Chuck Mitchell will be performing at Dr. Getwell’s Bar & Grill, 1100 Main Street, on Friday, January 17th, from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m. This is the kickoff event for Keokuk’s annual Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, a weekend devoted to our national bird as it enjoys one of its favorite winter hangouts, the open water, and the fishing just below the dam at Keokuk.
The Chuck Mitchell Concert is sponsored by the Keokuk Cultural and Entertainment District a program of Main Street Keokuk, Inc. MSKI is a nonprofit, downtown revitalization organization. To learn more about MSKI and the Chuck Mitchell Concert call 319.524.5056 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The concert is free and open to the public.
Chuck got into both music and Keokuk by circuitous routes that he could hardly have predicted as a boy growing up in farm country north of Detroit, though even then music was greatly appreciated by everyone in his family, especially the musical comedies performed by touring companies in downtown Detroit.
While a student at Principia College, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River just north of Saint Louis, Chuck balanced his love of music with literature and drama, so that graduation, for him, led quite naturally to seeking a career in the theater in New York. It was in New York that he began to study guitar and think more seriously about what was then called folk music. As Chuck has explained it, “When I left college, there was no one to play while I sang, so I had to learn to play something. A guitar was more portable than a piano.”
Just as he was getting comfortable with the guitar, Chuck was drafted. His training at Fort Knox included the usual basic military training and then a focus on driving tanks. In his off hours, he still had his guitar. This led, in the incomprehensible way that soldiers can so easily identify with, to an overseas assignment (in Korea) as a reporter for Stars & Stripes and as a hoofer in musical comedy reviews, entertaining the troops.
At the conclusion of his military service, Chuck Mitchell returned to the Detroit area. By day he worked as a staff writer for the Great Cities Project, an outreach effort to help educate “culturally deprived” children, a program that was paid for by the Ford Foundation. By night he began performing at several Detroit clubs where he met singers like Mama Cass, Jose Feliciano, Tom Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Odetta, and Buffy St. Marie. In time Chuck quit his day job in order to focus all of his energy, enthusiasm and ability on music.
His career began to take him well beyond Michigan. It was in Toronto that Chuck met the Canadian songwriter Joan Anderson. They married, and as Joni Mitchell her career began to take off. For several years they traveled and performed together on the folk club circuit. This was the mid -to late-sixties, a time of cultural transformation, a time that celebrated change, and ambiguity and uncertainty—and in 1968 Chuck and Joni divorced.
The entire folk music scene changed and Chuck changed with it. As the folk clubs closed, Chuck moved on to new venues, including as a singer and guest lecturer at a number of colleges and universities, including Western Illinois University in Macomb. One day back in September of 1979, Chuck was driving west out of Macomb when he decided to take a short break to explore the town of Keokuk. He saw a house for sale, a house with a lot of history, a house that needed a lot of work. It called to him. He came back to visit Keokuk—and the house—several more times in the months to come. And then the house was his.
Chuck continued to travel and perform, but maintained Keokuk as one of his two bases. The other is in Wisconsin, out in the country, down a long drive to a house by a lake. It is here that his wife and two children live, the children having lived all their lives there. “They’re country kids, like me,” Chuck says, “but their mom got them started making music early, when they were five, with itty-bitty violins.” Now they’re grown up, the daughter having majored in English and music, is a concert violist, and their son has a degree in mathematics and is “composing music for ‘alt rappers.’ That’s what I call it. He calls it ‘making beats.’”
Chuck’s credits include A Prairie Home Companion, and repertory theater in Texas and in England. He has played Harold Hill in The Music Man and Woody Guthrie in Woody Guthrie’s American Song. Back in the 1990s, Chuck and Dave Marion put together a show of Mark Twain stories and Stephen Foster songs. They performed Mr. Foster & Mr. Twain in theaters across the Midwest for the next twenty years.
Chuck Mitchell’s one-man show is something not to be missed and well worth seeing—and hearing—more than once. In addition to his exceptional skills as an actor, singer and guitarist, he has great taste in music across several genres. He knows what works for him and for his audience. He’ll sing cabaret songs by Brecht and Weil—“Mack the Knife” and “The Bilbao Song”—and a few of those insanely funny songs by Flanders & Swann—“The Gnu” or “Have Some Madeira, M’dear.” He might stroll the room singing “Freeborn Man” by Ewan McColl, or “Necessity” from Finian’s Rainbow. He may even recite some poetry by Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot. If those bald eagles had any sense, they’d drop their fish and join us on Friday, January 17 at Dr. Getwell’s.