What happens when a couple of Crawford County neighbors with diverse musical backgrounds decide to play at a local tavern every Thursday night?
It’s called, ‘Crisse and Bill Unplugged at the Wooden Nickel.’ The duo’s music ranges from the traditional Irish to the most contemporary country and western with stops in classic rock and roll and more.
Crisse is Christine Reynolds, a fiddle player who also plays with the Gleasons, a popular Irish band in Milwaukee. The rural Seneca resident is also a member of the Seneca School Board.
Bill is Bill Rice, a country and western guitarist who regularly appears with Country Express, a well-known local band. In fact, Bill has spent over 30 years playing with Country Express.
Crisse and Bill started playing with amps and mikes at the bar in Ferryville a few months back, but have moved on to an acoustic sound that they’re “having fun with.”
The Wooden Nickel Saloon is located on Highway 35 across the road from the Mississippi River and the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe train tracks that run alongside of it. It seems an ideal place for the music. What better place to hear Crisse and Bill’s version of ‘Orange Blossom Special’ by Johnny Cash. It’s one of their signature pieces, which features a fair amount of finger plucking by Crisse on the fiddle.
For the two musicians who are used to playing in bands, their duet has presented new challenges and opportunities. One of those challenges is replacing the bass and drums that they are used to having in their bands. Then, there’s the acoustic thing.
“I never played just acoustic guitar,” Bill explained. “I usually play electric lead guitar (in Country Express).”
Bill learned to play guitar from a friend while they served in the army at a base in Okinawa, Japan. He worked for the Crawford County Highway Department for 40 years before retiring and lives in Lynxville.
After returning from the service, Bill played with his cousins and others before joining Country Express, the country band started by Kathy Sobek.
Crisse began playing music at a young age. She started learning to play the piano when she was seven and the violin at the age of 10. She’s been playing “ever since.”
Despite her musical background, Crisse didn’t play in bands until she joined a Milwaukee Police Department Band, while she served as a police officer. The police band drummer played in Curtis Crossroads, a traditional Irish band, and soon so did Crisse, the fiddle player.
“We were all on the police department,” she recalled. She also played in a country band made up of police officers called ‘The Lawmen.’
Crisse Reynolds currently plays with the Gleasons, as well as Curtis Crossroads. Both bands are regular performers at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest every summer, as well as making lots of appearances at well-known Irish music venues in Milwaukee.
Crisse met Bill a couple of years ago and they’ve played together off and on since then. Now, they have a regular gig every Thursday at the Wooden Nickel. It’s a nice setting for Crisse’s Irish tunes and Bill’s country sounds. The wooden bar room meshes well with the unplugged acoustic sound to create a unique pub-like atmosphere.
On a recent Thursday, a farmer in bib overalls is headed for the door when Crisse and Bill break into Cash’s ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ The man stops to hear the entire song before leaving. At a table nearby, an older lady keeps time to the music.
Then, the duo gets “a peaceful easy feeling” as they move on to the popular Eagles’ tune. Shortly, Crisse is fiddling and singing an Irish tune.
Not doing anything on Thursday night? You might consider taking in a little Crisse and Bill at the Wooden Nickel Saloon on the Great River Road in Ferryville. Music starts around 9 p.m. There’s no admission charged, although you can drop a donation in the hat, if you’re so inclined.
Listening to ‘Crisse and Bill Unplugged’ is a great way to hear an eclectic mix of music from two very talented local musicians, while enjoying a beer in Ferrryville on a Thursday night. Outside in the night, it’s an endless movement of traffic and trains–and in season, the big barge tows on the river.
On occasion, Crisse and Bill get some help from others who suggest songs and then sing along. Sometimes, there’s even a unique a capella performance by the Rabbi.