Bill Morrissey at the Webster Community Center, Webster, Wisconsin, February 14, 1998

Date:          Wed, 18 Feb 1998 05:05:00 -0600 
From:          Jay Barnes <>
Subject:       Hipster in Webster

I got to see Bill perform for the first time last Saturday night, February 14th. The show was incredible, bouncing between light stories about life to the sublime musicianship that marks a truly great performer.

My wife and I set out at 12:30 in the afternoon to drive across America's dairyland to get to Webster, a very small community in northwestern Wisconsin. Into the 5th hour of the trip, I began to wonder if the trip was going to be worth it, but my wife is a big capitalism nut, and really wanted to support the economy by going to Minneapolis' Mall of America. By agreeing to go there the next day, I was able to get her to go see Bill with me that night. As it turned out, she really loved the show, too. She even commented that she enjoyed it more than any of the Loudon Wainwright shows that I've taken her to, virtual sacrilege in my book. As we finished up the last leg of our trip, we were treated to Greg Brown live on Prairie Home Companion.

Finally cruising into Webster, we drove around a bit and located a large grange-like building, probably the community center. A hand painted board stuck in the snow proclaimed "Concert Tonight". I figured "how many concerts could there be in this town", so I drove around back to turn around. We checked into our hotel and had some dinner before the show.

The show started at 8:00pm, so we arrived about 7:15. We got a space at the front door, and after presenting our tickets, realized we were some of the first folks there. We sat down in the front row, dead center. Now I knew the long tip was worth it. The people who put on the show, Fresh Tracks Concert Series, provided refreshments: juice, cookies, coffee, etc. It was really an intimate venue. Pictures of the VFW and Lions club guys dotted the walls. My wife commented that the whole feeling was like we were in the town from the "Newhart" show. All types of people, from young kids to old kids, moseyed into the hall, and at 8:10 after a nice intoduction, Bill took the stage.

The set list, as best I can remember:

  1. Different Currency
  2. Casey, Illinois
  3. Letter from Heaven
  4. Ice Fishing
  5. Live Free of Die
  6. Motels and Planes
  7. Snow Outside the Mill
  8. Handsome Molly
  9. Off-White
  10. Married Man
  11. Party at the U.N.
  12. Robert Johnson
  13. Barstow
  14. Up on the C.P. Line
  15. "The Sing-a-long"
  16. Birches
  17. Man from Out of Town
  18. Grizzly Bear

Live Free or Die, Married Man, Man from out of Town, and Grizzly Bear were all requests. Bill also did a Bob Dylan tune, a transcription of a Russian Christmas carol, a reading from his book, and a short improvised tune called "Hipster from Webster" that he credited to Joni Mitchell. Of course the tunes were interspersed with funny stories and anecdotes about fishing, song-writing, other musicians, and many other topics. I won't tell you what the sing-a-long tune was, as it has to be heard to be fully appreciated. Bill did, however, reveal that although it wasn't his tune, it pretty much expressed everything he felt musically. Bill was musically tight and exciting, moving easily from the "Depresso" music, as he called it, to the lighter, funnier stuff. The crowd seemed subdued, but this didn't seem to bother him, and he put on a superb show.

After the show, Bill came out to sign copies of his book and to chat with whoever was interested. I waited in line, and ahead of me was a gentleman who had been a commercial fisherman in Alaska. He and Bill had quite an interesting conversation about the boats and fishing in that part of the world. When it was my turn, I opened my liner from "Standing Eight" for him to autograph. The first thing he did was insert a second "S" in Morrisey, and when I told him I never noticed that, he said "Don't worry about it. It happens to Keith Richards all the time." We had a nice chat which included discussion about the "Birches" list. Bill said that he had met Shirley from Ft. Atkinson (WI) at a previous show, and also said he recognized my name from the list. He said Ellen reads it and shows him some of it. I wanted to give him something to thank him for coming out on the road. I purchased a $10 pre-paid calling card at RadioShack, which I proceeded to forget in my pocket. I dropped it off later at his hotel, so I hope he got it. I know it wasn't much, but what do you give a touring musician that they can really use or really want?

There was a casino in town, as we were close to an Indian reservation, and Bill commented that he might try it out, but that he wasn't much of a gambler. I hope he gave it a try. I'm no gambler, and I doubled my money.

All in all I was very lucky that night, not only at the one arm bandits, but at the Webster Community Center, where I got my first taste of one of my favorite musicians, in a truly engaging and dynamic performance that I will never forget.

Thanks, Bill.