Nestled amid Wisconsin’s Riverside Park landscape, with the flowing Milwaukee River, the beauty of the Kettle Moraine geography, natural prairie, and sculpture garden, lies the Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival. For Friday and Saturday, this gorgeous setting is home to a world class jazz festival. In 2008, KMJF celebrated its 11th annual festival. The mixture of bright sunshine, pleasant temperatures, soulful grooves, and superior showmanship make the weekend festival a genuine pleasure for all in attendance.
This year’s artists included Warren Hill, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Soul Express, featuring Phil Perry, Everette Harp, and Chris Standring, Nelson Rangell, East Bay Soul featuring Greg Adams and Eric Marienthal, Jim Peterik's Lifeforce, culminating with the Saturday night show from Nick Colionne.
Just a few years ago, guitarist and singer Nick Colionne played the festival as an opening act. Now he returned in triumph as the headliner. Walking on stage, as he garnered hearty, welcoming applause from a crowd of about 2400 enthusiastic fans, he dazzled them with his impeccable clothing before he even played a note. He sported slacks and shoes the color of orange sorbet, multicolored stripes decorating a comfortable, flowing shirt, topped off with his signature brimmed hat.
Nick blasted open his show with the funky and energetic "Did You Know" from his 4th career album, 2003’s Just Come On In. His nimble fingers seem to dance over the guitar strings. The audience jumped to their feet in a rousing standing ovation.Continuing with a one-two punch, “No Limits” immediately followed with Nick turning up the heat with some fancy fingerings and fleet footed dance moves. Tim Gant delivered a killer keyboard solo. Another standing ovation greeted Nick.
We all got a chance to catch our breath and enjoy Nick’s hilarious sense of humor as he introduced his talented and oh-so-funky band with Tim Gant on keys, “Hollywood” Dave Hiltebrand on bass, John “Wolverine” Erickson on keys, and the coolest cat of all, top hatted, dreadlocked Jabari on drums.
No longer timid about singing, Nick crooned “Rainy Night in Georgia” in a strong yet sultry vocal. Amid a beautiful keyboard contribution from John Erickson and with the entire band caressing each note and phrase of the song, it built to a huge crescendo as Nick sang his heart out, closing with some gorgeous guitar improvisation where he weaves in other recognizable tunes into the runs. And yes, there was another standing ovation.
With a searing guitar lick, Nick made one of his signature moves by jumping into the audience. For at least 15 minutes, he serenaded the crowd, up-close-and-personal, playing “Hurry Up This Way Again” from his 2nd album, 1996’s Arrival . As he moved through the audience, all the while playing guitar, a large group of women surrounded him and followed along, like those who followed the Pied Piper, totally entranced. Back on stage, Nick and Hollywood Dave teamed up with drummer Jabari for a driving jam. Is there such a thing as a standing ovation through an entire song? This crowd did just that.
Graciously welcoming guitar legend Jim Peterik and jazz diva Lisa McClowry on stage, Nick and company performed a track from No Limits, his brand new album. Nick co-wrote this song with Peterik – it’s called “Melting into You.” And that’s just what every woman in the audience did…melt. My! Oh my! It got very, very steamy! McClowry and Peterik sang harmony against Nick’s lead vocal and we were treated to a scorching guitar solo from Peterik. Once again, the audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation.
Next came a brilliant medley including “Purple Rain” and “On Broadway.” Nick’s imitation of Prince is priceless. The audience chimed in on every chorus singing along “purple rain, purple rain.” Transitioning to “On Broadway,” Nick’s fingers flew over those strings in an amazing guitar run. Jabari contributed an intense drum solo taking us from Detroit funk to Mississippi blues where Tim played an impressive, bluesy organ solo. Nick followed suit, singing and playing the blues, “There’s too many dirty dishes in the sink for just us two. Who’s been down there making dirty dishes with you?” The medley’s final transition took us to a knock-your-sox-off rendition of the Temptations, with every band member singing a part of the harmony and making the moves. You better believe there was a standing ovation after this incredible performance!
Not losing any momentum, Nick and band moved right into an upbeat, hard driving rendition of “High Flyin’” from Just Come On In. Nick re-introduced the band, and each keyboard musician played a kickin’ solo, then came the dueling bass and drums. Nick closed by kissing his guitar and holding it up to heaven. Everyone is on their feet, roaring with pleasure.
We are then treated to an incredible encore, introduced by Nick saying, “Other people are doing tributes to Luther. Well, I’m doing one to James Brown.” From No Limits, everyone jammed on “Godfather J” including Jim Peterik who re-joined them on stage without a guitar. Nick handed him his own guitar and kept on singing, while Jim jumped right in! What a pro! Peterik played a searing rock guitar solo, then Jabari joined the jam with his stick twirling drum solo. With Nick’s encouragement, everyone, audience included, was singing “Get up, get on up!” Since we were already on our feet getting down to the funk, a standing ovation was inevitable.
It’s been awhile since I’ve attended such a high energy show, and a long while since I’ve witnessed one with a standing ovation for every single song.
Bottom line, Nick Colionne has grown into a consummate performer. His talent is now supplemented by his belief in his abilities. He is comfortable stepping out on stage, with masterful guitar prowess, superb vocals, engaging humor, terrific dance moves, and an unbelievably gifted band. Clothes don’t make the man. The man makes all of it work together – pure artistry at its finest.