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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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In Bars & Clubs

Roots Cellar

In Bars & Clubs

Burning Spear during the Studio One days

Chalice in the Palace jams reggae at Roots Cellar


Chalice in the Palace, the Wednesday reggae night at Roots Cellar, 1818 N. Hubbard St., has been jumping off, filling up more every week with a who's who of Riverwest DJs and a whole lot more who just come to drink, dance and enjoy the sounds.

It's easy to see why -- Roots Cellar is comfortable, the bartender is excellent, and the tunes are perfect for moving, grooving or just lounging.

Chalice in the Palace is driven by a core of three DJs: Top Shelf, DJ Avets and Prince Ruff. The tremendous trio is augmented by the Jamaican style's of rotating guests like Selector Max and Selector Z.

"The main idea of the night," says Joe Schoenecker (Prince Ruff), "is to recreate a session as it would have been in Jamaica in the late '70s and early '80s. The flavor of the night stays pretty much in the '80s rub-a-dub vein," he says. "But we do add choice rocksteady and dancehall cuts for your dancing pleasure."

And it's working; the nights are getting busier and busier.

Schoenecker got into Jamaican music through his older brother Mark. His fondness for Motown recordings grew into an obsession for Studio One -- the Jamaican record label that started the careers of almost everyone in Jamaican music from Bob Marley to Burning Spear and Horace Andy.

His frequent trips to Farwell Music became quests for Studio One reissues. "At this point I was only buying ska and rock-steady" says Schoenecker, who was "still largely unaware of roots reggae and dancehall."

Burning Spear's "Rocking Time" album on Studio One changed all that. "I thought I knew what reggae was, but I had never heard anything like that. Ever." The power of the experience resonates today, says Schoenecker. "The tune 'Swellheaded' still sends shivers down my spine."

Probably the biggest invisible force behind Chalice in the Palace is Milwaukee legend Eric Beaumont, aka Eric Blowtorch. Beaumont's bands and DJ gigs have been a classroom and training ground for many DJs and musicians in Milwaukee.

"I learned about reggae from a cat named Eric Blowtorch," says Chalice in the Palace's DJ Avets (Steve Watkins).

Schoenecker agrees. "My biggest influence has undoubtedly been Eric Beaumont. I have learned everything I know about Jamaican music from him."

Schoenecker's first encounter with Beaumont was at Nomad where Beaumont was playing with his band. Schoenecker's older brother snuck him in to the show because Joe was still only 14.

Sitting at a table next to where Beaumont was working on his set list, Schoenecker glanced over and was thrilled to see some of his favorite Studio One songs.

The two became friends at the Stork Club's legendary Sunday reggae night. Schoenecker would sit by the DJs in the corner watching and learning. "I would ask questions and one day he (Beaumont) asked if I'd like to bring some records down next week," says Schoenecker.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since then Schoenecker (with his twin brother, Greg) has DJed up and down Milwaukee -- from Thai Joe's to the Maze to spinning soul at the Foundation -- even playing gigs in Los Angeles where his brothers now live.

Chalice in the Palace has been building steam since its conception in November of 2004. "If there is anyone out there that wants to be a guest," says Schoenecker, "let us know, give us a tape and we'll see what we can do."

Of course you don't have to be a DJ to enjoy Chalice in the Palace. The young crowd isn't watching the labels too carefully; they know they'll be taken care of right.

Prince Ruff's Chalice in the Palace faves:

U Roy -- "Chalice in the Palace": our theme song.

Willie Williams -- "Jah Righteous Plan": probably my all-time favorite. Pure Studio One niceness. Everything I love about Jamaican music all rolled up into one song. Willy's unmistakable dread voice, insane female backup vocals, that undeniable sound that can only be Studio One.

King Everald -- "Automatic": an early digital dancehall anthem with a huge bass line and a drum machine. Massive sound.

Chalice in the Palace is every Wednesday from 9:30 p.m. to close. For more info, please call (414) 374-8480.

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