Song of the STL

On Saturday, September 4, we tuned in to local musical frequencies in their vast and varied incarnations. What we heard, all day and all night:

With four stages spread out across Laclede's Landing, it's hard to get a fix on exactly how many people are here, but it's got to be several thousand. Around the corner, the intersection of Second Street and Morgan is packed shoulder to shoulder as the Rich McDonough Band rocks up a version of the Rufus Thomas chestnut "Walking the Dog," and down the way another sizable group is assembling near the Embassy Suites hotel awaiting the performance of Kim Massie.

Back on the main stage, St. Louis Blues Society president John May praises the Holmes Brothers' just-ended performance, then announces that guitarist John Mooney, who's scheduled to perform at the festival on Sunday night, can't make it out of Florida because the airports are closed.

"Stuck in a hurricane," says May. "Sounds like the title of a blues song." -- Dean C. Minderman 8:45 p.m.
Kung Jeon
Hazelwood

From the moment you walk through the heavy wooden door into the dark, windowless bar, it's apparent you've stepped into another dimension from the Hazelwood you just left. Here it's karaoke, Korean-style, and you better have come to sing. Our hostess, owner Suzie Chang, may have set the standard for the rest of the evening with her rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" in Korean.

As a sad Korean synth-pop melody fills the room after Chang's confidently spirited performance, her feisty Aunt Imo (who backs up nearly every singer with a tambourine) translates: "This song about a bluebird who lost his way back to the big tree. He's crying and crying. Maybe he can't find his mommy." -- John Goddard 10:17 p.m.
The Heights Piano Bar
St. Louis

Applause babbles forth from the swung-open front door of the Heights, lighting an otherwise dark corner of South Jefferson. Inside, a gaggle of gay men, conglomerating mostly in twos and threes, talk and dish until piano man Ron Bryant, casually dressed in T-shirt, jeans, and unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt, decides on the next ditty he'll play. This is the way it goes seven nights a week at the Heights, where Bryant is one of three regular players: a little singing, a little joking, a little drinking, a little more singing.

Bryant tickles out the opening bars of "Where the Boys Are." As if responding call-and-answer-style to the song's titular question, all nineteen patrons (it's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday...) bellow the lyrics in exuberant, off-key unison, the hodgepodge choir serving as testament to the pied-piper pull of a classic piano bar in all its corny glory.

Where the boys are, where the boys are
Someone waits for me

-- Martelli11:14 p.m.
Radio Cherokee
St. Louis

Enveloped by heat, humidity, smoke and wood paneling, a sweltering crowd is stuck together to watch local boys Grand Ulena perform.

But the guys aren't playing; they're listening. The trio sways back and forth to the'70s sounds of St. Louis saxophonist Julius Hemphill playing over the PA. Bassist Darin Gray's eyes roll back into his head, and within a millisecond the heat in the room escalates to white hot as Grand Ulena detonates into one of its patented elastic explosions of noise. Drummer Danny McClain is all over the place, clobbering his drums so fiercely that he almost falls over them. Guitarist Chris Trull's ever-present grin remains steady even while launching serrated guitar salvos. Listening deeply, Grand Ulena makes the music its own. -- Guy Gray

11:20 p.m.
Pyramid
St. Louis

The teens look like south-city teens, the girls with their half-belly shirts, the guys with their close-cropped hair. But they aren't dancing butts to nuts, half-humping on the dance floor. They're holding hands in a semicircle, lifting and lowering their arms, occasionally letting out a high-pitched yip along with the music: the Atlantic Band, one man playing keyboards and singing, the other crooning into a wireless mic in the middle of the crowd.

It's traditional Bosnian folk music, albeit with the inescapable disco overtones that the keyboard and drum machine bring. But even with the cheesy touch of the synth tones, it's authentic enough for Pyramid owner and Bosnian native Dennis Kostic.

Later on tonight he'll be spinning hip-hop and techno on this same dance floor, and these same teens will be rutting in pairs. But for now it feels like a family reunion. -- Harper

11:30 p.m.
The Spotlight
St. Louis

Eleven p.m. at a three-a.m. north-side dance club is a little early, but the upside is you get a ringside seat. You and the other 50-odd early birds can sit at a stool in this room that holds maybe 1,500 and stare at the empty dance floor, get a good couple of Hennessys coursing through your system.

This evening's emcee, Mo-Shay, is sitting on the bar in her hot-pink dress with a cordless mic in her hand. Hip-hop station Q-95.5 FM broadcasts live to the St. Louis area, and Mo-Shay's busy coercing the Natural Bridge cruisers to head north.

DJ Boo, one of the city's best, drops Usher's "Yeah!" and two ladies breach the invisible wall to become the evening's first on the dance floor. The men watch. "Ladies!" Mo-Shay screams into the night, "the ratio is about eight-to-one guys to girls here. They all looking at me, staring at me. I'm gonna need a little help. Come on over. It's free until midnight."

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