Saturday, March 19, 2011

I know a place

Many months ago, when we first read about Mavis Staples playing at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay, Tamala, Rob and I had the same reaction: really? Given the places she's been appearing lately, plus her recent Grammy and NAACP Image awards, it seemed too good to be true. When we figured out that the show was in the Oneida Lounge and free, well, that seemed way too good to be true. But we were definitely going to Green Bay Sunday night, on the off chance it wasn't.

As you've probably guessed, it was true. The lounge was a small area just off the main casino floor, with tables on platforms behind a semicircular bar. The bar seats offered the best view of the stage, which was directly behind the bar. And at every bar seat? A Keno/video poker screen. The catch, as we learned, was that to keep one's priority seat at the bar, one had to be playing. With $2.50 drinks and 5-cent poker credits, this wasn't exactly a hardship, but it did make for one of the strangest concert experiences I've ever had. I don't think anyone was paying much attention once the music started, but we still found ourselves guiltily dealing or betting during song breaks.

Mavis and her band were fantastic. We had our doubts about the atmosphere, but a crowd gathered behind the bar and at the tables, loudly cheering and applauding for every song. Even though we hadn't expected more than an hour or so of music with two more nights ahead for the band, we got a full concert on Sunday. Mavis was chatty - she even confessed to cheering for the Packers during the Super Bowl (as long as nobody was looking). The songs sounded great, highlights including "You Are Not Alone," "I Belong to the Band," and the classic "I'll Take You There." And after the show, we got a chance to chat with Mavis and many of the band members in the lounge. Rob was able to return for Tuesday night's show, but I'm glad I at least got to see Sunday. Green Bay isn't much farther away than Chicago ... maybe I should keep a closer eye on the Oneida calendar.

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