March Madness started early this year, and it had nothing to do with Duke, Kentucky, Michigan or MSU. Concert promoter Seamus Shinners adapted and adopted the familiar hoops sobriquet for a series of shows at Sleder’s Family Tavern in Traverse City.
The “On the Porch” concert series has brought numerous performers to town since the first show in 1998 by folksy troubadour Bill Staines. On March 26, Staines returns to wrap up a month of family fare that has included performances by Driftwood, the Way Down Wanderers, Ghost of Paul Revere and the Celtic band The Outside Track.
Shinners’s relationship with Bill Staines goes back even further than the first Sleder’s show. He first brought the singer/guitarist to the area in 1994 for a show at the Cedar Tavern. The night before, Staines was playing a venue in Grand Rapids, and when he told the crowd he was playing the next day Up North, a couple immediately turned to one another and said, “Road trip.” They ended up coming to the show with three other couples, in the days when selling eight tickets was a big deal for Shinners, and have since become friends with both Staines and Shinners.
In the intervening two decades, Staines has become a fan favorite and has performed numerous times in the area. He is one of the most popular and durable singers on the folk music scene today, performing nearly 200 concerts a year and driving over 65,000 miles annually. Reached by phone from Kansas, he said Sleder’s is among his favorite places to play. “It’s a nice place, just a real warm audience,” he says.
After 40 years on the road, he finds a similar reception in many if not most places. “There are people that say after 30 years, ‘We know it’s fall when you come through.’ There are familiar faces.
“’I’m an old folkie,” Staines continues. “There’re sing-alongs, I tell some stories, do some ballads. It’s like sitting in front of a campfire, though it’s a little more organized than that. It’s low-key, but not lethargic.”
Shinners believes Staines’s music touches a place in all of us. “With all the politics swallowing up our country, I think Bill’s music is like the light from a lighthouse,” Shinners says. “It’s reassuring and reaffirming that values matter, a sense of place matters, that simple acts of kindness shared with one another is what it’s all about. Some might consider his music simple, but to me, his songs are about building community.”
Fortunately, that’s usually the case with the On the Porch shows. “That’s what happens at Sleder’s. It’s more like an Irish pub,” says Shinners. By that he means a sense of camaraderie both among the audience members and between the audience and the performer. He compares the setting with more traditional venues, “After a show at Milliken, for example, the performer disappears. At Sleder’s, the performer can’t get off the stage without interacting with the audience. As soon as the show is over, the performer is just part of the assemblage.”
That sense of community isn’t the kind of thought one normally associates with March Madness. But for Shinners, it’s exactly that: a chance to get out of the house when winter is wearing people down, to enjoy good music and to get together with friends old and new.
For ticket information on Staines or other shows, go to Sleders.com.