By Kim McDarison
Southern Wisconsin Guitar League franchise chapter leader and Edgerton resident Evan Riley reminisced recently about his youth, spent in Syracuse, New York, listening to his father, Dan, play his 12-string acoustic guitar, citing the experience as inspirational when he chose his career. After graduating, in 2004, from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in music performance and education specializing in guitar, and having met his wife there – my wife is from Wisconsin, he said – the couple moved to Edgerton 11 years ago, and Riley began teaching music, first at a middle school in McFarland, he said, and then within the Janesville School District.
Like many with a passion, he wanted to increase his opportunities to embrace all aspects of music: he wanted to teach, play, be heard and hear the music of others, he said.
“Music is always much more powerful when I experience it with someone else. I like playing through a song with someone else,” Riley said, adding: Music is a community thing.”
With that basic philosophy, it occupied his mind, he said, when his father called one day to tell him about a new group he’d joined in Syracuse. Formed the year after Riley left, his father had become part of a guitar league, a community group with some 130 members, who came together monthly, listened and learned from area professionals, and then supported one another through group jam sessions where those interested could listen and play. There was a hierarchy of support, too, he said: guitarists were sorted into groups based on skill level: using sports terminology, rookies, minors and majors, with members of higher skill sets lending expertise and guidance to league members in beginner and intermediate groups.
Unique in its concept, Riley said, he liked the model, and offered to start a franchise in Edgerton. Now, one year later, the group is looking to expand, Riley said, along with his vision: he hopes one day to see multiple franchises formed in the area giving guitar players more options for league opportunities.
“I’d love to see us get big enough to put in another chapter. That way, if you miss one of our meetings, you could go somewhere else,” he said.
Riley said he began seeing what he believed was a desire for a group like the league after being approached by amateur musicians and guitar enthusiasts many of whom expressed interest in learning more about guitar.
While teaching, he said, both in school districts and home-based private lessons for children, “I always had a lot of adults approach me; they expressed an interest in learning guitar and playing so starting the league seemed like a good idea,” he said.
How does it work?
All are welcome, Riley said. The group is meant to support guitar players, and is best set up to accommodate acoustic guitar players, but some come just to hear the featured monthly talent and those folks are welcome, too, he said.
“This is a community-based group for sharing our love of guitars. It is part entertainment and part instructional, and part just hang out and play,” Riley said.
“The first meeting is free and after that, membership is $75 a year. Being a member has some perks: when we have special events, there is a discount,” Riley said, adding that a portion of dues paid go to the Syracuse group for use of its franchise, and some go to him for the work he does as chapter leader, but the bulk of the money goes to pay the professional musicians who come to the meetings, hold jam sessions and offer tips and instruction to those in attendance.
“If you want to come to a meeting just now and then, the cost is $10 per meeting. We meet from 7 (p.m.) to 9 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at the Edgerton Congregational United Church of Christ (114 North Henry Street). Our meetings always start with a presenter, a professional musician, and they have a lot of knowledge about the guitar. They usually discuss a topic while they play; it’s like a mini concert, and you get to talk to them. They play for the first hour and then we break up into groups for instruction,” Riley said.
“We have three groups or levels: rookies (beginners) then minors (intermediates) and majors (advanced). We have 15 current members and the majority of them, eight, are rookies. We have three to four intermediates and three to four advanced. They run a jam,” Riley said.
While the league is a great place to network with other musicians, Riley said, “our No. 1 goal is for people who come here to have a good experience.”
“Each month, we try to do something new. This is not meant to be intense or something like individual lessons. It’s more about being a community that has fun sharing,” he said.
“People who come to our group have goals like hoping to develop confidence to play for family and friends, and some would like to play in front of other groups, like maybe an open mic night. I’m not sure if any have aspirations to go out and perform. It is mostly an amateur group of players.
“We are a community of people who gather together and we come from different abilities and tastes, styles, what we want to do in common is play the guitar.
“I’m super happy with the little group we have; we just want people to know about it. We want people to come and share their love of music and their love of guitar, or even if they just have an interest or curiosity about it. You don’t need to have a guitar and no one is ever forced to play,” he said.
“We’ve had some awesome performers; we draw performers from the greater Madison area, the Illinois suburbs and from Chicago, too,” Riley said. Among them:
- Greg Boerner, Illinois, website here.
- Bill Conway, Conway Family Band, Edgerton: video of the band performing can be found here.
- Chris Kohn, Janesville, website here.
- Steve Oasen, The Red Hot Horn Dawgs, Madison, website here.
Others include: Mark Croft, Corey Hart, Greg Winkler, Beth Kille, Bill Hatfield, Cliff Frederiksen, Helen Avakian, Ken Wheaton, Lo Marie, and Jim Green.
Evan Riley Band
While Riley enjoys his day job, in his spare time, he enjoys playing professionally and is part of a five-piece folk and rock band, the Evan Riley Band, in which he plays guitar and performs lead vocals. “We do covers and some original stuff,” he said, noting that the band plays in locations in and around the Madison area. Other band members include: Todd Thompson, drums; Marie Pauls, violin; Jamie Sercombe, trumpet and accordion, and Michael Mood, bass. To learn more about the Evan Riley band, visit the website here.
Evan Riley Band members include: Todd Thompson, drums (from left, standing); Marie Pauls, violin; Jamie Sercombe, trumpet and accordion; Michael Mood, bass, and Evan Riley, guitar and lead vocals (kneeling). (Submitted photo.)