My favorite Milwaukee music venue was erected in 1882 by Henry Koch, the same talented guy that whipped City Hall together just a couple of years later. The Milwaukee Turners, a society of German immigrants originally formed to create a resistance against the French conquest of Europe during the time of Napoleon, commissioned the building of the facility for the use of its members and other immigrants. The Turners got their name from the German word turnen, which describes the calisthenics and gymnastic exercises members of the resistance practiced. The building includes a restaurant/ beer hall, ballroom with wrap around balcony, large meeting rooms and a gymnasium.
My friend and I arrived early to Turner in order to make sure we grabbed some seats for the opener; Nathaniel Ratcliffe and The Wheel. The Denver based troupe, all adorned in flannel (except for the lonely female stand up bassist), provided soothing tunes for the crowd as they settled in. The sound they created, reminding me at times of Cash mixed with Wisconsin’s own Bon Iver, was folksy with a seasoning of country and was greatly enriched by the frequent addition of soothing vocal harmonies. About halfway through their third song, my friend and I quickly tugged on each others shoulders and pointed to the curly haired shadow looking down on the audience from the balcony above. Grinning like school girls, we gazed up at Mason and sipped our $3 PBR silos while he watched his opener for a few songs.
After a great set by The Wheel, Mason took the stage and we joined the sea of fans gathered at his feet. While I have seen Jennings more than half a dozen times, last night was a treat for me; rarely have I watched him perform with a full band. With six albums under his belt and a large catalog of music to choose from, Mason included a wide array of songs in his set list playing everything from “Nothing” (the first song on his first album and my FAVORITE) to “The Field” (a Springsteen-esque song on his not yet released album about the Iraq war). After major support from the crowd, Mason came out to do an acoustic encore. But the folks at Turner Hall (myself included) were not satisfied and the full band returned to serenade us one more time. I really can’t articulate the energy in the room as the band slid into a cover of “The Weight” (take a load off fanny); the band members took turns singing the verses over the unified voice of he audience. With everyone dancing, and the decades old floor of the ballroom bouncing with the rhythm, I wondered if we would soon all find ourselves free falling to the gymnasium below. But the floor held, and the band played on.
Round one of my two night affair with Turner Hall was a GREAT success. Thanks Mason, you never disappoint me!