Hard-core Madison boomers like me will be thrilled to hear that two of the most famous musicians to come out of this town - Tracy Nelson and Ben Sidran - reunite Oct. 9 at the Barrymore Theatre. It's the quintessential Mad City event - a benefit for a great cause, the Hackett Hemwall Foundation, which takes medical care to our sisters and brothers in the Third World.
Nelson and Sidran have played music together since they met in the heady UW year of 1963. Nelson was an aspiring folksinger with a big, bawdy voice; Sidran famously turned her on to R&B. They've teamed up countless times over the years. But this is their first joint gig since they bookended the city's '04 culture change, doing the Civic Center's closing concert and Overture's gala opening.
Hackett Hemwall's a Madison-based nonprofit run by Dr. Jeff Patterson of UW Family Medicine, who's also known for his work with Physicians for Social Responsibility. At the heart of Hackett Hemwall's charitable work in Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines is chronic pain relief. The miracle in their kit is prolotherapy, which involves injecting ligaments with dextrose.
"That creates a little bit of injury, allowing the body to make healing cells and lay down new collagen," Patterson explains. "People in the Third World have lots of chronic pain from wear and tear. The procedure truly helps, and it's ideal in poor countries because it's very cost-effective and low-tech. It can be done quite easily, in any village."
The brains behind the Barrymore show belong to Joanne Gardner, a music producer who sang backup with Nelson in Nashville for over 20 years. Gardner recently moved to Montana, where she met singer/songwriter/ medical man Ben Bullington, who's involved with Hackett Hemwall. Bullington, whom Nelson calls "a really, really good songwriter," opens Friday's show.
Gardner gave Nelson a call recently to ask if she'd do a Madison fundraiser. "I said yes," Nelson says. "Ben [Sidran] and I don't get to play together very often, and I thought this would be perfect. I'm bringing my regular backup band, but having Ben on keyboards makes everything soooo much better. I prevailed on him to do the show. We don't have to rehearse - he can do it blindfolded. We'll just do my regular live set - blues, R&B, a little bit of country."
Nelson's set'll take you on a trip through time. There'll be some Mother Earth tunes from our raging hippie days. For sure she'll sing her signature song, "Down So Low." I'm betting on a piece or two from her favorite album, Ebony and Irony (2001), and a smattering off her 26th CD, Victim of the Blues, now in the works.
"Playing with Tracy's like falling off a log," says Sidran. "She's an old pal of mine. I have no idea what we're gonna play. I'll just join in and do her repertory. I love having a chance to throw everything away and just enjoy being a musician among musicians."
This happy hometown party helps buy some of the supplies Hackett Hemwall's docs take on their trips - everything else comes out of their pockets. Patterson says he'll show a few slides, so you can get the full sense of what you're getting for your ticket bucks Friday night. But take my word for it, in advance - this show's a steal.