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Brent Mitchell sings the blues

brent mitchell; art; blues; the arts; music; musician

When I sat down a few days ago to chat with Brent Mitchell, I knew a few things about him already. He is a poet, visual artist, theologian and activist.

Brent Mitchell lounges in his home while discussing music and the arts with the Observer’s Tammy Peacy. Photo property of Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

His music has been Grammy listed and included on a movie soundtrack. Brent’s also a great talker. As a result, in the span of an hour’s time, he covered topics ranging from fascism to the music scene in Texas, to Summerfest and to the importance of recognizing excellence in the arts. 

Our main goal for meeting was to get word out about Brent’s upcoming show, so let’s get that part out of the way: 

November 19th, 2021

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Brent Mitchell

@ Taste of Soul Bar and Grill 262

501 6th Street, Racine, WI

While you wait for Friday and a chance to see him in person, enjoy the following excerpts from our conversation.

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The Differences Between Life in Madrid and Life in the Midwest

brent mitchell; bm; blues; music; art; artist; the arts; musician; kenosha
Pieces of Brent Mitchell’s artwork. Photo property of Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

BM: You know, everybody goes to these beautiful parks and they just fill up with people, having nice times. And people walk down the street, young people, it’s not uncommon for them all to sing together.

TP: So life in Spain is just like a musical?

BM: It’s not perfect, no place is.

Also, here we have our economies based on these giant stores ⏤ everything from Amazon to Walmart ⏤ and it does things.

I have realized, since I’ve been to Europe a number of times, how they’ve destroyed community in this country. Being able to walk to all of the little shops that have everything you need, within a block of your house or two blocks, everything in those shops. In some places, like in Italy very often, they’ve been in people’s family selling these one or two things in their shops for generations. Everyone knows them.

The economics of the place actually creates a community.

Also, you’re not driving your car everywhere in traffic, and everybody’s miserable, and tired. Frustrated.

Taste of Soul Bar and Grill 262, House Band Chicken Grease, and the Importance of Diversity in Music and the Arts

BM: Taste of Soul is a little soul food cafe with probably the best house band; I’m sure the best house band ⏤ God ⏤ maybe from Chicago to Milwaukee.

TP: Who’s the band?

BM: It’s Chicken Grease. You know Chicken Grease? So, this African-American band, they do neo-soul and soul and funk and jazz, and it’s a bunch of guys who grew up in church and who are just all amazing players ⏤ God, they’re good.

(Note: Per Nick Ramsey, who does the booking for Taste of Soul, the members of Chicken Grease are RaQuel GoldenWhite on vocals, Kyle King on keys and vocals, Neal Moore on bass, Freeman G on guitar, and also Dennis Marshall, Jr on drums.)

Brent Mitchell discusses the local music scene with the Observer’s Tammy Peacy at his home. Photo property of Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

BM: So, it’s this soul food cafe and it’s more racially mixed than Kenosha. Kenosha is just very segregated as compared to Racine. And this is one of the places that is delightfully racially mixed.

People aren’t aware a lot of times of the segregation here, because so many people here have not really been around much. They’ve not been around the country very much. A lot of people haven’t.

And for the arts particularly  in every sense it’s messed up, its a horrible thing socially, economically and so forth but for the arts it creates sterility.

In Austin, New Orleans, lots of big cities, but particularly Austin, I’d say a lot of different cultures and a lot of different musical styles mix. You’ve got Flaco Jimenez playing norteno conjunto accordion with country and rock bands, and punk and folk players playing together. And Black and Hispanic and Cajun and jazz players.

All that creates this gumbo that creatively is just this wonderful, thriving kind of ⏤ plus, it’s just a happier situation. 

On the End of his Music Career

TP: When was the beginning? When did you come to Kenosha?

BM: A little more than 20 years ago. Yeah. Came from England, where my wife was finishing her degree in Oxford. She was there for three years. And I was there for probably more like two years. Our son was born there. As soon as she finished, we got on a plane with our son who was two weeks old and our daughter, our oldest daughter, and flew to a number places around the country.

Carthage just happened to be, strangely enough in a number of ways, the best job. I really didn’t want to move here to tell you the truth.

I had a manager in Nashville, who was also the Vice President of SESAC. And I called him up and I said,  Hey, were moving just north of Chicago.” And he said, “Well, kiss your music career goodbye. It’s all over for you.”

How Local Music Works in Texas

brent mitchell; bm; blues; music; art; artist; the arts; musician; kenosha
Various guitars, photographs and artworks adorn the walls surrounding Brent Mitchell’s piano ⏤ the instruments of his creativity on full display. Photo property of Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

BM: Down there when you get airplay on radio stations, they don’t just play you once or something because you’re a local. You get on rotation. 

And in fact, in Texas ⏤ and this is one of the things that just people can’t even imagine here ⏤ if there’s a big, huge festival and some big names come from somewhere else, the big names don’t get the prime spots. If you’re from Texas, and you’re a band from that town, you get the prime spot. Because you’re from Texas. 

And usually, you’re gonna be damn good. Because there’s so many good players there.

Lots of radio stations either play only Texas music, of whatever kind, or only, only music from that town. 

Summerfest and its Damaging Effect on Local Music

With Summerfest, you’ve got this idea: If you want somebody good, they have to come from somewhere else. Right? And if a local band gets to play Summerfest, they play this little stage they put over here.

I’m not sure they get paid anything. They can’t go to the big stages and mix with the other guys. It’s like, okay, we’ll throw a bone to you guys over here.

And I think a lot of musicians just aren’t even aware that they live in a musical culture that is that way.

Brent Mitchell

Brent Mitchell’s walls are covered in artwork and creative projects. Photo property of Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

The Situation of Music and Art in Kenosha

BM: People here like music, but they like to drink more. Right? So they go out to drink. And then the music is sort of there.

It’s gotten better since I’ve been here. And largely because of Fusion. Don (Miller) created Fusion, and I was one of the first people to play there. And I remember somebody saying, “I’ve never been in a place where the chairs and everything is oriented toward the stage and where you’re supposed to just actually listen.”

So I think Don, with Fusion, actually taught a lot of people here what it means to go and hear music and listen to music and not just sort of be there.

As far as the visual arts go, there’s a lot of amazing stuff here. But there needs to be some kind of hierarchy.

The great thing about inviting everybody to participate, you know, it means that everybody grows and gets a chance to become a part of the arts in one way. That’s fantastic.

But there needs to be a distinction between excellence and mediocrity.

People need to feel comfortable participating in everything, but they also need to understand there’s a bar to reach for.

brent mitchell; bm; blues; music; art; artist; the arts; musician; kenosha
Brent Mitchell discusses his long career and what he’s learned along the way at his home. Photo property of Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

EP 14: Do what you can Inside the Mind of Daniel Thompson

In this episode, I talk about how changing ones area of focus can make the difference between meaningfully addressing an issue or just giving up on trying to entirely. — Support this podcast:
  1. EP 14: Do what you can
  2. Ep. 13: The problem of being overly positive
  3. Ep. 12: 'Where have you been?'
  4. Ep. 11: 'Framing and Sobriety'
  5. Ep. 10: 'Loneliness is part of life.'

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