If you cross a vagabond with a bottle of whiskey and a few banjo strings, the outcome is likely to be folk singer Andru Bemis. Playing a half an hour late on Wednesday, Bemis graced Post Lobby with his presence at 7:30 p.m., a venue with which he is much familiar. Having played at Knox at least twice in past years, once on Flunk Day, Bemis arrived in Post to a small crowd of ten. “This is the tough part,” he said, “trying to figure out where to begin.”
That small crowd grew in the next half an hour to over 70 people, both Knox students and residents of Galesburg. The first people Bemis ever knew in Galesburg were two older residents who would have seemed out of place in the usually-gamer-central atmosphere of Post lobby if not for Bemis’ ability to draw everyone together through informal sing-a-longs and quirky instruments ranging from a banjo that had “HEADING EAST” scrawled on it to a “banjo-ukulele” and a kazoo that had a guitar case all its own.
Hailing from Michigan, Bemis seems a vagabond of sorts. “I think the last time I came here I hitchhiked here.” His songs range in subject matter from crawdads to getting into heaven to feeling like Huck Finn. He began the evening with a contest of superlatives, asking everyone to shout out their favorites. “Anytime something’s good I say it’s fantastic. Fantastic is my superlative of the day,” he said with a smile and a drawl.
Sitting on the windowsill, he often used his banjo case as a piece of percussion for stomping on and often forgot his own lyrics, to no dismay of the happy audience. “It’s April Fool’s day, after all, we’re supposed to do things wrong,” he said.
After playing some sing-a-longs that were not his own, he played songs from his albums Singer and Andru Bemis Plays Past his Bedtime, such as “Ivah,” “Huck Finn,” and “Beulah.” His performance was peppered with anecdotes about places he’s been, songs he has written on scaffolds of buildings, and pieces of cardboard he has found in bathrooms that happened to have his last name printed on them. Mixing truth and fiction, he had something to make everyone smile. During a sing-a-long of “Plastic Jesus,” he said the audience wasn’t singing enough and came to the conclusion that, “Maybe we have a few Buddhists in the room…just pretend for the next minute and 15 seconds that you’re Christian.”
The grand finale included his song “Crocodile Hole” which incorporated Knox students playing along on the banjo, the kazoo, the fiddle, and the ukulele. To anyone who attended the performance, it’s probably no surprise that Bemis has been asked back to Knox this year, and will likely visit again in the future.