Dan Wiethop wants his listeners to enjoy some Harmless Fun

Thursday, August 27, 2009
Dan Wiethop and Don Greenwood of Harmless Fun. (Kit Doyle)

Harmless Fun sings Charlie the Smokin Chimpanzee

Local singer, songwriter and musician Dan Wiethop revels in harmless fun. Whether he is performing solo or with his musician friends, Wiethop entices the crowd to "lose the blues and have a little harmless fun."

"I just made it up. Everything is so focused on the blues. People go to blues events who never listened to the blues when they were younger kids or adolescents," he said. "I do some good blues songs, but I don't do just that -- I have a little harmless fun."

Wiethop began using variations of the name Harmless Fun this year to advertise his solo act and his project with local musicians Don Greenwood and Chris Moore. As a solo artist, Wiethop is Harmless Fun, and when he's performing with Greenwood on congas and Moore on bass guitar, they sometimes go by Harmless Fun Trio.

The trio has a standing gig at Port Cape throughout the year. When there's a fifth Sunday in the month, Harmless Fun covers John Prine. This Sunday -- the fifth one in August -- the trio will provide free music and fun at 8 p.m. at Port Cape.

Why John Prine? Wiethop said he loves songs that tell a story. As much as he is a performing musician, he is an entertainer and a lighthearted comic.

"I like story songs, funny songs and songs that are just fun, in general," he said. "You just want the audience to have fun and that's what I do. I tell lots of clean jokes, that are sometimes corny and sometimes really clever. They're all part of the act."

Wiethop sings and is multi-instrumental, playing everything from guitar to harmonica to autoharp.

"I also do some stuff on the banjo, with harmonica, which makes it pretty unusual," he said. "It's really a neat combination. I switch back and forth on different instruments."

Though the project's name, Harmless Fun, is somewhat new to the music scene, Wiethop has been entertaining crowds for more than 50 years.

Wiethop began playing guitar when he was 13 years old, and at 16, his rendition of Kingston Trio songs won him first place in the Cape Girardeau Central High School talent show. In the late 1970s, Wiethop was introduced to the autoharp.

"Some friends had one, and I just heard the magic inside of it," he said.

With no formal training, Wiethop taught himself how to play the autoharp and was eventually playing rhythm, lead and harmony simultaneously on the 36-string instrument. In 1989, Wiethop was hailed one of the top autoharpists in the nation by Down Beat magazine, after winning both the National Autoharp Championship and the Southern National Autoharp Championship.

Wiethop was living in northwest Arkansas at the time, where he toured with The Memorial String Band, before becoming the featured entertainer at a popular Ozark Mountain music show in West Fork, Ark., from 1989 to 2003. Wiethop said during that time he fostered the career of Joe Nichols, country music star who is scheduled to perform at this year's SEMO District Fair.

While in Arkansas, he also performed with the Cat'z Meow, a swing band with whom he said Greenwood came down to Arkansas and sat in on congas. In 2002, he moved back to Cape Girardeau and played harmonica for about a year with Bruce Zimmerman and the Water Street Band, which also featured Greenwood on congas.

Altogether, Wiethop has known Greenwood for around 30 years, and they're still friends and making music.

"The congas helps with the sounds. It gives my Ozark music a little calypso feel," Wiethop said smiling.

Harmless Fun found a music niche in the vineyards and played 15 wineries in Illinois and Missouri this year. Instead of sticking to the John Prine covers, Wiethop said he plays a little bit of everything, including blues, jazz and classical at the wineries. One reason, he said, was to give everyone a variety -- including himself.

"Songs get to be uninteresting to me if I've played them for a long time," Wiethop said. "But even though I may be tired of playing them, other people love it."

WANT TO GO?

What: Harmless Fun covers John Prine

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Port Cape

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