From dingy-basement beginnings, Armchair Boogie boss Turner Hall
Let me tell you about these four dudes who grew from the fresh waters of the Wisconsin River into the cement cracks of a basement of a crumbling college abode in Stevens Point, Wis.
Years ago, a group of hobby musicians studying at UW-Stevens Point came together to craft a sound that was uniquely theirs: Augie Dougherty on banjo, Ben Majeska on guitar, Eli Frieders on bass and Denzel Conner on drums. They were young and hungry, spending hours in a dingy basement, drinking cheap Hamm’s beer and crafting a sound that blended bluegrass, funk and jamming-boogie sounds.
As with most bands, finding a name was an undertaking. But, like them all, eventually you slap one on the drum kit and see what the public thinks. They chose Armchair Boogie – a name I can only imagine was inspired by the elderly sitting at tables during the dance portion of a wedding or my mother hearing a favorite song of hers during a festive fish-fry outing.
I was there during their roots, living in Stevens Point and volunteering at the local college radio station, WWSP-90FM, where bassist Frieders earned his well-deserved beer rations. I spent many nights hanging with Frieders’ roommate Kyle as the band played in the basement below.
After polishing off a tall boy of something cheap and yellow, I’d usually say something along the lines of, “They sound great, man, but with a name like that I’m not sure they’ll play beyond this basement.”
Fast-forward seven years, and these guys just headlined their first gig at the Turner Hall Ballroom to an energetic packed house this past Saturday. I guess I don’t know jack squat.
Turner Hall swarmed with dancers hootin’ and hollerin’ as the band ripped through a 19-song set that contained personal favorites like “Garden” and “Jail Cell,” crowd favorites like “All My Friends” and “Movin’ Out of the City,” and great covers like Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner” and Conway Twitty’s “Boogie Grass Band.”
The standout performance of the night for me was Conner pulling double duty on drums and vocals during a cover of Levon Helm’s “Got Me A Woman.” Gotta love a singing drummer.
Armchair Boogie still seem to be in their young-and-hungry phase, logging tens of thousands of miles to play gigs in Texas, Montana, Colorado and more places acrossing the country. They’re at theaters, outdoor music festivals and even the occasional pontoon boat.
It was surreal to see a group of genuine gentlemen from my past move from a one-bulb basement to the impressively illuminated stage of Turner Hall. And even though the years have passed, I still made a subpar beverage choice during the show. Quick review: Topo Chico Hard Seltzer Tangy Lemon Lime tastes just like marshmallow, it wasn’t good, and for some reason I still had three of them.
Clearly, Armchair Boogie left a better taste in my mouth — and everyone else’s at Turner Hall this past weekend. The band has built a well-deserved following reminiscent of your one cool aunt that used to follow the Grateful Dead on tour. You can check them out via your chosen streaming service or their Bandcamp page.
If you’re ready for a bigger commitment, you can also head to their third annual Boogie Down Music Festival, a camp-in music event held in Southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Area on July 21 and 22.