Playing in Peoria

By Lindajoy Fenley, tour manager

We spent a whole day in Peoria, Illinois—that metaphorical yardstick used to measure public acceptance of performers. The Israeli Ethnic Ensemble measured up—and then some.

If this road story were to start at the beginning, I’d report that we left our hotel in Bloomington at 9 o’clock in the morning. I’d mention the well-received one-hour workshops at a college, a high school and a Jewish synagogue. But despite excellent receptions at each of the workshops, the highlight of the day started well after 9 at night, so let’s cut to the chase. It was about that time that we paid our dinner bill—yep, we also fit in a couple of meals during this, our longest workday so far. Then we headed over to the Red Barn, a roadhouse that we later learned got its start as a cocktail lounge specializing in lobster and drinks back in the ’50s.

We walked in the narrow building and past the bar where Kathy pulled beers out of a tap for the regulars and settled ourselves on chairs lining the back room. A small crowd grooved on The Romaniacs, a local jazz band that plays the Red Barn every Wednesday night. Larry Harms, the reason we knew about The Romaniacs, had been in the Ethnic Ensemble’s extremely welcoming audience at Illinois Central College that morning. He plays clarinet in the gypsy ensemble along with John Miller and Joe Park (guitars), and Tim Brickner (contrabass).

When The Romaniacs finished their set, Eric Veal of the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts, went up to greet Larry and meet the other musicians. Larry had already noticed the Israelis. “As soon as I saw them walk in [tonight], I had shivers going up and down my spine,” he said.

Neither the stage nor the music accommodated two bass players, so Brickner offered his instrument to Gilad Ephrat, while Ori Naveh set up his cajón and other percussion instruments in one corner, Gershon Waiserfirer staked out a spot for himself and his oud behind a cabinet and Daniel Hoffman pulled one of the mics up for his violin. John, Joe and Larry came back and filled the tight little stage.

They blended their talents on pieces like Dark Eyes, Sweet Georgia Brown, Sweet Sue and Rain Dogs as more people crowded in.

“On behalf of The Romaniacs,” band leader Miller announced, “I want to say that we just died and went to Heaven.” Then, looking at the guest musicians, he added, “Can you guys come play on a regular basis. We just want to play with you and we’ll give you all the money.”

Speaking of money, we sold Israeli CDs without even trying.

The night came to an end and everyone—musicians, customers and the bartender—stood outside in the alley chatting before we drove back to Bloomington.

Gilad asked how far Peoria, Illinois, would be from the tour scheduled for next year when the Israeli Ethnic Ensemble will be in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. He wished it might be possible to swing by the down home Red Barn and jam with The Romaniacs again.

The Israeli Ethnic Ensemble will play a public concert tomorrow night at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts in Bloomington, Illinois. Learn more on our events page…

The Red Barn in Peoria, Illinois
The Red Barn in Peoria, Illinois. Photo by Eric Veal.
Musicians play in a bar with rustic, barn decor.
The band played a fantastic set with local favorites, The Romaniacs. Photo by Eric Veal.

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