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Derek Pritzl and the Gamble’s Wednesday Night Tradition

Nov. 8, 2016
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It is Wednesday night at District 14 Brewery and Pub in Bay View. A few singer-songwriters sign up for the open mic and, at 8 p.m., host Derek Pritzl takes the corner stage to warm up the audience with a few songs. 

The brick walls enhance his finger-picked acoustic guitar and weathered vocals. An hour and a half later Pritzl will return with his band the Gamble and take the stage to play a set, offering up songs they have begun recording in the studio for a debut album. 

The weekly residency began about a year and a half ago. Pritzl has been using this space as his musical petri dish, working on songs and arrangements in front of an audience, garnering valuable real-time feedback. The gig is paying dividends with a five-piece band that has evolved into a simpatico unit that listens as well as it plays. 

A key piece to the puzzle is bassist Dale Kellison’s Bay View loft. On Tuesdays Pritzl stops here for a few hours and they workshop ideas that will turn up in Wednesday’s set.

Pritzl is no stranger to working at his craft. He plays a rough mix of “Ossippi” and says, “There are probably 75 recordings of that song. Every night I just veg out and play. That song could have started out as a waltz or in a different key. I’ll get into a groove and play it again maybe two days later and it has evolved into something different. Maybe the water was dripping and I am in that rhythm.”

Kellison, a longtime musical veteran, says he has seen growth and progression in the songwriting. “If you can do one night a week consistently you can move forward. If you can do a couple nights a week it really helps things solidify. I’ve learned to play a lot less.”

Kellison and Pritzl agree that listening is key and they are slaves to the song. “The trick is, if you are drawing attention to yourself, you are taking away from the song. It is about supporting the story.”

“Ground zero is the story,” agrees Pritzl. “The cool records are the ones you realize someone just played his ass off and you didn’t even realize it because you are so drawn into the song.”

Back at District 14 the band takes the stage. As game seven of the World Series plays silently on a pair of televisions, the patrons have one ear on the band and one eye on the game. Drummer Andy Blochowiak rides his cymbals atmospherically and the band slowly edges into a train rhythm. 

As the long set meanders through the evening, Heather Lewin’s violin will range from vibrant riffs to the mournful Gypsy phrases on “Homesick and Hellbound” as the song’s finale ramps up in intensity. Her occasional vocal duets with Pritzl pair up like Gram and Emmylou. 

Sprinkled among the original tunes are wisely chosen covers by Tom T. Hall and John Prine. At one point the audience erupts and Pritzl chuckles, “Either you liked that one or something happened in the game.” He sings about a junkyard and walking through the Buicks as guitarist Andrew Koenig twangs a solo on his Fender Telecaster and then backs off into the rhythm section.

The band finishes up with “Pardon Me,” again featuring the honeyed vocals of Lewin and Pritzl. The song builds into a now-familiar train rhythm, before one last sprint into a spirited hoedown. They have been here before and they will be here again.

District 14’s weekly open mic begins every Wednesday at 8 p.m.

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