story and photos by Daniel Maher, special to The City Wire
FORT SMITH — Several bands rocked Neumeier’s Rib Room for a good cause Saturday evening and into the night (May 5). Grant Pierson, The Wanda Watson Band, Willie Stradlin, Wingnut The Band and Hillbilly Vegas put on a fundraising concert for the Fort Smith Children’s Emergency Shelter. Cover was just $10 but went a long way toward offering assistance to the young men and women served by the shelter.
The five bands that played and several more recently donated their time and talent for a compilation CD, Shelter From the Storm: Music from the River Valley. All proceeds from sales of the CD will go to support the organization, said executive director Jack Moffett.
The evening started with a warm vibe from Grant Pierson performing “Carmelita,” a Warren Zevon song. Pierson invited Denise Messamore to the stage to end his set with a duet, “Leather and Lace,” which was originally done by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley.
For the Shelter CD, Pierson offered a cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” In order to secure the rights for use of the song, shelter board member Maverick, one half of KTCS, 99.9-FM radio’s Breakfast Brothers duo — sent Seger a copy of Pierson’s rendition. According to Maverick, after listening to Pierson’s cover “Bob said, ‘Not only can you use it, but tell the guy he’s fantastic and donate my royalties back to the shelter.’”
When asked how that made him feel, Pierson replied, “It made my year!’”
The Wanda Watson Band took the stage and ripped it up with powerful blues belted out in a high-energy set. Thrice voted best Vocalist of the Year by the Blues Society of Tulsa, Watson captured the audience’s attention with her voice — a cross between the silk of Eva Cassidy and the grit of Janis Joplin.
Before the show she talked about her contribution to the Shelter CD, “Good Morning Sunshine.”
“It’s one of my favorite songs, it’s a healing song,” she said. The tune was co-authored with friend of hers, Ron Fowler, while they were going through recovery together.
“It’s a song about coming back from the depths of darkness” she said. Fowler was not so fortunate. The underlying point of “Good Morning Sunshine” makes it ideal for the Shelter CD.
Two of the bands’ names reflect the mixed genres they bring to the stage. The band Willie Stradlin, for example, is inspired by both the legendary Willie Nelson and Guns N’ Roses’ Izzy Stradlin. Willie Stradlin contributed a cover of “Sweet Melissa” by the Allman Brothers to the Shelter CD.
The band name Hillbilly Vegas is a bit more self-explanatory.
“It describes the feeling you get when you listen to us,” said the band’s Mitch Spencer. Indeed, Hillbilly Vegas’ cover of “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash is a hard driving, rockin’ version of the classic that manages to maintain the integrity and emotion of the original. This track alone is worth the purchase price of the Shelter CD. Members of Hillbilly Vegas were drawn to the CD project by their road manager, Boom Boom, who has volunteered at the shelter for the past few years.
The audience responded warmly to the band’s original tunes and to covers such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Good Hearted Woman.”
For those who missed Saturday’s fundraiser, Shelter From the Storm: Music From the River Valley is a available here.
It was recorded at Second Street Live and engineered by Tom Ware. In addition to the bands that played at Neumeier’s, the CD includes tracks from other favorite local favorites, such as Oreo Blue, Ricochet, Mr. Cabbage Head and The Screaming Radishes, Judge Parker, The Tom Ware Trio and Billy Hoffman.
The idea for the CD was conceived by Maverick. He suggested it during a brainstorming session at a shelter board meeting. They came up with a list of 14 artists, and when contacted, they all agreed to participate.
“We thought we might get five to six responses, but everyone wanted to be part of the project,” the radio personality said. Six months later, the CD was finished.
Moffett, the shelter director, said more than 500 children are assisted by the organization each year. The shelter has 24 beds split evenly between boys and girls. Moffett was quite thankful for Bill Neumeier.
“He’s been so generous with nonprofits giving 100 percent of the gate and 10 percent of food and drink sales to the shelter,” he said.