If it’s Free, is it worth braving twenty degree temperatures?

That was the question I faced this weekend. I’m guessing it is a half mile or more from my home to Remedy coffee. It’s a walk I’ve taken many times and I don’t consider it a particularly long one. On this night, however, my computer said it was twenty degrees out, with a windchill of eleven. I knew there was ice on the sidewalks and footing would be treacherous. I knew the wind had been blowing all day and it would make the walk only more painful. So I left my warm home and stepped out into the night.

I considered turning around. It was only when I was several blocks into the walk that I knew I would keep moving forward. A few people crossed my path: a family, two mothers and their children. Matt dutifully manned the counter at Downtown Wine. Patrons laughed and talked, their voices drifting out the door of the Downtown Grill.

As I walked through the 100 block of Gay Street, wind howling, ice covering the sidewalk, I wondered about this obsession I’ve held throughout my life. I’ve endured rain, ice and blazing heat to hear music. I’ve spent money that should have gone other places. I’ve paid a fortune for tickets and I’ve had the good fortune of hearing an amazing amount of free music. Outside of my family, music has been the most constant source of beauty, grace and joy in my life.

Wendel Werner and Katie Free at Remedy, Knoxville, January 2010

So, there I was. Trudging through the dark, icy streets for more free music. This time it was also Free music – that is, music performed by Katie Free along with Wendel Werner. Katie is a student in musicology at UT and performs in an ensemble with Wendel. It had been a while since I’d heard Wendel and I’d never heard Katie sing.

Katie Free sing jazzy standards at Remedy, Knoxville,

It was worth the walk. Katie has a silky voice that slides easily through standards, rhythm and blues and pop with a jazzy swing that seems to be popular with young female vocalists in Knoxville. Her version was livelier than Nora Jones and without as many of the vocal gymnastics one might expect from Robinella. She covered a very wide range of material, beginning with Gershwin’s “Summertime” and flowing seamlessly through Hank Williams “Cold, Cold Heart,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me,” and Etta James’ “At Last.” She did a very effective version of “Use Me,” the Bill Withers song, in which she sang a number of lines to the chorus acapella. For that and for, in my opinion the least likely song she covered, “Trouble Man,” she had just enough earthy growl to her young voice to make the songs credible. She did songs by Dusty Springfield, the Beatles, Etta James, Otis Redding, Julie London and Peggy Lee. In a nod to Elvis’ birthday she even did two of his songs, telling the audience she is Elvis’ fourth cousin.

Wendel Werner and Cavanaugh Mims, Remedy, Knoxville, January 2010
 As a bonus, Katie invited her friend, Cavanaugh Mims to sing a couple of songs. His soulful voice and charming delivery, including a little shout out to his embarrassed girlfriend, won the crowd over easily.
Wendel Werner at Remedy, Knoxville, January 2010

Wendel was, of course, as good as ever. He’s classical, he’s jazz, he’s encyclopedic with music and he’s funny. Always a pleasure. He and Katie typically play the first Saturday night of each month at Remedy and the larger group, including each of them, performs on the final Saturday night of each month. This month dates got shifted a bit and they will next perform on January 22. Why don’t we make it “Urban Blues” night? You can all show up wearing your t-shirts! It would be great to see you there. If not then, look for a chance to catch these talented musicians.

So was it worth the walk? Definitely. The walk back, on the other hand, with temperatures now around seventeen? Not so bad. Sometimes a little pain to feed an obsession is a good thing. It reminds us of the value of the things we love.