High art— now appearing on weekends in Ely

“High art,”  Pete Hamill once said, “always survives”  and quite unexpectedly (as in I never saw it coming)  Ely has it going on quite well, thank you.  It  has found its way up stairs to a warm second floor room that opens each weekend for three sets a night beneath a chalk blackboard of gifted calligraphy that celebrates an expatriot, roots of Ely, Irene Hartfield, with piano and decades of well turned song.  Music once spun on  45’s and 78’s has found its  way into a mix of CDs that is generative milk and honey harmony honed by NYC funk as well as years of cruise ship perform-ances. A  separation from one’s familiarity with a juke box begins slowly, but eventually arrives upstairs with a grinning  flourish. We are being sung to. From a piano. Our kids, grandkids, the Hip Hop nation, too, will not turn an ear in the manner of generations past but none of that music has gone away. The exposure still beckons; discoveries are  invited, stories remain; small treasures for the curious. Sinatra moved on but his transcendence of solitude can still see us through a night.  Billie left in ‘59 but her scratch lays bare today, arguably as raw a rendition of soul as memory can offer. Each weekend, covers are lifted from Vinyl as well as  CDs and with Irene’s own work the repertory appears as endless as the winter she has rescued us from.  Lyrics of risk taken, chance lost, rich and poor pockets, love won, love lost, love retrieved and even regret for doing so, find the very marrow of emotion we seldom misplace.  All in song.  Randomness is thoroughly dismissed.  To social instrumentation, attention is not paid.  There is a swell of Karma, a fine flow of wine, all on the rhythms of a talented lady with piano who has offered us the most fortunate means to find peace with seasonal disorder.

It’s not obligatory but we, in turn, at the end of a night descend the stairs, giving thanks in our own off-key manner with (wouldn’t you know it?)  “Goodnight Irene.”

Bill Herzberg

Ely, Minn.

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