Ana Alexander/ Winonan
On Friday March 27, the lights in Acoustic Café dimmed as Melissa Kay McCarthy took the stage along with David Schipper and Lynn Konsela, who accompanied her performance with their guitars and, for some pieces, a harmonica.
Audience members drank beer or coffee from white mugs while McCarthy performed covers of country songs along with some original pieces.
The environment was casual and warm. The brick walls of the coffee shop were hung with a variety of artwork, the low lighting lent the room a sense of familiarity. McCarthy addressed the audience very conversationally in between pieces.
Two audience members got very involved with the performance. A little boy energetically played a yellow tambourine, as his sister shook a multicolored maraca from the back of the room. During the songs, the two gradually made their way near the front of the café, where they danced and played their instruments.
After McCarthy finished her song, she commented on the two lively audience members with a smile.
“We could use some new members, I think. Are we recruiting? We’d have a hard time getting them into the bars, but…” McCarthy trailed off as the audience chuckled.
Konsela waved the kids toward the stage, and the children’s father guided them toward the front of the room. Konsela asked the kids if they wanted to come up on stage, but the children suddenly turned shy.
“I promise I don’t bite!” Konsela laughed, but the children could not be persuaded to come on stage, opting to play their instruments from the sidelines instead.
Performances like McCarthy’s offer the community a night of free entertainment in a warm atmosphere, providing delicious food, cold beer and smooth coffee. Acoustic puts on shows every Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. free of charge.
One of the audience members, McKenna Schmidt, commented on one of the factors that make the weekly performances at Acoustic so entertaining.
“I enjoy the fact that local artists are coming and performing in a venue close by,” Schmidt said.
The lineup at Acoustic often features artists from the Winona area, giving audience members a taste of the kinds of music that people from the surrounding communities are creating, as well as giving the artists more exposure to performing.
Performances at Acoustic last around two and a half hours, giving audience members a half an hour to finish their drinks and socialize before the café closes at 11 p.m. Acoustic Café posts their new lineups on their website, as well as on their Facebook page, where those interested in performances can keep track of upcoming events.
Musician’s muse fueled by leaving home
Melissa Kay McCarthy has always had her music.
It helped her through her parents’ divorce, when she moved from her hometown of Wausau, Wis., to Alaska and when her grandmother died.
Melissa Kay McCarthy (Photo by Melissa Carlo/Winona Daily News)
“It’s always been therapeutic,” McCarthy said.
She liked writing poems and melodies but didn’t combine the two until she started playing guitar at 18.
McCarthy, 25, will perform a free show Friday at the Trempealeau Hotel in Trempealeau, Wis.
Growing up, McCarthy’s older sister was more in the spotlight. McCarthy would tap dance with her sister but was comfortable in her shadow. She’d occasionally sing karaoke with her sister and gradually got the courage to do it solo.
“It really helped with my confidence,” McCarthy said.
That led to her playing gigs in the Wausau area. Her grandparents came along since she wasn’t yet 21. Country has always been McCarthy’s favorite music to play and listen to.
When she started writing songs, she’d get her two younger sisters to listen. If they would later request certain songs, she knew they liked them. If not, she’d keep fine-tuning them or start over.
“They were always honest in a subtle way,” McCarthy said.
After graduating from high school, McCarthy studied to become an educational interpreter, someone who works with hearing-impaired students. She applied for a job she thought was in Arkansas. While it was far from Wausau, the thought of being so close to Nashville was exciting.
Turns out, the job was in Alaska.
McCarthy decided to follow through and see what happened. She ended up getting the job. Her family didn’t take it too well.
“It was hard, but it was something I needed to do,” McCarthy said.
She wrote “When I’m Gone,” the title song off her new CD, about leaving her family and friends. Two weeks before she left, her Grandma Jane was diagnosed with cancer. McCarthy rushed to a studio to record the song.
“I wanted her to hear it,” McCarthy said.
A few weeks later, she died. McCarthy played the song at her funeral. It was hard but healing.
McCarthy’s two years in Alaska were filled with songwriting.
“I think songwriting followed me,” she said.
Living in a different place opened her up to new people with new ideas. She moved to La Crosse in September 2006 and is an educational interpreter for West Salem Elementary in West Salem, Wis.
As McCarthy keeps having new experiences, she keeps writing about them.
“When you have to evaluate your life, songwriting has a neat effect.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Melissa Kay McCarthy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11
WHERE: Trempealeau Hotel, 150 Main St., Trempealeau, Wis., (608) 534-6898
WEB SITE: http://www.melissakaymccarthy.com
Contact Käri Knutson at email@example.com or (507) 453-3523.