"A cellist walks into a bar" might sound more like a setup for a fish-out-of-water gag than a viable basis for a decade's steady gig. But Skip vonKuske has long dedicated himself to bringing the cello into musical environments and before audiences where it might not previously have seemed to belong. As an in-demand accompanist bridging Portland's classical and pop music worlds, and a key member of celebrated combos Vagabond Opera and Portland Cello Project, vonKuske has made variety a musical watchword. Amid all that variety, there's been one constant in the past 10 years of the cellist's career: His Monday-night residency at McMenamins Edgefield winery in Troutdale. Despite touring widely with the aforementioned outfits, vonKuske estimates he's only missed, on average, about eight of the weekly shows per year over the past decade—and has only once called in sick.
"At times," vonKuske says, "I've literally gotten off the plane from another part of the country, been picked up at the airport and taken to Edgefield."
It was a 2002 performance by vonKuske's eventual PCP colleague Gideon Freudmann that opened his eyes to new technological possibilities—and, thus, performance opportunities—for his instrument. "Gideon was the first person I saw using a loop pedal, and I immediately asked him about it," vonKuske says. "And I was fortunate that he didn't live here at the time, because my sense of propriety would have been, like, 'Well, I can't become a looper, because he's playing here.' Instead I was like, âIâm going to go buy that tomorrow.ââ
Expanding the cello's sound appealed to vonKuske, who, while classically trained, was raised on rock. "I was jealous of guitarists having this big tonal palette, and I was more inspired by Pink Floyd and Robert Fripp than I was by Yo-Yo [Ma] and [Mstislav] Rostropovich," he laughs. Almost immediately, vonKuske started booking solo gigs, labeling his new, loop- and effects-laden approach "cellotronik."
When McMenamins booked the cellist for a two-month run commencing in January 2005, vonKuske invited several female artists he'd previously accompanied in-studio for unrehearsed duo performances, under the title "The Diva Series." Its success prompted the venue to extend the booking by another few months, then a few more, then another year and so on for a decade. Along the way, vonKuske's roster of collaborators expanded to incorporate male performers as well, changing the series' name to "The Guest List."
For the past two years, the residency has showcased a more permanent duo, Groovy Wallpaper, pairing vonKuske with Sneakin' Out percussionist Don Henson. After their first show together, says the cellist, "we stood in a parking lot for about two hours, going, 'Oh, my God!'" He says Henson's playing on glockenspiel and xylophone "brings a melodic force into my music, and incredible rhythmic power." The two are preparing their second duo album, featuring other Edgefield collaborators as guests. And, week in and week out, they continue to show the winery's patrons just how sweet "a case of the Mondays" can be.
SEE IT: Skip vonKuske plays McMenamins Edgefield, 2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale, every Monday. 7 pm. Free. 21+.