singer/songwriters. An embarrassment of riches. One of the unfortunate consequences of having so much of anything is that we can become jaded and complacent. When that happens, it's easy to miss something special, something right under our nose.

Les Sampou
Case in point. Bodles Opera House in Chester is another place I like to go to hear live music. Bodles has been experiencing something of a metamorphosis in recent years, and there's more good musical news on the horizon. On Friday night, February 5th, two amazing singer/songwriters graced the stage; but, unfortunately, there were far too few of us there to enjoy them. The first was Les Sampou. This fiery performer and Rounder Records (Flying Fish) recording artist combines guitar licks and song lyrics in a way that grabbed this listener from the first note. There is a wonderful Kathy Mattea quality about Sampou's performance, a not-so- subtle blues influence that runs through much of her music.

There is also a wonderful maturity in this young woman's demeanor that bespeaks just how seriously she takes her music. Many (Make that far too many!) female singer/songwriters are watching far too much VH-1 and/or MTV. They see Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, and a host of other current female stars shouting "Hey! Look at my body!" in voices that drown out most of anything their music might be trying to say. The message for up-and-coming females is "sex sells," and so many aspiring performers not only dress inappropriately, but act inappropriately as well, displaying an almost prancing cuteness that seems to say "My music isn't all that important, but see how sexy I am!" Les Sampou doesn't flirt with the audience. She takes the stage, makes her audience comfortable, and then lets her music tell them everything they need to know. And her music is definitely good food for the weary soul.

Tom Pacheco
Okay, now I'm going out on a limb. And I don't do so lightly. There are a handful of songwriters who, for me, stand head and shoulders above the crowd. I am awed by the depth of their gift. They form a class of their own. Bob Dyan, Tom Paxton, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Randy Newman; each, for various reasons, are influences that have impacted our souls in more ways than we know. And there is a songwriter right here in the greater Hudson Valley who, in my humble opinion, ranks right up there with these icons. His songs--nearly all of them--are marked by the kind of power and clarity that set the above writers apart. His name is Tom Pacheco, he lives in Woodstock, he is a Mercury Records recording artist, and he is nothing short of remarkable.

Ellie nailed it as we sat, spent, after Pacheco's last thundering encore to a half-empty house at Bodles. "Anyone who thinks they are, or thinks they want to be, a songwriter," she whispered in my ear, "should have been here tonight." Words like poignant come to mind. And vision. And poet. Like Dylan and Simon, it is the power of Tom Pacheco's poetry that astounds me. There are no head games. He uses words, not to impress us with his command of language skills that might surpass our ability to keep up, but to communicate, precisely, the magic of his vision . . . in a way we cannot help but understand. Another local songwriter dressed me down recently for not fully appreciating the deep sophistication of his songs; the meanings of which, by his own admission, only become apparent after several hearings. I call that being obscure. There is a certain ego-boosting arrogance about being "too hip for the room," but Pacheco has none of it. He is a storyteller of the highest order. He neither played for nor with himself. He gave 100% of himself to his listeners, and as I watched the sweat pour down his somewhat Rasputin-esque face, I couldn't help wondering whether blood, sweat, and tears were the very literal price Tom Pacheco pays to do what he does so well.

Another place I've been feeding my soul lately is the Downtown Tavern in Middletown. Hidden away on King Street, about a half a block from the Police station, the Downtown is, plain and simple, a working class neighborhood bar. It's the real Cheers, if you will, a place where at least almost everybody knows your name. Jim Garvey is a friendly guy who serves up hot wings, nachos, or beer to the customers in his joint just as if we were all over at his house watching the Super Bowl. I don't like beer, and I'm old enough that either hot wings or nachos, no matter how delicious, is not the smartest choice for me at midnight. But nothing hereabouts feeds my soul quite like the Downtown Tavern, late on a Thursday night.

Murali Coryell, Eric Winter
I used to spend Thursday and Sunday nights hanging out at B.B.'s Lawnside Barbeque when I lived in Kansas City. Thursday was a blues jam hosted by John Paul Drum, and Sunday night was a regular gig with the Lonnie Ray Blues Band. I broke my neck a quarter of a century ago now, and people still ask me how difficult it was adjusting to life in a wheelchair. "Easy," I always tell them, "compared to selling my guitars and leaving music behind." I lost part of my soul, and only found my way back to it five or six years ago after watching John Paul Drum play the blues harp. At John Paul's jam, at one time or another, I got to sit in with most of the best blues musicians in Kansas City. At a real blues jam, people come and go on stage, and at times there might be eight or nine musicians trading licks at once. When the chemistry's right, a song might last half an hour, and nobody in the house want's it to end.

There's nothing quite like that here in the Hudson Valley, but a Thursday night at the Downtown comes the closest. Slam Allen hosted the blues jam last year, and Murali Coryell is hosting it now. Both these local bluesmen are sweet singers and accomplished guitar slingers. Also, they're both good people. Bill Perry and his rock steady sideman, Dean Scala stop by often, as does saxman, Rich Maraday, trumpet player, Mike Chido, drummer, Ernie Cordero, and blues singer, Dallas Fisher. For a three dollar cover, patrons get to hear an amazing selection of area talent, and one frazzled gimp gets to dust off his blues harps, forget about all the hassles of real life, and just let his beat up old soul fly free.

Kevin Robinson is a freelance writer/photographer, and the author of three "Stick Foster" hardback mystery novels. A former syndicated columnist for the Detroit Free Press, his byline has appeared over 100 times in national and regional periodicals. Kevin is a partner at No Bull Productions, and his PR credits include promotion and booking work for several of Kansas City's top blues bands. Kevin can be reached at Ellie Apuzzo owns and operates Ellie's Consider It Done. She provides "on-site oversight for absentee owners" here in the Florida Keys; and so far, this lifelong New Yorker just can't seem to get into "Keys time!" Ellie can be reached at

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