Charlie's Beat

Matt Stokes playing his melodica.

“I’d been visiting Madison since around the year 2000, coming to the Fiery Foods Festival at Thomas Family Winery,” says Matt Stokes, explaining how he discovered our delightful little corner of the world. “I had a friend up in Indy who came down to share his special hot sauce, and he brought me along.

“From there I got to know several people on the RiverRoots committee and started volunteering at the festival. But I remember the exact moment when I decided I had to move here. It was a RiverRoots show in the small tent, I believe it was Andrea Davidson playing, and the fans in the tent were so intensely appreciative of the music. I’d never seen anything like it anywhere.

“I sold my place up in Middletown, Indiana, where I was living at the time and bought a house here in 2016. Music is just such an important part of the community here, and I wanted to be a part of that.

“I grew up in Indy going to the Catholic schools, and one of the requirements was piano lessons for all children. I guess I was showing a special aptitude for it, because in third or fourth grade my parents bought a baby grand piano for me to play.

“It’s so important for children to have a good instrument as they are learning. If it’s hard to play or doesn’t sound good, it’s hard to stay interested. Over the years I guess I’ve found adoptive homes for 30 or 40 good used pianos. If someone has a piano they don’t want, I check it out and if it’s a quality instrument, I find it a good home with a student who needs it.

“Anyway, I’ve never stopped playing piano, right through high school and into adulthood. I have a group of friends that get together every Tuesday night, almost like a bowling night, and we sit in a circle and play music.

“When I lived in Indy I got hired by McDonald’s to run the music at this McCafe they opened in the Broad Ripple area. They had a nice Yamaha C2 Grand piano I played every Sunday afternoon, but I also brought in other musicians, violinists, and small bands. I bet I had over 1,000 musicians come through there in the years I had that gig.

“That McDonald’s connection got me involved with youth music, and I eventually started an event called Teen Arts and Music Festival that ran for several years. I’m very proud of the work we did and the young musicians we helped get a start. Tim Brickley actually helped me quite a bit on that project.

“I’ve also played in a number of bands over the years up in the Indy area. In the ’90s I was in the Johnny Dog Blues band, and a reggae band called Dem Boyz. But I eventually had to quit Dem Boyz because the reggae beat was starting to permeate all my playing. It was rewiring my brain to that offbeat rhythm!

“That’s just how my mind works with music, it kind of gets immersed and obsessed with a style. Right now I’m working on the latin beat, and it’s kinda doing the same thing, taking over my playing, but that’s OK.

“In addition to piano I also enjoy playing the melodica, I play washboard in the Dixieland band, I have an Ivory Coast Djembe Drum that is fun to play, and some acoustic guitar.

“I’ve played a lot of solo gigs around Madison at the Taproom, Riverboat Inn, the Elks and Rembrandt’s when it was open. I’m actually playing at Riverboat Inn this New Year’s Eve for an early Happy Hour set. And sometime in the new year Hippies Pizza up in Vernon is going to start featuring live music and I’ll be playing there.”


If you are in the mood for a little road trip, two of Madison’s finest are playing away this weekend. The always fun Two Buck Chuck are right up the road in North Vernon at the brand new Crimson Oak restaurant. And Rusty Bladen is playing in Butlerville, which is just out to the east of North Vernon on US 50. Of course, there’s plenty of live music in Madison, as always at Mad Paddle, Riverboat Inn and the Elks Lodge. And it’s great to see the VFW getting back in the music game tonight (Thursday) with Joe and Deano.

Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.

This Week in Music

Thursday, Dec. 3

Mad Paddle Brewery — Tracy & Elaine

Elks Lodge — Leah Pruett (open to public)

VFW — Joe Perkinson & Deano Crafton

Lumberjacks (Butlerville,) — Rusty Bladen

Friday, Dec. 4

Riverboat Inn — Joe Perkinson & Deano Crafton

Mad Paddle Brewery — Scotty Geer

Saturday, Dec. 5

Thomas Family Winery — Charlie Schnabel & the Mellow Soundz

Mad Paddle Brewery — The Burma Shavers

Riverboat Inn — Joe Perkinson & Deano Crafton

Crimson Oak (North Vernon) — Two Buck Chuck