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Sep 02, 2014
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If we’re not careful, Jesse Irwin’s charisma may carry him far (away)
By Thomas Crone - Photo by Thomas Crone
Posted On: 11/01/2006   

When Jesse Irwin is around a microphone and stage, anything can happen.

A perpetually upbeat, rail-thin, story-a-minute musical dynamo, Irwin’s made a big splash in the local club scene by not only affecting a positive attitude in an all-too-often cliquish world, but also by ramping up an already charismatic vibe when the attention is on him.

Let’s take two recent examples.

Scene one: Irwin is playing the Free Candy show at the Hartford Coffee Company, performing a gratis gig for a nonbroadcast talk show that’s already veered into quirky territory this evening. With the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra’s effusive and enthusiastic musical director, David Robertson, just leaving the de facto stage, Irwin sidles up to the nearby microphone, which Robertson is slotting into the stand. He adjusts the harmonica strap around his neck, looks straight at Robertson and deadpans, “It’s a real honor that Mr. Robertson came out to audition me tonight.” What cheek! He adds to the audacity of that moment by performing a song about meth cooks in Jefferson County. Some nervous titters break out, presaging outright laughter. With his third song of the evening, the crowd’s won over completely.

Scene two: Six days later, Irwin’s fronting his regular group, the Dock Ellis Band. Playing after the all-female Maid Rite – each of whom has dressed, to varying degrees of success, as a drag king – the Ellis boys are sporting dresses and skirts, every one of them a vision, indeed. Performing the group’s patented mix of “pre-1985 country standards,” the sextet quickly grabs the large Tap Room audience by the lapels, demanding its time and focus. A crowd that’s already got a certain collective booziness melts in the hands of the Dock Ellis Band, which performs songs neatly suited to the occasion, its young, bearded singer stomping along in a sundress and do-rag.

Playing two or three times a month with Dock Ellis and up to another six times a month solo, Irwin seems to have jumped into the sights of the local scene rapidly, though the arrival’s been a couple years in the making. Having gained confidence through regular appearances at Frederick’s Music Lounge’s weekly Noiseday Hootenanny, he now hosts the traveling spawn of that gig, the rotating-venue Chippewa Chapel Traveling Guitar Circle and Medicine Show. And, with friends, including his lead guitarist Justin Brown, he’s putting together a music co-op cleverly titled the Bandwith Collective, which is working on easing the unnatural and unneeded schisms betweens bands, fans and parts of town; along with Brown and others he’s currently organizing South Side Rocks Off 2, a Nov. 25 music festival along South Grand.

“Part of the thing we want to do with the collective is to mix things up and cross-pollinate the crowds,” Irwin said. “That’s what it’s all about: meeting new bands and getting fans together.”

And his passion’s all served up in an unpretentious, almost “gee-whiz” package.

“It’s such a strange thing for me now,” the DeSoto native said. “From high school on, I’d sneak up to the city to see shows, like Fred’s Variety Group, the Wormwood Scrubs, The Love Experts. … I thought these people were the coolest there were. And I still do. But it’s so neat to see these people out and they know me. I’m playing shows with them. It’s amazing and it’s happened in such a short period of time.”

Irwin, who’s a graduate of Webster University, has worked out the basics after picking up the guitar only four years ago, augmenting his instrumental work with one helluva voice and an evident knowledge of the classic country songbook.

“I wish I’d have picked up the guitar at age 12, like everyone else,” he said, ruing lost days. “I’d be so far ahead of where I am now.”

Where he is now, it seems, is in the middle of it all. His shows are many and his fan base is growing, among musicians and punters alike. “At least in my section of the music community, everybody’s connected a few different ways,” Irwin said. “I guess you’re running into everyone all the time. It’s like some kind of multiplier.”

In coming months, Irwin hopes to continue making connections and turning people on to one another. The one constant will remain the Chippewa Chapel, which plays every Thursday. On the weekends, there’ll be gigs booked directly from those shows. And there’s that new CD to be recorded. And he’ll also be moving along in his brand-new day job as assistant to the director of the Center for Professional Development, an arm of Webster’s Downtown campus that puts together business seminars and training opportunities.

St. Louis, in fact, would be well-advised to take care of Irwin. Other cities will beckon; other opportunities will present themselves. This son of DeSoto – with his pure, authentic voice, winning personality and impish grin – will surely be tempted with offers elsewhere.

We need to keep this young ’un home. Let’s lock the gate up tight.

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