The Cantrells return to the house

Friday, January 14, 2005

This weekend, one of the hottest acts in town won't be playing a bar or even an arena. Instead, they'll be performing in the living room of Larry and Jean Underberg, who hold such concerts at least once a month at their residence at 1122 Patricia St. in Cape Girardeau.

On Saturday, the Underbergs will kick off their 2005 house concert season with one of their most popular acts, the Nashville, Tenn.-based duo The Cantrells, who just released their fourth CD called "The Heart Wants What it Wants."

"This is kind of a reunion concert," said Larry Underberg. "The Cantrells were one of the first acts we ever booked, and we try to have them back every season. They're good individually, but as a duo they're phenomenal. They've got this sense about what the other will do."

Not only do the Underbergs love having The Cantrells come to their house, but The Cantrells love performing there.

"In the house-concert scenario you get this feeling that you're part of a smaller group of people that's having this musical experience," said Emily Cantrell, guitarist and vocalist for the group. "Particularly, Larry and Jean Underberg have come up with a collection of people in their audience. They almost single-handedly kind of developed that scene there for this kind of music."

House-concert crowds are like no others, said Al Cantrell, who plays fiddle and mandolin.

"House concerts are almost like book clubs or reading clubs," he said. "There's a certain kind of continuity to the audience from concert to concert. It's sort of like doing wine tasting -- it's music tasting. Sort of like a club for enjoying and supporting acoustic music.

"That helps us because it helps keep the vibe real positive. There's always an extra energy going on at a good house-concert series because of the fact that people are developing friendships among themselves as well as coming to hear good music."

The music The Cantrells play may be categorized as folk and bluegrass, but it goes even beyond that. They also delve into swing and Celtic music, and at least half of what they perform is original.

The combination is a winning one for the crowd at the Underberg concerts. Concert regular Dennis Herbst said he wouldn't miss it.

"One of my absolute favorites is The Cantrells," Herbst said. "They're really professionals. It's just an incredible show -- such a treat to see them perform up close."

The Cantrells are only one of a large group of performers that have come to visit the Underbergs in their abode.

This is the third year the couple have hosted concerts in their sunken living room -- a process that started when Larry met folk musician Robert Hoyt as the songwriter visited Southeast Missouri State University, where Larry works.

After those three years, Cape Girardeau has now been put on the map by acoustic musicians across the country who play house concerts.

"I really think Cape has gotten to be well known in the circuit," said Jean. "The musicians say they really appreciate Cape and the crowds here. They used to be willing to hit the town on their way to bigger shows. Now they sometimes book a show here as their primary show."

Jean relates one story about a musician coming from New Jersey to play at their house. He talked to another musician friend from New York who had heard the fame of the Underberg house in Cape Girardeau.

Now the couple receives inquiries from more groups than they can even book, with only about one in four actually being able to play at the house.

"It really feels bad having to turn anybody down," said Jean, "but we can only host so many."

The intimate relationship the Underbergs and their audience develop with the musicians -- performers talk one-on-one with the audience members and even spend the night at the house -- has probably helped the concerts' fame spread, both among musicians and locally.

"I like to be able to listen in a nice, intimate atmosphere," said Claudia Ruediger, another concert regular who puts The Cantrells in her top five acts. "I like to be able to talk with the artists about their music and learn the stories behind their songs."

This year the Underbergs say their concerts will feature even more variety than in the past.

"We're real excited about this season," said Jean. "We'll have more variety, with some blues, an unbelievable acoustic guitarist -- just things we haven't had before."

Bluesman Peter Karp, acoustic-fusion French guitarist Phillipe Bertaud, slide guitarist Kraig Kenning and former Jimmy Buffet guitarist Keith Sykes are just some of the performers they'll feature this year.

Right now the concert crowds range anywhere from 20 to 40 people, just the way the Underbergs and their concert fans like it.

The concerts last from 7 to 9 p.m., and reservations must be made in advance by calling 334-7692.

"It's hard to describe," said Larry. "In a lounge or a coffeehouse, the music is in the background. When they're in the house, you can focus entirely on the music. It's an intense experience.

"If it got much larger, we'd be looking for someplace else to go. It just wouldn't be the same experience."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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