Hi. I’m Walking Bob, and the evening air was just right for a walk over to Rominger West, where I could be my own designated walker for a glass of wine and some free entertainment. Twice a month, The Rominger West Winery, which lies in the shade of the freeway at 4602 Second Street, holds what they call “Happy Thursday” shows from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. You can enjoy local and regional wines, and local and regional entertainment in the unique setting they’ve arranged inside their winery.
Before I even heard the entertainment, I was impressed with the way Mark West and his colleagues have created a new niche for music and happy crowds in the midst of a winery. I plan another “Walking Bob” soon to fill you in on the details and talk more about their wine tastings. The night I attended, the music was being provided by a group called Misner & Smith. I had purchased one of their three CD’s at Armadillo Music, the only local store to carry their music, and I could tell I was going to enjoy the show before I even walked in.
Sam Misner and Megan Smith play guitar, mandolin and bass while singing solo or in wonderful harmonies that make it hard to believe there are only the two of them up there. Most of what they sing, they write, with Sam being the major songwriter, but with Megan adding in a few of her own. Sam’s “Madeline (Paradise Cracked)” won the West Coast Songwriters Association Song of the Year in 2007. Lyrics like “Never trust comfort, it’s weak and it lies, Have faith in the struggle, don’t rest ‘til you die” draw you in, and their strong playing and harmonies keep you there.
During a brief break, Megan told me her mother was selling their CD’s, so I went over to talk with her and pick up another CD. (Note that they’re also available at CD Baby). After we talked a bit, I realized that I knew this family because I had written a Davis Life Magazine article on her father, UC Davis Dr. Lloyd Smith, who is also a fine maker of furniture and more recently, guitars. Like her father, Megan grew up in Davis, and she was in the Madrigals at Davis High before heading off to Eugene to major in theater at the University of Oregon.
Sam was also a theater major at UC Santa Cruz, and both he and Megan got involved in local Shakespeare groups. They met at the California Shakespeare Theatre, better known as Cal Shakes, in Orinda. Eventually, they were both acting and singing in the musical, “Woody Guthrie’s American Song”. The Nevada City radio station, KVMR, asked someone from the company to appear on the air and sing a few songs, and Sam and Megan were the only two who showed up.
They sang several songs as a duo and liked what they heard. Soon they became partners in song, and in life, living for several years in San Francisco, but now living in Davis. They have five shows in the week leading up to their next appearance in Davis on August 4 and recently did a second tour in England, playing seven shows over two weekends.
Woody Guthrie’s legacy touched them in several ways. First of all, on opening night in Nevada City, they realized that the man in the front row was someone who knew Woody’s music intimately after singing and traveling with him, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The cast was all a little nervous about performing in front of Jack, and Sam was honored when Ramblin’ Jack came back stage after the show and told him “Woody would have been proud.” Woody Guthrie, pictured here, touched them in another way when Sam and Megan met Damon Guthrie, a San Francisco-based artist and the grandson of Woody. They liked Damon’s art, and he liked their music, so he is now creating art for a re-release of their first CD that will be available soon.
If you missed Misner & Smith at the Davis Music Fest in June, you have another chance to catch them, along with a farewell performance by Bill Scholer and his band Waiting for Bruce, on Thursday, August 4 at 7 p.m. in the Davis Odd Fellows Hall at 415 Second Street. You can prepare by watching some of their videos at Reverbnation or at the Misner & Smith website. Come prepared to smile, and see if Mom’s there to sell you some CD’s so you can take Misner & Smith home with you.