A few days ago I sat inside the Blue Valley Bistro (formerly known as The Creswell Café) for the first time in seven months. A swarm of good memories came over me, as I realized how much has changed during the pandemic. Here is a little something I wrote after hearing music at the Café’ a few years ago.
Creswell Café (9/6/2013)
My father bought me my first harmonica for $1.75 in 1968 in a music store by the Bronx Zoo. I’ve been playing blues harp since that time motivated by Paul Butterfield, and also trying to win the affection of a childhood crush who said she liked harmonica. (Hello Donna, wherever you are. Thanks for the motivation.)
Last week Nancy and I were in Eugene looking at two art openings and I was getting pretty antsy to get out away from the crowds and drive to Creswell. Seth and Melissa, at Creswell Coffee, had told me they were having a good local band at the café on Friday night fronted by a talented harmonica player. In that understated way that Seth lets you know what he’s feeling, he said, “You’ll like these guys.” I’ve been playing blues harp since I was 13 and I could feel something special was going to happen.
The café was filled to the brim with about 60 people. The band was setting up and checking sound as we arrived. When a young man did the sound check of his harmonica I sensed something special. There is an unmistakable sound of an amplified harmonica in the hands of someone who can make it sing. Less than a half-hour later that was confirmed when Pleasant Hill’s own Hank Shreve Band took the stage.
The band is Shreve (harmonica, vocals, organ), Stan Welsh (guitar), Bill Shreve (bass, vocals), Skip Jones (keyboards, vocals) and GT Albright (drums, vocals).
They are fun, tight, and great!
The band led off with a textured jazzy instrumental featuring Hank Shreve on the chromatic harp (a piece by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell) and by the time the song was finished I started writing a list of great harmonica players I’ve heard or seen in person. On the back of a scratch piece of paper I wrote the names …
Paul Butterfield, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Sonny Terry, Paul Delay, Curtis Salgado, John Mayall, Jimmy Fadden, Norton Buffalo, a short list of the best harmonica players I have had the privilege to hear play. I could have included a number of others who are great harmonica players like my cousin Gene Parsons, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen.
After the first set was complete I wrote “September 6th, 2013” and added Hank Shreve to the list, then I introduced myself to Hank and said, “I’ve heard a lot of great harmonica players in my life and your name belongs” and I gave it to him. Hank was honored and humble as we chatted for a few minutes and then I bought a CD. If you like work by artists, writers, or musicians, it helps to buy their work.
You never know when the magic will hit, but when it does you know it and every cell in your body is alive for being around it. Thanks to the great Hank Shreve Band and to Melissa and Seth Clark for bringing them to us. Two of the best hours of music I’ve ever experienced, in the small town of Creswell, by a band of local players who humbly and energetically walk on the backs of giants.
With that, I wish you all well, and that we may soon find the simple pleasures of life and community restored.