HEAVENLY HARMONIES OF THE MIDNIGHT RIVER CHOIR
(TRAVELING WITH THE RED DIRT ROAD DOGS)
Dennis and Brenda Kippa
Some months ago we received an e-mail from our nephew. He's the one who put us on this whole music-chasing path by telling us about the band Uncle Lucius. ( We were immediately so smitten with Uncle Lucius that we decided to become “music reviewers”, just so we could tell you about this amazing band). This much-loved nephew (Van Scott Folger/son of Brenda's brother) and one of his associates produced Lucius' video for the song “Keep The Wolves Away”. Now he was calling to tell us that he met another group that he thought we might like. So again we warmed up our favorite music archive site, to listen to this group. It only took one song. We were completely thrilled with what we were hearing and couldn't wait to see them. Unfortunately, we had to wait several weeks, but the wait allowed us some time to read whatever we could find on these young artists.
The band was formed quite by accident a few years ago. As the story goes, the boys were on a float trip down the Guadalupe River near Austin. For those of you who aren't familiar with these time-tested events, they involve lots of loosely-connected people who connect themselves together with ropes, using inner tubes and ice chests as floatation devices as they drift down the Guadalupe River. It's a long-held ritual in the Austin area, involving whiling the hours away, enjoying the sun, the moon, and music. Often, the music is provided by those who have brought along their guitars, as it did on the day that these musicians met each other. As they sang their way down the river late that night, bystanders took note of what they were hearing. The talk over breakfast the next morning was all about the “midnight river choir”, as the group had been dubbed by those listeners. These four young men were no fools, and saw a label that could stick and describe the vibe of the music they were creating. And so it was that Eric Middleton (lead singer and guitar player), Bob Driver III, (bass guitar player and singer), Justin Nelson (lead guitar and singer), and Michael Pyeatt (singer and drummer) went into the water as four individuals and came out of the water as “Midnight River Choir”, a group with a sound of its own. With the name of the group decided, Midnight River Choir began on its course as a band to see in the Austin and New Braunfels area.
After several weeks, the long-awaited date arrived for us to see the band. The venue was the Choctaw Casino in Idabel, Oklahoma. We had been there before, so we knew that the drive was about two hours from our house.
If you're thinking about going to a concert at this venue, you'll want to follow your easiest route to Winnsboro. That's where you pick up SH 37, which will take you all the way there. Just follow the signs. After you go over the Red River, the road takes a wide turn to the east, and 15 miles later you have arrived in Idabel. The Choctaw Casino is located in a shopping center on the main drag. As you walk inside, you are immediately greeted by over 300 slot machines. (This might be why they offer the concerts for free... do you think?). We try to just walk by them, but if we fail, we just chalk it up to the cost of keeping concerts coming without a cover charge or a ticket to buy.
Once your senses are adjusted, look for the “Loggers Bar and Grill” sign, which is located in a far corner of the building. If you pretend you're shopping for milk at the grocery store, you'll walk right to it. Now grab yourself a table: you've arrived! The food is good blue collar fare at affordable prices, served in large quantities. We ordered the Logger burger, which was about ¾ pound of beef with no end to it. It was delicious. Don't expect to find any fancy drinks or wines here, but if you like beer and /or soft drinks, you'll do fine.
Now, about the concert (you knew we would get here eventually, didn't you?). It was great and well worth the wait. Watching them perform, we were reminded of the young strangers who floated down the river a few years ago. To us, they still appeared as young and carefree as they must have been at that time, yet there was a certain wisdom and professional manner that couldn't have been there at that time. Most of the material was from their upcoming album, which is due out in February. All of it was amazing and we anxiously await the release, so we can hear those songs again. We had listened to their first album (Welcome To Delirium; released in 2011) so many times; we were very happy to hear many of those songs too. Their amazing four (yes four) part harmonies never failed to deliver. Judging by the chills and goose-bumps their performance gave us, we would have to give them a five-star rating, if we were using a five star system. Eric Middleton's facial expressions reminded us of the twisted expressions that John Mayer is known for. It's a mannerism that seems to show total immersion in the task at hand; an absolute loss of ones' self through the performance. Just as we were sharing this observation, the group launched into a cover of Mayer's song “Gravity”, which was one of the most outstanding moments of the whole concert.
Given the task of describing the sound of Midnight River Choir, people who have been around a few decades would probably bring to mind the songs and energy of The Band, with a measure of Poco added in because of their masterful harmonies. Those who are just starting their “musical memory book” would surly include The Band of Heathens, plus who knows who else.... we're too old to know
Friends, never miss a chance to get out and experience the music that's available in Americana venues. Crowds are still too small (in our opinion) to properly reward these talented musicians, who have studied and practiced and honed the gifts of their talents. Often, we drive long distances to hear our favorites, thinking we have really hit a long road to get there. These are the times that we have to remind ourselves that the band has often driven three times as far as we have. And without fail, they step onstage and deliver incredible concerts as if they were playing to a packed 50,000-seat area. They certainly deserve to be, and hopefully, one day they will. Enjoy!