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"Ghost Brothers" lives up to its famous creators' names

The long-awaited musical "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" made its Milwaukee premiere at the Riverside Theater Tuesday night. With music and lyrics by John Mellencamp and a libretto by Stephen King (plus musical direction by T Bone Burnett), the musical took roughly a decade to make.

Even though the talent involved didn’t come from a Broadway background, they crafted an incredibly unique musical that works while reflecting some of the themes and styles present in the previous work of its creators.

The musical revolved around the character of Joe McCandless, played by Bruce Greenwood. In 1967, Joe witnessed a tragedy at the family’s cabin involving his two older brothers that both loved the same woman. 40 years later, he sees the traits that led to their downfall present in his own sons.

Joe hasn’t been able to shake what happened in the past and has never fully disclosed his version of the events that happened that night. He brings his family to the cabin to finally tell the tale that will clear his mind. However, Joe and his family are not alone in the cabin. They are joined by four spirits linked to that terrible tragedy (including the titular ghost brothers of Andy and Jack McCandless) and a much more sinister presence.

In a unique staging, the entire cast and the band were on-stage the entire time. Actors who weren't involved in a scene would remain seated while the action took place in front of them downstage.

Dramatic lighting cues were pivotal to the evening, as the show didn't feature any major set changes. Instead, the entire production took place in front of a backdrop representing the cabin and other key elements of the show.

The sound design was really well done, which mattered a great deal since some of the action on-stage was mimed, and the sound effects used added depth to the scene. Furthermore, not only was the music written by John Mellencamp, but the four-piece band that played during the show were all members of the Mellencamp Ban…


1964 the Tribute brings "the Beatles" to The Pabst

For nearly 30 years, 1964 The Tribute has performed around the world with its tribute act to the Beatles.  On Saturday, it brought its moptops and impressive mimicry to the Pabst Theater.

There is certainly no shortage of Beatles cover bands around the world, so what makes 1964 The Tribute stand out is the dedication to creating a snapshot of what seeing the Beatles back in 1964 might have been like. 

The praise that 1964 the Tribute has received over the years is definitely well-deserved and while perfectly recreating the sound and vocals of the Beatles wasn’t expected, the group comes about as close as humanly possible.  Each member of the group was given time to shine within the framework of the show, even Ringo (played by Bobby Potter) when he sang "Act Naturally."

All the expected hits of this period of the Beatles catalog were played, including "She Loves You," "Can’t Buy Me Love" and "From Me to You."

The highlight of the night was the audience-inclusive performance of "Eight Days a Week."  After requesting the audience’s assistance and teaching the clap pattern for the song, it was this infectious song that had the most magic. 

1964 the Tribute also employed banter to echo the humor that the band displayed during that first wave of Beatlemania.  Most of this was based on misdirection, such as the line "this song is for dancing cheek to cheek … or you can turn around and face each other."

Another delightful moment was while introducing a Carl Perkins cover, Perkins was introduced as being from Wisconsin.  A few members of the audience fell for the ruse and cheered the mention of Wisconsin before it was clarified that Perkins was actually from Tennessee. 

There was also playful ribbing between the band, such as when George (played by Tom Work) suggested that since his guitar had 12 strings, he must be twice the performer than John since his guitar had only six.  Most of these were quick jokes, but the intro for "I Should Have Known Be…

Wanda Kay (far left) of Bobby Mackey's hosted PIM members Jann, Noah, John, Missy and "Gravy."
Wanda Kay (far left) of Bobby Mackey's hosted PIM members Jann, Noah, John, Missy and "Gravy."

Milwaukee Ghost Stories: Return to Bobby Mackey's

Northern Kentucky Music Legends Hall of Fame member Bobby Mackey wanted to be known for one thing when he opened his honky-tonk in 1978: music. And his venue, Bobby Mackey’s Music World, is well known in the Wilder, Ky. area for offering the best of both types of music: country and western.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Bobby Mackey’s gravel parking lot fills up and revelers file into the bar, order beer and head out to the dance floor. Up onstage you’ll often find Bobby Mackey himself, backed by the Big Mac Band. 

Over the years, Bobby Mackey’s has become known for something else—it overshadows his country music legacy at times and it goes bump in the night.

Although Mackey isn’t a believer himself, he quickly began hearing ghost stories soon after opening his doors.  At first Mackey wasn’t keen on the ghost stories circulating, and he’d still rather be known for his country music career. But we can speculate he also doesn’t mind the paranormal investigation groups from around the world showing up at his door too much. They pay out a healthy fee to spend the night in his bar, stalking the unknown. 

One of these groups is our own Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee. As I detailed in a previous column, PIM visited Bobby Mackey’s over the summer as part of an epic road trip investigating famous haunts. One of their most memorable moments at Bobby Mackey’s was when team member Missy Bostrom experienced what she says was an invisible force that pushed her to the ground. Later in the night, it pushed her against a wall. 

When the team marked a return date to Bobby Mackey’s, I asked to join them. On somewhat of a monster tour myself, I met PIM members Missy, Noah Leigh, Michael "Gravy" Graeve, Jann Goldberg, and John Krahn on September 22 for their investigation of the haunted honky-tonk. 

We all met up at Wanda Kay’s Ghost Shop, just down the road from Bobby Mackey’s on Licking Pike Road. Wanda, a musician herself, has worked for a…

John Sieger's final battle plan across Europe.
John Sieger's final battle plan across Europe.

Europe, consider yourself traipsed across

I'm back from Europe and jet-lagged, but only a little. 23 hours with my eyelids open for business, and when they closed, they stayed that way for another 12. I think I've recovered, but I might be in a swoon later today. I didn't realize the miles we covered and still don't have the official numbers, but it will be in the 7,000 mile range. My Google Map estimate is 7,477. To pull that off, we needed everyone on their best behavior, and they were.

It felt good to land at Mitchell, get out and feel something that now seems uniquely Midwestern – a good stiff breeze. Even the jet fuel wafting our way as my wife and I walked to the car smelled good! The climate where we toured is mostly oceanic (so says Wikipedia) and even on the Italian coast, it felt like you couldn't buy a fresh breeze. Even at the top of the Alps, surveying all of creation from The Eagle's Nest and wondering how Hitler could transform that view into such evil, it wasn't all that windy. So, a kind of pleasant calm everywhere we went and a fresh breeze from the lake greeted us when we got back. All good.

The sad fact is that I had romanticized touring and turned it in to tourism in my head. Expectations are a b*tch. Greg travels under pretty comfortable conditions – nice hotels, separate rooms, and a very competent and funny tour manager – but it was a grind. The driving was a constant, with many epic hauls as we ping-ponged around the map.

Most often, the load-in at the venue was around 5 p.m., then there was dinner and downtime, usually in a dressing room, and then the show would begin around 8:30. After two sets and load out, we would get back to our rooms late, collapse and repeat the same thing the next day. That manufactured a kind of snowball of fatigue that rolled itself up to substantial proportions.

Don't want to exaggerate the difficulty – it was all doable – but we had to leave a lot of places where it would have been fun to linger unexplored and un-lingered in. That was the toughest…