Music in the moonlight

John Leahey, Journalist

On a warm fall evening Thursday, Sept. 8, community members gathered to hear local Wisconsin band “The Dang-Its” perform at Cravath Lakefront Park. Some 30 plus audience members set up lawn chairs on the grass in front of the park amphitheater, with many more enjoying the show from the comfort of their vehicles in the nearby parking lot.

The Madison-based group, which has been in business since 1998, performed a mixture of covers

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and original songs taking influence from genres like folk, country, and Americana. Co-founder of the band Tom Waselchuk notes that there is a uniqueness they bring to their music, however.

“We play traditional sounding music, but we are all versed in swing and jazz, so we bring an improvisational element to it,” said the guitarist. “Any other folk band or country band that you’re going to see is going to play the same licks that they do every night, but we have a little more freedom to go with the moment,” said Waselchuk.

The performance was filled with a friendly energy, with the band interacting with the audience between songs and during breaks. At one point, a member of the audience pointed out the moon, which was two nights from being full. Waselchuk admired its orange tint before thanking the concertgoer for drawing attention to the night time spectacle.

Two of the audience members, Richard and Kori, have been fans of “The Dang-Its” since 2013, and were eager to show their support to the band on Thursday. “We want to, at least by our presence, support musicians. They’re having a rough row ever since the pandemic,” said Richard, “so we like to show that we’re here for them.”

Each of the band members show a long history of music. “For me, I’ve always loved music,” said Matt Rodgers, the group’s bass player. “I started with electric bass, and then I was playing along with CD’s of bands I liked. I studied music in college and I teach music in public schools; I enjoy it a lot.”

Rick Nass, who co-founded the group with Waselchuk, has also made music a large part of his life.

“I was encouraged by my parents at a really young age to try something. They thought it would enhance my life, so I started playing accordion and retired at eight years old. I was already doing concerts and solo things when I was seven.” Nass now plays the pedal steel guitar for The Dang-Its. “I’ve wanted to be a saxophone player, but [the pedal steel guitar] gives me exactly the feeling and emotion that a sax would have given me. And since I have asthma, I’m glad I’m doing this instead.”

Waselchuk appreciates all kinds of music and musicians. “Everybody who plays well inspires me,” he said. “I just love good musicianship and when it can take me emotionally to a different place than I am at the moment.”

The band’s current violinist, Ruthie McQuinn and Waselchuk serenaded the venue with their comforting vocals, alternating between singing as a duet or solo for each song. At times, McQuinn would focus entirely on vocals, which certainly added to the grounded and low key feel of

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the performance. “With writing songs, I love to sing. For me, it’s coming up with the melody and then writing words to fit it. The melody and the lyrics come first.”

This is not the first time “The Dang-Its” have performed in Whitewater. They have been invited to perform many times throughout the years. “It is nice playing here at this park,” said Waselchuk. “The background is beautiful. It’s always nice to come back to a place where they know you and appreciate your music.”

Thursday’s performance was a perfect example of the lively energy and culture local bands can give to small towns through these smaller venues. Larger events are simply not able to feel as personal or as laid back. The Dang-Its’ next performance will be Sept. 15 in Spring Green. More information about this event and the band can be found on their website here.