Local talent adds much to annual Buffalo Commons festival

Friday, June 12, 2015

Congratulations to everyone involved with this weekend's Buffalo Commons Storytelling and Music Festival, which promises to be one of the best.

One of the organizers, Mary Dueland, joked at a preview Thursday night at the Bieroc Cafe that it should be called the 20th annual festival -- it's actually the 19th -- because it will be hard to beat next year, the real 20th annual event.

We're looking forward to hearing "Mike + Ruthy," return performers with links to the legendary Pete Seeger, and Ruthy -- Ruth Ungar is Jay Ungar's daughter -- another popular Buffalo Commons performer.

Bill Harley is an ideal performer for Buffalo Commons, using song and story to ply his trade -- he regaled Thursday's crowd with his version of a Robert W. Service poem, only featuring pirates and underwear.

But it's perhaps most gratifying that so many of the performers are "local," or at least have local ties.

Chuck Peek was raised in McCook and went on to become a Fulbright Lecturer, Senior Specialist and past president of the Cather Foundation, as well as a university English teacher and Episcopal priest.

Mike Adams is a former McCook businessman whose first love, singing and playing the guitar, has brought him back with Kate Benzel, professor emeritus in English at UNK, to celebrate plains history in music and story.

And Peek will join Gene O. Morris, former editor and publisher of the McCook Daily Gazette, to share colorful stories about newspaper founder Harry Strunk.

The Rev. Clark and Dawna Bates will reprise their roles as Sen. George W. Norris and his wife, Ellie; bringing two of McCook's most important historical figures to life.

It's pleasing to see a growing emphasis on music as part of the storytelling festival; after all, nothing gets a story across quite as well as a good melody.

McCook's becoming quite an incubator for live music, including the Bieroc's concert series, regular summertime live music at the Lighthouse Marina, Club Paradise, Sports and other venues, as well as the Norris Park bandshell.

Speaking of the latter, wouldn't it be great to have weekly old-time community band concerts in the summer at the park?

Of course, that would take a serious commitment from an organizer and the performers, and most people with talent and time for that are already more than committed.

Still, the bandshell is a wonderful community resource that should get even more use.

Songwriter Ginger ten Bensel shared a heartwarming song Thursday night she wrote for her parents' 50th anniversary, and joins Gene Malleck for Thursday morning jam sessions at the YMCA.

The Talbott Brothers, from Imperial, are gaining steam as singer-songwriters, recording and touring, and two musical ventures were recognized at this year's Hormel Business Plan competition.

Jesse Stevens' Digital Canvas Recording Studio was a finalist, and Jason Van Pelt's VP Percussion was the winner, building and marketing the percussion instrument he invented.

And those are just a few of many local musicians who are using their talents professionally.

Taken together, they're helping make Southwest Nebraska a growing cultural center.

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