In A Whisky Burnt Room– A Night Out with J. Jeffrey Messerole

“I am the fire that survived the rain”, Mesesrole begins. The chords played from his acoustic guitar carried over the room by the help of the red brick walls and solid wood flooring in a bar appropriately designated as “The Gathering Place”. The two-story building boasts its Cherokee, Iowa roots with “old-timey” pictures and descriptions of the photographs taken. “I’m all that is wild and everything that is tamed”, he sings as he ends the first chorus. His low, grainy voice sings the blues as though he is reliving the times that he had experienced during the eight year journey in becoming a songwriter as he belts out the lyrics. An appropriate beginning to the show.

Messerole (left) and Andy Juhl (right) on stage at the Gathering Place during the Songwriters in a Round event.

Before taking the stage, I had been invited back to the room with the three singer/songwriters. J. Jeffrey Messerole who, wearing his comfortable button-up shirt and his modest felt Gambler-style brimmed hat, gave me a hug and introduced me to Andy Juhl and Devon Cadwell. They are comfortable and relaxed before the show.

Not many had showed up to the show, but those that did were there for one reason. It became extremely evident to the six or seven attendees who arrived about an hour after the show started and began talking loudly. The sideways glances and glares came in their direction. I found that particularly interesting as it is so common for attendees to hold loud conversations in just about any other show that I have ever been to, but that was certainly not the case here.

“People pay up to $20 to come listen to us”, Messerole told me later in the night. “I was about to get really loud at ‘em on the microphone”. I chuckled at the lesson in folk music etiquette.

How that night’s “round” was arranged is the three singers would play songs individually that they had create while the other two singers would sit and listen along with the audience. Messerole finished his song “I Am the Fire” and it was on to Andy Juhl who is a mastermind behind not only playing his electric guitar, but also being able to use a three-tier soundboard to add electronica to his poetic riffs.

Next, Devon Cadwell begins his first song of the night. One of the most notable songs of the night was from Cadwell called “Blue Eyes and Nancy”. Written and performed by Cadwell, the song is about one of his favorite artists, Frank Sinatra. He opens by encouraging the audience to look up the mug shot of Frank Sinatra back in 1938 when he was arrested in Hoboken, New Jersey on the charge of seducing another man’s wife; a heinous crime at the time.

Mug shot of Frank Sinatra following the 1938 arrest in Hoboken, New Jersey

Cadwell goes on to describe how Sinatra was forced to call his then fiancée Nancy who came to Sinatra’s rescue and bailed him out of jail. The song, is about the events of the night that Sinatra and Nancy spent together after she came and paid his bail. Cadwell’s voice is influenced heavily by blues and embodies the disappointment and tears that must have been felt by the heartbroken Nancy and the ashamed Sinatra. Thinking of the blue eyes that Sinatra has and the face in the mug shot comes to mind along with the lyrics of the songwriter and chills are sent down the spine.

After the intermission, Messerole continues on with another song from his latest album, “Chipped Paint and Rust”. Messerole’s lyrics really tell a story. They have the ability to transport the listener to the exact point in time that the singer is describing in the melody. It is of humble beginnings and being able to appreciate the simplicity of the rural Iowa lifestyle that many can come to appreciate and enjoy. The windows rolled down in the two tone GMC as he travels down the highway to see the loved ones of his life.

We have all been there. The times where the warm summer breeze blows into the cab of the vehicle. The radio is lightly playing in the background but the mind begins to wander and the experiences of life leave you with a smile on your face from a time that had been so simple. The soul in this type of music is forgotten in the main stream lyricism that exist on the radio nowadays.

These songwriters are providing a lesson to the listeners that the soul and the love for the music still exists and is still very much alive to this day—all we are invited to do is reach out and grab it and hold it in our hearts.

All three musicians on the same stage taking turns entertaining the dimly lit room with devoted listeners.

The harmonica comes back in. The strums on the guitar coordinate with the wails in perfect concerto.  Artistry comes in many forms and these men are able to paint the picture of life in perfect strokes. Not too hard, but deliberate in each of the words and notes played.

Following the show, I sat around the music hall. Messerole, Juhl and Cadwell spend time talking with their fans. It is obvious that all three of them hold a tremendous amount of love for the people that show up to listen. Slowly, the set is broken down and the three hours, that seemed like one, are over.

I go with Messerole just a half-block down the street to a local bar. I ask him where he normally sits and he says, in select words, that he doesn’t happen to come into this bar often. I wanted to get the opportunity to find out who Messerole is.

Raised in Spirit Lake and now living in Cherokee with his wife, Messerole has been performing folk music for the better part of eight years. He has been able to release five albums and is now looking forward to his opportunity to begin his first tour.

“If I don’t go out on tour now, I don’t know if I will get the opportunity later”, Messerole told me.

Messerole’s tour is scheduled to begin on April 3, 2020 where he will be at Okoboji Brewing Company. He will set off to areas west of Iowa as well, but at the end, at the culmination of his tour, Messerole will be able to perform at a local spot called Byron’s.

He looked at me as if to see if I understood the brevity of what he was telling me. I gazed at him looking very foolish I am sure and questioned him further as to where and what Byron’s is. His eager face grew deeper with excitement and he explained that Byron’s in Pomeroy, Iowa is the “epicenter” for singer/songwriters in cities from Nashville to Austin to Los Angeles. Everyone who is anyone knows that Byron’s is the spot to perform. I immediately became eager to be able to go to this small, hole in the wall spot as soon as I possibly could.

Having been raised in the area of Pomeroy, I had always heard of Byron’s, but not by that name. Byron’s, to me, was the spot with the dirt floors and ran by the “Deadhead”. Messerole explained the roots of the bar to me and gave me quite the introduction into what it means to folk artists and songwriters everywhere.

Quality music still exists. The stories, the laughter, and the heartache that mankind all experience is still being put into words like an artist mixes colors. Many, myself included, complain about not having the same type of music that had existed before. All it took for me was to go to a local wine tasting and hearing a familiar sound that led me to discovering so much more about this culture and art form.

For a person who has so much appreciation for the ability to play an instrument to tell a story and not the auto-tune style so heavily influenced in our lives today, these songwriters in a round gave us a look into the style of music that has “survived the rain”.

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