For all but the seven years I lived in Texas, I’ve spent my whole life in Wisconsin, but until tonight I’d never been to Door County. Ian Moore was my fourth house concert, and maybe because it was so early on, he remains my favorite. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for the last six years to get him back. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, it’s that he just hasn’t toured the Midwest in the last half dozen years. The one time he did it was with his rock band the Lossy Coils who he says are too loud for the basement (admittedly he may be right). So when his booking agent sent me an e-mail saying that Moore would be playing at a bar in Door County tonight I was a little surprised. “He’s there on vacation with his family,” she hastened to tell me, “Pat MacDonald found out he was in town and asked him to play on his bill as a special guest.” It was nice of her to tell me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive just over three hours each way to see Moore play an opening set.
I woke up Saturday morning with no intention of going, but it’s amazing what an afternoon nap can do, and I got in the car for the long, but uneventful, drive. And here I was, in Door County, Wisconsin’s premier vacation destination. I certainly didn’t expect my first visit to be for three hours in a bar in the middle of nowhere, but I guess I needed to start slow. It was worth it for the look on Moore’s face when I walked through the door. He decided right then that he would finally accept MacDonald’s invitation to play the Steel Bridge Song Festival the next summer, and would play a show at the house on the same trip. I was already happy I came, and he hadn’t even played yet. The shows I’d seen recently had all been band shows, so part of what got me in the car was that I knew this would be a solo show. And it was as awesome as I could have hoped. Moore made his name as a guitar player, but it would be wrong to overlook his amazing voice, which soars from croon to effortless falsetto, from comforting to seductive.
He went back in his catalog for the bluesy “Satisfied,” and also played newer songs I didn’t know. It was an eclectic set in no way limited by the fact that he was playing acoustic instead of his usual electric, or that he was playing solo when normally he has a powerful rhythm section behind him. Moore has spent a lot more time in Door County than I have because his mother was from the area, and his reflections on her were poignant. He played a song that he had written for her and followed it with “Kangaroo Lake” about the Door County landmark (I never knew). I wasn’t sure that the crowd who was here to see Purgatory Hill would quiet down and listen to Moore’s set, but for the most part they did.
Purgatory Hill is the collaboration between Door County’s Pat MacDonald (a local hero for his efforts to save the town’s steel bridge) and Melanie Jane. MacDonald can be a bit of a one trick pony, but it’s a pretty good trick. He plays bluesy riffs on his odd looking guitar relative instrument and stomps a miked piece of plywood for rhythm. Melanie Jane contributes keyboards and vocals which give the songs added substance. I couldn’t stay all night, I had a three hour drive back after all, but I did stay for the first set which I enjoyed. I’m not sure if I was more entertained by the band or by their biggest fan, an enthusiastic woman with bleach blonde hair and a tight Playboy T-shirt. She danced excitedly in front of the stage for most of their set, stopping only to encourage others to join her, make a request or ask me the name of the song they were currently playing. I must have looked like I would know.