ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JAN. 30:
Bands do what they can to keep the music hot while
playing on the frigid ice palace stage.
BY RICK SHEFCHIK, Pioneer Press
Rachael Kroog thought it would be a great idea to have a penguin from the Como Zoo appear with her band, Kidpower, on the Winter Carnival ice palace stage Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately, the plan had to be scrapped. The temperatures are expected to be too cold for this particular breed of penguin.
"The penguin will have to bow out," Kroog said.
And if it's too cold for penguins, you can imagine how the musicians have been faring on the frigid outdoor stage.
"It was unbelievably cold," said Ryan Johnson, the drummer for Rare Medium, a jazz-funk band that played the ice palace stage last Friday night. "The trumpet player's valve oil was freezing. It's good to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but it was 5 degrees that night. The sax player had trouble with his reeds, and the tuning of the instruments was very tricky.
"Just the experience of playing with gloves on is unique for all of us," Johnson said.
In fact, the guitarist and bassist in Johnson's band had to take turns dropping out of songs so they could put their hands in their pockets to warm them up.
"We were bundled up so just our eyes were peeking out," Johnson said.
Whereas the typical band might shop for flashy, skimpy stage outfits at some trendy boutique, Kroog's band was outfitted head to toe by Gander Mountain.
Kroog booked several of the bands that have been playing at the ice palace stage since it opened, so she's taken the responsibility to see that the performers are protected as much as possible from the elements.
"I bring heat packs, extra scarves, mittens and gloves," Kroog said. "I did have a member of one group show up without gloves, if you can believe it, and two of them didn't bring scarves. They just had bare flesh exposed. I went to my bag and tossed them some wool socks and stuff."
The stage is heated — technically — but the powerful blower is positioned at the back of the stage and the warmth doesn't reach the musicians.
"It was very ineffective," Johnson said. "No one felt any heat form at all."
If it sounds like the musicians are complaining about their frozen fate, that is emphatically not the case. They are definitely enjoying themselves — even if they can't perform up to their normal standards.
"We were having so much fun," Johnson said. "It wasn't our best performance by any means, but we had a very capable sound man, and the crowd was into it, so it was a very fun show.
"We didn't have any broken guitar strings, drumsticks or drumheads — everything stayed intact. Just broken egos from not being able to move the fingers fast enough. But the whole crowd is wearing earmuffs and hats, so their hearing is a little muffled, too."
Kroog concurs that the experience of playing on perhaps the world's coldest stage is a rewarding experience.
"It's been incredible," said the singer-guitarist, whose band — which she has temporarily renamed Icy Blue and the Vulcan Wannabe Band — plays at a number of family gatherings. "People have risen to the occasion — not one complaint. The musicians say, 'It's just unbelievably cold, but man, we had a blast.'
"In fact, one group said, 'The guys and I agreed that was the best show we've done in the last six months.' There's something about the energy and magic playing on the first entertainment stage that's ever been inside of an ice palace. People are so geared up they put it in perspective. They're thrilled to be part of the event. Most of them have reduced their fee so we could afford to bring them on. It's been such a rewarding experience."
Kroog said the 400 to 500 spectators at her band's shows have been having a great time as well — as long as they can keep moving.
"I wrote a song called 'Jump' to a funky reggae beat — 'Jump, jump, jump in the air, clap, clap, clap your hands, wave, wave, wave' — and people are doing them," Kroog said. It's almost, she says, as if the audience were saying, "Give me some excuse to move. I don't care — play 'The Hokey Pokey.' I'll put my left leg in and I will shake it all about."
Johnson said his band's best moment of audience interaction came when a guy got onstage and proposed to his girlfriend. She accepted, the crowd cheered and the two of them danced onstage as Rare Medium played a special song for them.
Of course, it's not always easy to tell how appreciative the crowd is, thanks to their covered hands.
"They clap their little hearts out, but you can't hear it," Kroog said. "They make this muffled sound."
Kroog and Johnson both say they'd play for this kind of event again, despite the cold.
"What's really ironic is the parks department wanted me to play for Halloween," Kroog said. "It was going to be 40 degrees, and I said, 'Forget it.' Now I'd accept half of that. Give me 20 and I'd be happy."
Rick Shefchik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5577.