By Marilyn Delk
Darke County Center for the Arts recently closed its Coffee House season of casual concerts in cozy venues with a sparkling performance by jazz vocalist Sunny Wilkinson; however, if you peruse DCCA’s 2021-2022 “Re: Vision” season brochure, you won’t find Sunny among the artists listed. This was not an oversight, but a significant symbol of the many difficulties facing the arts-presenting organization as officials dealt with COVID-induced lack of available touring artists plus the hazards of unforeseen circumstances laying waste to the best-laid plans.
However, the Coffee House Series got off to a rousing beginning with Grammy-nominated Zak Morgan performing at Montage Cafe on Thursday, Nov. 11. Zak has been described as a cross between Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, a grade school educator, a G-rated stand-up comic, and a folk musician; his songwriting skills are amazing, his adept wordplay delightful, and his singing and guitar-playing impressive. The stupendous energy generated by his show is truly remarkable, earning delighted laughter as well as “oohs and aahs” from his audiences. Zak was joined by bassist Chris Douglas for his performance at Montage, which served up a touching and humorous mix of originals, Americana and traditional country songs, resulting in an entertaining evening that no one wanted to end.
Genre-blurring duo The Moxie Strings brought another energetic performance to the Coffee House Series when they performed a broad variety of music at the Coffee Pot on Thursday, Dec. 2. The talented duo consists of Allison Lynn, who has performed with hip hop icon Kanye West as well as arena-rock juggernaut The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, playing a newly invented electric cello in innovative rhythmic and percussive styles, and Diana Ladio, an adventuresome Americana fiddler, songwriter, and classical violinist, who also tours with the Irish super-group The Elders. The duo combined ear-catching melodies with foot-stomping rock-influenced rhythms, offering their audience a diverse, fun-filled experience.
At this point, the Coffee House Series was proceeding pretty much as planned, and DCCA officials and audiences were eagerly looking forward to a performance by Ft. Wayne-based Heartland Productions featuring two excellent vocalists and a master piano player presenting a program of contemporary hits as well as songs from the Great American Songbook on Thursday, Feb. 24 at Union City’s Arts Depot. But winter weather intervened, and based on warnings and advice from local authorities and the National Weather Service, the show was canceled — the first time ever for DCCA to not present a scheduled evening program. However, you can look forward to enjoying a performance by Heartland Production as part of DCCA’s upcoming 2022-2023 season.
And then, accomplished vocalist and guitarist Jaimie Marvin became ill and DCCA learned that she would be unable to perform on Thursday, April 21, so the already much scheduled and re-scheduled final show for the Coffee House Series season saw another change. Fortunately, a stellar replacement was found; the afore-mentioned Sunny Wilkinson, along with her husband and accompanist, pianist Dr. Ron Newman, a distinguished member of Michigan State’s vaunted School of Music faculty, mightily entertained an entranced audience at Arcanum’s Wayne Trail Historical Society. Sunny, an exceptional artist who knows how to swing as well as how to sing and has performed with the Count Basie Band, Clark Terry, and Edgar Winter, among others, is rightfully billed as a vocalist who is always doing something new, even with old familiar songs. Ms. Wilkinson believes that her music provides a soulful connection to others, and her outstanding performance confirmed that belief among all assembled.
During this past year of revised revisions, artists as well as audiences often gratefully spoke of the wonder surrounding live performances presented to live audiences. DCCA’s Coffee House Series proved the wisdom of that truism,while providing awesome entertainment in highly accessible locations at an amazingly low price. Even when things don’t go as planned, our community is truly fortunate to be able to partake of the joy and inspiration derived from artists doing what they were born to do before appreciative arts aficionados. A good time — and much more — was enjoyed by all!
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.