Long-lived Irish rock band The Kissers said farewell to Madison a couple of years back, deciding to retire amidst a number of real-life changes for its members. At the time bassist/vocalist Ken Fitzsimmons penned an open letter to the band's fans in advance of its "farewell for now" show, giving background on its history and the rationale for breaking up. Since then, the band has played a couple of St. Patrick's Day reunion shows, keeping The Kissers fresh in fans' minds. Now Fitzsimmons returns with a new communiqué, announcing the band's "reformation" and a return show at the Crystal Corner Bar on Saturday, October 2. The letter follows.
The Kissers called it quits in 2008 after banjoist Waylan Nate Palan (now performing as Waylan Daniel) and fiddler Kari Bethke moved to New York City. Their departure was more of a symptom of the oncoming breakup than the cause. In fact, the band had gone through many lineup changes since its founding in 1998. When Nate and Kari left, I was the only remaining founding member. Losing a couple of members never stopped the band before, so what was different this time?
Around 2004, The Kissers began doing something we'd wanted to do for a long time: tour the country. Armed with a booking agent, we set off for many small and mid-sized clubs, Irish pubs, and a few colleges and festivals on both coasts and borders of the U.S. In all, we played 39 states, and at the height of our touring drove more than 75,000 miles and played over 200 shows in one year alone.
Well, as many people know, touring takes a toll. On one hand it's liberating. Most of us didn't even pay rent or own a home, and so we were free to travel wherever the winds took us. Our sense of time and distance were altered. I'd be in Madison and on the phone with my friend in Portland, Oregon telling him that I'd be seeing him in a few days. This was just a part of the lifestyle.
But it's not hard to imagine that when not having a home, any real regularity (other than moving -- always moving) or much income to speak of, the desire to "settle down" starts creeping into the mind. And as the dreams of touring fade into thoughts like "how come we've played this place five times and still no one's coming to see us?" the romanticism begins to wear off.
Whiskey Lash All-Stars
When the band was in town (meaning Madison), we'd frequently play Irish-themed shows, but with less than the full lineup of The Kissers. Whenever the whole band wasn't there, we'd call it the Whiskey Lash All-Stars, so that no one would be confused or tricked into thinking they were at a Kissers performance but weren't getting the full show. The All-Stars played covers and Irish traditionals that the full group didn't play.
After the "Farewell for Now" show in June 2008, the All-Stars continued to play with whatever remaining members were in town, and a few previous members. Founding mandolin player Kevin Youngs always played with the group and continued doing so after he left The Kissers in 2004. Founding whistle player Bryan Elliott (a former bandmate of mine in Little Blue Crunchy Things) started teaming up with the All-Stars after the Farewell show.
Another important detail about 2008 was that I was about to enter grad school at UW-Madison for an arts administration MBA. As anyone who has ever gone to grad school can attest, my time was... well ... taken. However, in May 2010 I happily graduated and found myself with a bit more time on my hands.
And then one day it dawned on me: Other than the number of people on stage, is there really any difference between The Kissers and the Whiskey Lash All-Stars? If an audience member looked at two set lists, one with "Streams of Whiskey" by The Pogues and "American Folk Song" by The Kissers (a song frequently "covered" by the All-Stars) written on it, while the other had "If I Should Fall From Grace with God" by The Pogues and "What They Can" by The Kissers, would that person really have any idea which band's set list they were looking at? And would we?
Well, things are so often more obvious when you're on the outside looking in. So it took us a few years to figure this one out.
So here's what's happening: The Whiskey Lash All-Stars are breaking up. Yes, I'm sorry to say, they were a good band, and it's too bad really because there really isn't a whole lot of Irish rock being played in town.
But wait! There's good news. Some of the members of that group (all of them actually) are joining up with The Kissers to bring that band back to life! Get it?
Now every show may not be the whole band, but you'll get clue words. For example on the second Monday of the month at The Malt House you can hear The Kissers (traditional set) which includes Ken on guitar/vocals, Kevin on mandolin, Bryan on whistle and Kissers drummer Joe Bernstein on bodhran (the traditional Irish drum).
Sometimes at Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills you might see The Kissers (pub show) -- a stripped-down version of the rock show -- with Ken, Kevin, Joe and Kissers guitarist Sean Michael Dargan.
But if the marquee just says "The Kissers," then expect the full experience with Ken, Kevin, Bryan, Sean, Joe and accordionist/keyboardist Mike Cammilleri. The band will be reworking its set as it has done many times in the past in order to fully utilize the strength of its lineup.
For a better understanding of what that sounds like, go to the Crystal Corner Bar on Saturday, October 2, and see for yourself. And if you can't make it to that show, well, we'll see you soon.