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Cabin Fever!
Gwen Foor

Claustrophobia sets in. Your eyes crave color; a sharp sliver of green promising to push itself upward through the snow, the speck of a blood-red cardinal sitting atop the highest of trees, a burst of brilliant blue swallowed by thickening gray clouds. Your ears long for the unordinary; the rush of waves, the chattering of gulls, a choir of frogs and crickets singing a night picture. Just to smell the grass growing or the hay mowing or to feel the tightness of sunscorched skin seems impossible! Windows are thrown open. Mudcrusted rugs shaken. Seed catalogs held sacred. Arms, legs, whole bodies are stretched toward the sun begging release from the dreaded CABIN FEVER!

"Piblokto Madness" is what they call it above the Artic circle" relates Cabin Fever bandmember, Tom Keen when asked how the band got its name. "It was back in the winter of '82 and I was reading this book by Morris Ferlingetti that described this sickness that would cause people, even animals, to go crazy and do stupid things like rip off their clothes and go running over the ice, maybe jump in, maybe never come back. And I thought , wow, maybe it could even make two guys play the same music for years, over and over in 3/4 time. That must be what we call cabin fever. And we had it real bad that year! It seemed a fittin' name for a Northern Michigan two-man guitar army where everybody knew at least three chords."

There's no time for cabin fever to set in these days. Things have gotten brighter as the music's gotten tighter.This well-seasoned group of bluegrass musicianaries (a term invented by Paul Kirchner's wife, Jean) features Tom Keen on acoustic guitar and vocals, Tom Fordyce on harmonica and vocals, Jack Sharry on fiddle and mandolin, Paul Kirchner on banjo and vocals and Jim Curtis on electric bass and vocals.

Third Coast bandmember, Chris Skellenger, sums up the band's talent with a sports analogy by saying, "When these guys decided they were going to get back into music, they made a shameless raid on the free-agent market of pickers that were available and scared the &*@! out of the rest of us!" Their first cassette, "Too Much Fun" features everything from Bill Staines' "Loggin' Song" to Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire!" And those of us lucky enough to have seen this fine band perform at any number of festivals have heard cover tunes by the likes of Grandpa Jones, Laurie Lewis, Seldom Scene and originals like Junkman Jim.

Tom Fordyce, co-founder of the band adds, "After we learned a few bluegrass tunes and found out we could harmonize pretty well together, we booked a bunch of gigs and actually started getting paid!" That was until our banjo picker up and quit the night before a scheduled gig. Normally that wouldn't be a problem but it just so happened that he also owned our P.A.!"

That was when friend Jack Sharry called Paul and Jim and explained the dilemma. It just so happened that Jim not only played bass but owned a PA and had worked as a sound engineer for the bluegrass band, Cabbage Crick, for years. Paul had played guitar since he was 10 and had fallen in love with the banjo after seeing a Flatts & Scruggs concert in Muskegon in 1966. His wife bought him his first one in 1970, the year they were married. He taught himself to play by slowing records down to 16 1/2 rpm, retuning the banjo and playing along--practicing 10 hrs. a day while getting his Master's Degree. Jack had played classical violin as a kid, gave it up to work at General Motors, and then relearned it some 30 years later upon retiring.

Over the last 5 years these musicians have developed a style and sense of comraderie all their own. Folkies like Peter, Paul and Mary were big influences, as were Flatts and Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams. Tom Fordyce remembers laying in the back window of his family's '55 Pontiac. looking up at the stars and listening to his Dad sing along with the radio as they traveled to and from military bases all over the south. Tom Keen grew up in Cincinatti, the "melting pot" of the Appalachians. Blues and bluegrass were everywhere. His greatest influence was his father who was a darn good honky-tonk piano player. A typical family night out included a restaurant with an empty piano bench, which Pappy soon occupied, and the whole family jammin' together at the drop of a hat.

That same family influence is still evident today in the band's willingness to go out and seek new material, listening to everything from "Bach to Buck Owens" and as Paul puts it, "just throwin' a bunch of stuff in there and seein' what sticks!" Obvious friendships have grown out of the band's efforts and there is certainly no lack of fun once they've taken the stage. The entire band is quick to point out the "down -home" quality of their type of music. You have to see it live. That's what makes it more intimate, more exciting, more personal. It's also a great way to influence younger people and get them involved in their own form of musical expression.

Always gathering new material, jammin' in basements (with corners full of shattered dimes) and backyards, playing festivals and gigs all over Michigan, keeping it friendly, fresh and fun really reflects Cabin Fever's zest for life. As Tom Fordyce puts it, "We've made life-long friends just playing our music."

And we all know cabin fever isn't as hard to handle when you've got a friend who's got it too!
To contact Cabin Fever call (231)228-6804

Links From This Article
A Grandmother's Gift by Gwen Foor River Songs by Gwen Foor
Harvesting Berries, Harvesting Hearts by Gwen Foor Winds of Change by Gwen Foor
Uncle Art by Gwen Foor

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