Unknown musician most loved in the state (December 12, 2003)

La Crosse Tribune December 12, 2003

Unknown musician most loved in the state

by Matt James

You never have seen anything like Pat McCurdy on stage, unless you've actually seen Pat McCurdy on stage, and then you know he has slightly more energy than a caffinated Richard Simmons. But then you see him off stage and you realize that you could have walked by him 1,000 times, at the laundromat or in the music isle, and never given him a second thought, except for maybe, "Wow. He kinda looks like that guy on 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?'"

I bring this up because Pat McCurdy is playing Saturday night up at the Alpine Inn, and there is a 95-percent chance that you have no idea who I'm talking about. Which is expected, but odd at the same time, considering he might be the most loved musician in the state.

Not loved by the most. Just the most loved.

So it is my task to explain who Pat McCurdy is and what he does. First off, have you ever seen Blue Man Group? Well, it's not like that at all.

But it is a lot like trying to explain Blue Man Group to someone who's never seen it. You just kinda scratch your head, like if an alien came to Earth and asked, "What does Gallagher do for a living?"

Well, it's complicated. So here goes: If you picked up a phone book, pointed to 100 random names, and got them all in one room, Pat McCurdy could entertain 99 of them.

He is about the friendliest singer/songwriter/guitarist/comedian/poet/dancer/impressionist/DJ you'll ever meet.

He's a one-man band that only plays one instrument. He's a cover-band with its own songs. His show is the same every time and different every time, and if you're watching it, then you're part of it.

Confused yet?

Pat McCurdy - and if you don't say both names it doesn't sound right, like John without the Wayne - made his start with a band called "Yipes!" back in the late '70s. They signed a record deal, and he pretty much hated the music industry from that moment on. He joined a couple other bands, then in 1989 the guy from Milwaukee decided to try to make it on his own.

OK, make it might be the wrong term. In the music business it seems like there are only two choices: make the big time, or get a real job. Can't you just picture a guidance counselor saying, "You can't make a living playing the Alpine Inn your whole life."

Well, actually, yes you can. Pat McCurdy has done it. And truth be told, he's about as popular as he ever wants to be. "The thing is ... I'm embarrassed by too much self promotion," he said Thursday from Milwaukee, cell phone in one hand, steering wheel in the other, his 3-year-old son in the back seat.

He's made a good living for 14 years playing little venues across Wisconsin, occasionally in the Cities, a place or two in Chicago. (He plays at Alpine every month or so and the student union at UW-La Crosse every other year.) Not that it's easy. In 1997, he played 342 shows. This month, he will play every day but five, and those include Christmas Eve and Day.

"I have a good baby sitter," he said, chuckling.

Pat McCurdy has eight albums now, part drinking songs, part folk songs. He plays to a mostly college crowd, a following so faithful that his fans have been dubbed "Pat-heads." (It is not uncommon for someone to see him play 100 times in a year.) They know every word of every song. They know what to sing and when to dance, and if you walk into Alpine Saturday night, you'll think everyone in the place has gone bananas, or at the very least, knows something you don't.

Some of his best shows, though, are like City Fest, when half the audience was an unsuspecting older crowd thinking, "What in the world is happening?"

They loved it, of course. Everyone does. Sucked them right in. It's not every day you get to see 20-somethings and 60-somethings singing and dancing and laughing side-by-side.

"I'll do it as long as there's people there," he says.

Hopefully, that's a promise.
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