My friend Mike plays in the New Pioneers, a bluegrass band that has a regular gig at Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and I made the trip down to see them on Thursday night.
For the last 22 years, Cafe Carpe has hosted singer-songwriters and small groups in a tiny performance space sandwiched between the front bar and the back porch, which overlooks the Rock River. Steve Forbert played there on Tuesday night.
Another of the performers to have graced Cafe Carpe’s tiny stage is Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure.
As I sat there, watching Mike’s band — and no disrespect meant toward them — I found myself wishing I’d seen Sleepy in this room. The folks who run Cafe Carpe say there’s room for 60, maybe 70 people. OK, if you insist.
The wildest of the four Sleepy shows I’ve seen was at another jam-packed little place, the Bayside Tavern in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.
Sleepy and drummer Jerry Cavanagh and their bass player set up in the corner, just to your right when you came in the front door. A party-hearty crowd stood maybe 10 feet away from Sleepy as he played a couple of typically energetic sets. An intimate setting, indeed.
I stood next to the door, my arm resting on a window ledge. From that vantage point, I watched Sleepy head out the door between sets, walk across the two-lane street, open up the back of the band’s van, pour himself a cup of coffee and catch a little fresh air.
I have to imagine Sleepy’s show at Cafe Carpe was something like that.
Today, Sleepy covers Roger Miller, who also wrote this tune.
“Playboy,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Strange Things Happening,” 1994.
(Credits: Cafe Carpe photo by Arthur E. Welch III)