Band, café celebrate 5 years of fantastic Fridays
Valentine’s Day marks the fifth holiday anniversary and fourth year that Beaucoup Chapeaux has romanced local fans with European-style gypsy music in a French bistro setting at the Nevada City Classic Café.
Every Friday night Tapas plates, crepes and wine pass freely among friends and neighbors in a room ringing with laughter, music, singing and dancing.
“Together we’re creating an atmosphere that some people call magic. It’s like a voyage every Friday. It’s alive,” said Genevieve Crouzet who owns the restaurant with her husband Kirk Valentine.
A project that began on a snowy Valentine’s Day during a city power outage has blossomed into a weekly event that draws a strong following of locals.
Since their first experimental days at the Café, the band’s popularity has grown. In four years, Beaucoup Chapeaux has performed more than 350 gigs including two Pacific Northwest tours.
“I think they are one of the great bands in the area,” said Mikail Graham. He says the band has reinvigorated the town’s local Friday night music scene beyond bar and dinner clubs.
“There’s nobody else doing what they do and doing it with as much fun, gusto and just enjoyment as they do,” said Graham.
Beaucoup Chapeaux, which roughly translates to “many hats” plays music you might hear in a Persian Café or Greek Taverna. Some have called their performance a free trip to Europe without ever having to set foot out of Nevada County.
“That’s part of what I think so many of us respond to. That we are experiencing, on a Friday night in an old mining town in northern California, the kind of thing that’s been going on for centuries in cafes from Athens to Naples, Paris to Dubrovnik,” said local writer, musician and theater director Sands Hall.
Maggie McKaig plays accordion with her “entourage” as she calls the band: her husband of 35 years Canadian Luke Wilson on tenor guitar and plectrum banjo, Scotland born Murray Campbell on violin, oboe and English horn and on clarinet, bass clarinet and piccolo is Randy McKean. The band plays high-energy music with no amplification.
“It’s going to pick them up out of the doldrums at the end of the week,” Campbell said.
Far from purists, Beaucoup Chapeaux plays a mix of old traditional tunes from a wide swath of Europe as well as original music with many influences such as Django Reinhardt and American jazz and folk.
“We’ve always pushed boundaries on any genre of music,” said McKaig, who raised two children and recorded seven albums with Wilson.
Jokingly referred to as the “Improv King” of the band, Wilson doesn’t read music but “hears things that no one else hears.” McKaig led a successful singer/ songwriter career prior to Beaucoup Chapeaux. Campbell is a classically trained musician and McKean is an accomplished musician and composer. Beaucoup Chapeaux is a continuum of other projects band members have worked on together over the years.
“All in all, they are each one of them uniquely talented; as a collective, they are an astonishing juggernaut,” said Hall who makes a point to stop by the café to eat, or sometimes just to catch a few songs on the way to a movie or play.
“What Beaucoup Chapeaux is up to in that little cafe helps knit our community,” she said.
A lot of what the band does is improvised and they never play a set list. It is meant to capture the spirit of a band traveling throughout the café culture of Europe. Friday nights at the Classic Cafe are filled with nostalgia and romance.
“It’s the biggest local music secret with good food there is,” Wilson said.
Playing for quiet listening concert audiences is quite different from the boisterous and chaotic atmosphere of a café where there is a certain amount of experimental risk. The music changes from a dinner backdrop to a lively improvised performance.
“I think we have a lot more freedom to get crazy in the café,” said Campbell.
The band is known to stroll through the café, instruments in hand encouraging diners to get in the spirit of the moment and join in.
“I get their attention. I leap up and sing a song and we roam around,” said McKaig.
Urged by their fans, the band recorded, “A Night at the Classic Café” and the following summer took their music on the road, touring festivals, coffee houses and art galleries in Oregon, Washington and the Bay Area.
In April they will play at San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House and plan to release a second recording later this year.
World travelers and European visitors alike gravitate to the band’s music. One couple remarked how they didn’t find the experience they were looking for in Europe until they returned to the Nevada City Classic Café, said Wilson.
“We must be doing something right. It makes people feel good,” McKaig said.
To learn more visit: www.facebook.com/BeaucoupChapeaux/info, www.ncclassiccafe.com/