Miramar Open Mic Host Has Underground Life

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by Jean Scherwenka

Folk singer and guitarist Sandy Weisto and her three-woman band Sweet Diversity released their second CD, “They Get That Way Underground,” on October 14. Band members Weisto, Carrie Sanders, and Ann Elizabeth- Nagel are known for their acappella singing, as well as their guitar, piano, and percussion. The new release, their second recording, is a collection of their best live performances at the Miramar Threatre.

Weisto, an awesomely active woman, works a day job to pay the bills and seems to draw boundless energy from her world of music. In May of 2004, she incorporated her own company, Folky I Productions, to hold all of her music work – performing, promoting, live sound engineering, stage set ups, and hosting open mics at the Miramar Theatre on Oakland Avenue and the Coffee House at 631 N. 19th St.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer,” says Weisto. “I lived in the library and devoured book after book.” But she also sang in choirs as long as she can remember, and when her interest began to favor music, she took up guitar.

“I’m mostly self-taught,” she says. “I used to go to the UWM music library a lot. They have all the back issues of Sing Out, the folk music magazine, and I’d spend hours there.”

Her first public performance was at UWM’s Ace Note Coffee House in the 80’s. “I’ve always been quite shy, so people were surprised that I could get up and sing,” she laughs. “But as a performer, you have a role to play. So I can get up in front of a couple hundred people and sing, because I have this buffer between me and the audience.”

In 2001 Weisto wanted to bring Peggy Seeger to town. With no promoting experience, Weisto took it upon herself to contact Seeger’s agent. She found out what was involved and organized the concert. That’s when she met Miramar’s owner Bill Stace. He suggested she also contact Ken Leinbach at the Urban Ecology Center, and as a result, the UEC helped sponsor and promote Seeger’s performance. She ended up playing at the Miramar as a benefit for the UEC. “It worked out well,” says Weisto. So well that in March of 2005 Seeger came back to give a workshop and another performance.

During the summer of 2001 Miramar’s Stace was exceptionally busy in his Walls Have Ears recording studio, and he needed an intern. Weisto took the job. “I spent every minute of my free time that summer at the studio,” she says. She learned how to set up, check, and run the sound equipment; how to take everything down, roll up the cables, and “schlep the equipment.” She really liked the work of stage production, especially live sound engineering. Today she’s the regular sound engineer for traditional Irish band Bantry Bay, and “here and there for other groups.” Musicians tell her they’re pleased when they hear she’s doing their sound, because they won’t have to worry about anything. “That’s very gratifying,” she says.

In addition to hosting Miramar’s weekly Open Mic, Weisto’s done recording work for people there. “I’ve met so many musicians. Bill records everything from contemporary or classical to heavy metal or punk rock,” she says. In addition to Seeger’s two concerts, Weisto’s brought a host of other musicians to town including Cindy Kallet and one of Weisto’s alltime favorites, Chicago-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist Andrew Calhoun. She also sets up and promotes for groups like the Iberian Spanish Dancers and String Station.

Weisto serves as Director of the Coffee House, an alcohol- and smokefree venue for acoustic music and poetry since 1967. She feels a strong connection to the place starting back in the 80’s – she’s performed there, booked and promoted concerts, and helped out with sound.

“I have devoted so much time and energy to the Coffee House over the years,” she says, that when their Director stepped down recently she took on the job. For a schedule of events including a monthly “Living Activism” night, an open and friendly discussion of social issues, go to www. the-coffee-house.com. You can request a copy of Sweet Diversity’s new CD on their website: http://groups.yahoo. com/group/sweetdiversity.

Riverwest Currents online edition – November, 2006

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