Playful Willie Wisely Sparks Riverpoints

By Tim Roberts

About halfway through Willie Wisely's hour-long set at the Rockin' at Riverpoints concert on July 11, the Star of Louisville pulled out from its slip and blew its loud horn as it slid by the wharf. The people on board waved at us. "Look everyone, it's a boat full of wavers!" Willie said with childlike glee. Then he, his bassist, and lead guitarist all leaned out of the stage and waved back.

It may not have been the most humorous point of the short concert, but it showed that Willie and his band were having fun and not taking themselves too seriously – considering that they had just finished a 12-hour drive from their home in Minneapolis and would shortly be heading back in that direction in their van for some weekend club dates.

For the entire time they were on stage, Willie Wisely and band exuded sheer kooky joy. The travel time, which would make normal mortals grumpy and glad for a stop at Motel 6, didn't seem to affect the band. Willie, on rhythm guitar, was a smirky jester, dressed in dark slacks and a silky shirt of multicolored squares, his thin blond hair flapping as he bounced about the stage. The other band members, equally colorful and energetic, were Craig Holetz on bass, Jim Weber on lead guitar and keyboards, and Chris Lakey on drums.

They played several selections from Wisely's most recent release She, reviewed in the July issue of LMN. His style ranges from bouncy bubble-gum pop, that may remind you of Badfinger or The Raspberries, to heavy, blues-influenced rock. "Blues (was all the rage)" was their lead-off tune, followed by the humorous, blues-based "Loander My Guitar." The sound from then throughout the show was slick, almost studio-quality, with all the guitar and keyboard effects.

Wisely and band were into the risqué "Ready to Wear," about a girl named Paris who "Sips me like I'm tea / Swallowing occasionally," when several attendees from a Chamber of Commerce cocktail-and-d'oeuvres affair at the opposite end of the wharf paused in front of the stage. Almost all looked a little confused and unsure of the antics they saw. Some left, walking quickly toward the steps to the exit. Few others stayed and remained for the rest of the show. One of them, a large, hairy-armed man named with a stick-on name tag identifying him as Don, leaned toward me with a smile. "Who are these guys?"

"Willie Wisely. From Minneapolis."

His smile widened. "They're funny. They're really good. Some of the people I was just with need to stick around and listen to him."

Wisely then played "Go," another She selection, then the Caribbean-style "Sleepin' With Girls," about all the various discomforts of waking up after an amorous night with someone special: elbows in the face, charley-horses, stubbed toes, bad breath, and the desperate need for a toothbrush.

The Riverpoints concerts are family-friendly, and lots of children were in the audience. Wisely did apologize for playing such "adult" material to a family crowd. "But," he said with a smarty-pants toss of his head, "you invited me!"

After a few more selections, Wisely wrapped up the show with "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," an updated version of the old popular American standard used most notably in the Chuck Jones Warner Bros. cartoon about the singing frog. Wisely's version, of course, has different lyrics and a radically different melody. They are both about what gossip can do. Wisely is quite direct with his feelings when he sings, "I don't want my ears ringing with the words of fools."

Backstage after their set, Wisely and band had a team of enthusiastic visitors from WFPK, which has many cuts from She on its playlist. Those folks love him. Besides, it's hard not to love a performer who has a guest book on the display table with his CDs in a velvet-lined suitcase.

The last time I saw Willie, he was sitting quietly alone on a large concrete tie-cleat on the wharf, staring across the river. He had dropped off a packet of energy, fun, and memories for us. A 12-hour Interstate ride was waiting.

Wisely and band were wrapped between superb performances from the Shannon Lawson Band and headliners David Wilcox and Sapphire the Uppity Blues Women.