The Colbys; Special Guest Marion Groves, with Guy & Koko at the Collegian Court May 24, 2019 by Jimm OD

I’d been feeling like a nice night out for a while now. I’ve been pretty much  cooped up in my tiny apartment for a good month, maybe five weeks, with one knee busted-up good and the other not much better. I can do the Table For One thing; that’s fine. And if i’ m gonna be mostly sitting there with my little blue screen anyway, it’s better to fly solo than to risk being rude to company, am I right?

I can do the Pizza or Plate of Pasketti thing, too. But it’s a whole different kind of nice when there’s music to accompany- and good ol’ dinner music, even better. Now, put the whole package in an old-school restaurant, a bona-fide Dining Room with wood on the walls and the lighting set low, plush-ish carpeting all around except on the dance floor, and a straightforward menu with plenty of different traditiional-type choices and even a particular area of specialty (Polish, in this case). There are a lot of ways I like to eat, but this kind of dining experience is not so easy to find these days. With a nightclub functionality and a quaint tavern atmosphere, this is just about what the doctor ordered for this beleaguered old soul with the busted-up legs.

As soon as I saw the notification pop up, I knew I would be coming to the Collegian Court in Chicopee tonight- “by hook or by crook” I proclaimed as I started checking bus schedules- I can hobble pretty well, but pushing on the gas pedal… not quite yet- and if I had to jam on the brakes really hard… not good. And I figured if I bring my broken body in the door, some good friend or kind soul would be recruited to help a brutal out.

With the gentlemanly Guy DeVito, the very one who had put out the notice, raising the element of elegance a notch or two by bringing his big ol’ acoustical stand-up bass, which is exactly appropriate for the music at hand, and the snappy-slappy, loose while always-in-control drumming of John Koko, my eye was caught and my interest piqued… just for starters.

The next names to come under my eye were a few we don’t see around all that often, and which I hadn’t seen on one bill together in quite some time… never mind how long. Let’s just say, I have their record… as in, album… LP, yes. Roehler, Groves, Colby were one class-act back in the day. They still are, it turns out, but not so much as a regular thing. Tonight’s billing actually puts The Colbys – that would be John and Bev (Roehler) – top o’ the bill, and Ms Groves as the Special Guest. All of which adds up to one excellent package- a classic combination in a lovely, rustic setting.

This group’s native state of being exists at a level of professionalism that is, at the very least, above the average – we could say “beyond the best” without much need to defend the claim. They are all experts of the standout sort, even in a region full to overflowing with talented, skilled, and over-qualified artists. In just this one night, over two sets, they have flowed seamlessly from song to song, across a variety of tempos and styles within a genre such that the dynamic is fully engaging and carries the listeners (earlier) and dancers (a bit later) along on a seemingly comprehensive revue of… hmmm… precisely? Let’s go with “Piano-Vocal-Jazz” as our best shot at an apt descriptor.

This is jazz, certainly, unless ya wanna call it blues; either way, it’s full of both, with a certain leaning towards the Time of Rag of Olde. That flavor is aided by the tastefully direct acoustical trio of piano, bass, and drums – no guitar to confuse the classiness or obfuscate the sophistication of its straightforward simplicity. The outcome is effective; the nearly full house is staying just as full after dinner, through the band’s break, and right on till the end… more or less anyway, give or take… not everyone hangs till the end most times.

I came in a few minutes into the first set. Start time was seven, and I was hobbling through the door somewhere shy of half-past. Good thing I hadn’t gotten on a later bus – my table was one of only two or three left, and one of those went to the band a while later. The doorway was centrally positioned exactly opposite the band with naught but an empty dance floor betwixt, at this still-early hour, though not for too much longer. I passed a gander over the tables upon entry- a couple of familiar-ish faces and most not.

It seemed to me the crowd was about a fifty-fifty split between friends and others there for the band, and those who were like as not to come out for dinner on a Friday evening and like as not to come here when they do. This makes for a pretty perfect proportion of pre-won versus yet-to-come admirers.

This is Entertainment. These are artists who occupy a place in Tradition and live to pass it along from their place of respect. They are not here to show off, they are here to share. They are ebulliently excited to put their love out there and further the cause of the music they serve, and that enthusiasm shows. The evenly split audience is both ready to reciprocate and readily won over.

This is not, however, a free-for-all. For all that the atmosphere is loose and casual, with a prevailing sense of spontaneity, things move along smoothly as with any program, all facilitated by the uppermost professional in the room, Mr John Colby. He sings, he plays, and he plays ring-leader to this self-controlled circus of song.

Speaking of singing, there’s the best-est part of the show: the vocals. Just as sprightly and loose as the emcee for this performance, the two ladies are clearly having themselves a time.  I’m pretty sure I heard words to the effect of “off the cuff” and “not in decades,” but I am quite sure I also heard something like “feels the same as ever…”

That same kind of spirit, infused into the rest of the dynamic, makes for a Real Good Time, for all in the room. The artists perform, and they share, baring their souls to some extent – this is important to them; this is what they love. This energy ties the listeners together with the performers and each other, and by the time it’s all over, an experience is had. More than mere amusement, this is the substance of real entertainment.

It doesn’t do any harm to any of this that this is a team of real professionals. They know how to feel it and focus on it, and then freely share it.  Splendid times are guaranteed for all. One more positive proclamation was heard, and more than once… something along the lines of “doing this again.”  Excellent!

One more pleasant detail: the house was happy to have us hang – not till the last dog is hung, mind you, but enough to allow for a little wind-down. In a large venue, of course, we all head for the door after the encore – trudging through the crowd can take a good bit of time; there’s your wind-down. In the clubs and smaller venues, though, how unpleasant it can be to get hustled out the door as soon as the band wraps it up, am I right?  Such about bummer, what about drag… sucks some o’ the fun right out of the experience.

In other words, it is denigrating to the entire entertainment experience to get what feels like the bum’s rush. None of that here at the Collegian Court, though.  The staff did their thing without running so hard the floorboards shake and clunk; the singers and a number of others were able to grab another drink, set a spell, reflect, chat, …and breath. The band keeps moving, of course, they still gotta break it down and load it out. But how nice to work at your own pace, without so much busting of chops.

I know I enjoyed a little chat-time. Like, more than just one chat, and more than just the ol’ hi-thanks-see-ya-bye.  Very nice!