Bringing down the house: Cape's house bands have got the blues and the crowds don't mind at all

Thursday, June 26, 2008

House bands help boost the local music scene by guaranteeing live music for people to enjoy on a regular basis. The gig can be hard to maintain — to break the monotony of playing in the same town, same venue and same night each week.

But for 20 years, Bruce Zimmerman and the Water Street Band drew a packed crowd to Port Cape at least once a week. When they reduced performances to the first Sunday of every month, blues fanatics feared they had fewer places to go.

But the sound of blues music still resonates in downtown Cape Girardeau, where two house bands are continuing the local blues tradition on a weekly basis.

Thursday nights, Ivas John can be found sending bluesy riffs, sometimes on the verge of jazz, over a lively crowd at Port Cape. On Sunday nights, only a block away, Les Lindy's group Blues Gone Awry is busy lighting up Broussard's.

These groups have more than the blues in common. They have both taken on the responsibility of performing as a house band. It seems the same band every week would get old, but John and Lindy said they have ways to keep audiences coming back for more.

"Always pushing and trying new things, whether they work or not, is the key," John said.

The Ivas John Band already has an arsenal of blues tunes, but it keeps stockpiling songs to keep the shows entertaining for both the band and the crowd.

"It's important to find a balance between playing stuff you already have and introducing new stuff," John said.

The band also simply plays its songs in a different way.

"We might change the tempo or key, or change it from major to minor, or maybe I'll play harmonica in a song that I don't usually play in," John said. "We're always mixing it up that way."

Lindy said his group is constantly learning and trying new things, too. They also just added singer Jennifer Henderson, who has performed with other local artists like Mojo Filter and the Water Street Band. Lindy said it's important to get musicians the crowd enjoys, and Henderson fits the bill.

"The whole idea is to entertain and keep them coming back entertained every time," Lindy said.

By doing this, house bands can earn a much larger fan base, significant considering the reaction and turnout of the crowd is the livelihood of a house band.

"We're here because people want to see and listen to what we're doing," John said.

House gigs boost their following by giving them the opportunity to impress an audience every week.

"People get out and hear you, maybe even one time accidentally, and they are going to spread the word if they like it," John said.

Another upside to playing house gigs is the familiarity the band has with the venue. "You know what the room is going to sound like and who's going to be there," John said. "Playing in house bands has been a good way to get more into my comfort zone."

"It's also been good to play in a town like Cape where there's enough people that are into blues music specifically, they come out to support," he said.

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