Earth Day Celebration: A Little Closer to the Earth

Sonia Emmons

The Earth was feeling rather disagreeable this Earth Day. Saturday’s temperature was chilly and the wind was blowing like it was rehearsing the lead role in “Twister.”
But a little bad weather didn’t stop the scheduled music from being played and enjoyed by a crowd of Earth-lovin’ Lawrentians. Rather than taking over Main Hall green and the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden, as is the Earth Day tradition, musicians jammed in the Underground Coffeehouse.
Greenfire member Irina Nedelcu-Erickson, smiling and sporting face-paint cat whiskers, observed that the celebration was actually closer to the Earth than in years past, seeing as it took place “underground.”
Among the Lawrence musicians to take the coffeehouse stage was the jazz combo Paul Dietrich and the Earth, comprised of five talented Conservatory students.
They played a number of tunes that set the mood for what was intended to be a celebration of the Earth, despite its lack of cooperation on that day.
The jazz combo’s upbeat rendering of “In a Sentimental Funk,” a funky version of the classic jazz standard “In a Sentimental Mood,” had feet tapping and heads bobbing around the room.
Nick Anderson, Paul Dietrich and the Earth’s bass player, observed some differences between playing outside and playing underground.
“The coffeehouse provides a much more intimate setting than playing outside does. We had completely different expectations than for an outdoor performance, because the acoustics are so different. We would have played the same music, but played it differently. Outside, the music just feels different.”
After the jazz combo came 22-year old singer-songwriter Tony Memmel, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Memmel is a remarkable musician for a number of reasons, the most noticeable being that he strums his guitar with his handless left arm. Memmel has gained great popularity through the Web sites MySpace and YouTube.
A YouTube search for Tony Memmel found a clip of his January appearance on “The Morning Blend,” Milwaukee’s “information, entertainment, and lifestyle TV show.”
Two smiling hosts introduced Memmel and kindly explained that he has “overcome adversity to do what he loves most, that is, play music.”
Memmel’s passion for music, especially songwriting, has not been hindered by his disability. His sound was sweet, his music hummable and his lyrics interesting and sincere.
At this point, I feel compelled to add that my YouTube search for Tony Memmel also produced a 30-second clip titled “One armed hero,” in which two kung-fu fighters duke it out to music that is not Tony Memmel’s. Nor does he appear at any time during the video. Thanks, YouTube, for showing me 30 seconds of kung-fu fighting that I was not expecting to see that day.
Another highlight of the Earth Day music was the folk duo Patchouli. Bruce and Julie Hecksel are the pair behind the funny name, which Julie explained came about from her nickname Julie Patchouli.
The multi-talented duo creates music out of anything and everything around them. According to their Web site, Patchouli is “one part ethnobotany, one part theology, two parts harmony, two parts guitar and a pinch of gypsy caravan.”
When all parts combined into one, their sound was 100-percent likable. Both musicians played acoustic guitars, often with Julie strumming the low notes while Bruce hopped around high on the guitar’s neck.
For one song, they handed various percussion instruments out to audience members, and even brought one student onstage to play the drums with them. This combination of different sounds lent Patchouli a true freshness.
In the end, while the weather outside was chilly, Earth Day in the Underground was warm, happy and filled with sweet music.