I know, I know: Jimmy Sengenberger is a hard name to remember. As a former kindergartener, I get it. Sengenberger can get confusing. “Should I put an ‘A’ in there? How about an ‘I’ or a ‘U?’”
Nope. It’s all E’s, all the time. (And once you know that, Sengenberger is EASY!)
While that’s a fun little ditty to say on the radio and teach listeners how to spell my seemingly never-ending last name, it’s not really possible when you’re playing harmonica at a gig and the band members are introduced.
Thus, channeling my favorite blues harp player, Junior Wells, and the fact that I am my father’s namesake, I recently brought to Colorado’s music scene the stage name Jimmy Junior. (Easier, right?)
I decided to do this after gigging as a pro-musician on the side and because, as things open up more, I’ll be playing around town more. Recently I joined The Lap Dawgs, an awesome, Denver-area rock band founded around 1995 by lead guitarist Joel Taylor. The Dawgs are also fronted by singer Pat Monacelli and held together by bass guru Ed Silva, drummer Mike Rossi and rhythm guitarist (and soundman) Mark Proulx.
While I’m naming musicians, I want to acknowledge several others who’ve given me some amazing opportunities. Last summer and fall, in spite of the pandemic, I had the good fortune of performing nearly a dozen gigs with rising country/rock music talent, Lo Becker.
Prior to that, guitarist David Brooks of Brooks ‘N Friends was the first guy to bring me in for pro-gigs, and I’ve had the honor of sitting in twice at Denver’s Oriental Theatre with international blues-rocker Tommy Castro. Plus, I’ve jammed live on the radio with two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Richie Furay, The Voice Season 6 star Biff Gore and others. All incredible musicians and even better guys!
Needless to say, playing harmonica is fun, different and unexpected. It’s a great way to channel my energy and my passions, get away from the tension of politics and simply entertain. The more I’ve gotten to perform on-stage with real bands at real gigs, I’ve learned a lot about respecting other musicians and when to weave the harp into a song (and when not to!).
However, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just how big of a deal live music really is to Colorado’s bars and restaurants, not to mention the big concert halls and amphitheaters. For some places, it can really make or break the business — and for many, it has broken them.
For example, owners Aaron and Amanda McCallister of T-Bird Roadhouse in Wheat Ridge recently told me “our sales triple” on show days because customers stick around longer to enjoy the music or come expressly to hear it.
You can imagine, then, how much of a toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on places like T-Bird’s, McCarthy’s in Aurora or Elevate Bar and Grill in Westminster (where the Dawgs have a gig on May 15). Government-mandated capacity limits intended to control the virus have crushed so many bars and restaurants, and live music may be the key to help many of them turn the corner.
Indeed, now that more Coloradans are being vaccinated and capacity limits are being lifted or increased, more venues will be able to bring musicians in for live shows. Not only will this help the businesses, but it’ll give struggling musicians – some of whom rely on performing for a living – a chance to get back on stage, regain confidence and earn some cash.
Music is food for the soul. It’s not Republican or Democrat; it doesn’t care about politics, race, gender or ethnicity. Live music literally brings people together of all walks of life, gives us a break from the stresses of life and gives us a chance to cut loose and have fun. It fuels musicians, venues and souls alike.
So, why not plan an outing with a few friends, catch a show and let yourself relax to some live tunes again? Tip the band and your servers; let yourself feel free. To paraphrase the Doobie Brothers, as the crowds grow bigger, listening for the happy sounds, your spirits will fly a little – and you’ll thank yourself for it. As the man sang:
Don’t you feel it growin’ day by day?
People gettin’ ready for the news
Some are happy some are sad...
Oh... we got to let the music play
What the people need is a way to make ‘em smile
It ain’t so hard to do if you know how
Gotta get a message, get it on through...
Oh now mama don’t you ask me why
Whoa oh whoa...
Listen to the music
Jimmy Sengenberger is host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads,” a webshow and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.