40 + Years and Still Going Strong!
September 1st, 1969 a then sixteen- year- old Stephen Lee Rich entered a talent contest at the County Fair in Mariposa County, California. He won five dollars and a career was born. Most teenage boys would have hung up the guitar after securing their first full time job, but Stephen Lee kept the music coming. Now, over thirty-five years later, he still commands the stage with his combination of folk, country, and original songs mixed with a healthy dose of comedy and yodeling.
In the early 1970’s the Chicago native returned home and started haunting every open mic he could find or legally get into. By mid-decade he was working regularly at places like the legendary Barbarossa, His N’ Hers, The Spot, and No Exit Café and Gallery.
During the 1980’s, when the folk venues started to disappear, he made the move to comedy clubs such as the Comedy Cottage, Zanies, and became the regular host of the twice weekly showcase night at Kobart’s Komedy Kove. Around that he kept busy as the singer for an outlaws-style Country band called Greenwood Creek. He worked for a year as the opening act and rhythm guitarist for an Elvis impersonator named Tom Roan. He also linked up with a number of variety acts gathered from the His N’ Hers club to inaugurate the Revolving Door Revue, a touring troupe whose peripatetic engagements first brought him to Wisconsin – specifically to Fort Atkinson’s Café Carpe and later to Madison’s Wild Hog In The Woods Coffeehouse.
Relocating to Madison in 1994 to front a musical outfit called The Road Band, Stephen Lee soon found solo work as one of the rotating hosts of both the weekly acoustic jam night at the Anchor Inn and the monthly open mic at Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse. He also reconnected with Café Carpe and Wild Hog in the Woods as a solo act.
The 21st century has, so far, been good for him. I 2002 he recorded his first solo CD, Facing Monday, and further expanded his territory south to downstate Illinois, to places like Naperville’s Fat Bean Coffeehouse and Lansing’s Muse Café, into Michigan, to, amongst others, Escanaba’s 8th Street Coffeehouse and the Grand Marais Songwriter’s Festival, and all around Wisconsin, to Acoustic Fest and Premier Café’ in Manitowoc, the Log Cabin Days Bluegrass and Folk Festival in Edgerton (as an act and host two tears running), the Elroy Fair in Elroy, Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, and many other places. He is also becoming well known statewide for his frquent performances on Wisconsin Public Radio’s live variety show, “Higher Ground with Jonathan Overby”.
Stephen Lee is currently affiliated with Travenia Records as an artist and producer. In 2005 he released the anthology, Tappin’ Out A Rhythm. Pickin’ Out A Tune, which features performers such as Sandy Andina and Aaron Nathans. He also finished two duet CD's with long-time musical partner, Sandy Andina called "Brcause We Can" and "Two Guitars, A Dulcimer and an Attitude". The latter disc made it into the first round of voting for the 2010 Grammy Awards. In the works is another solo CD. The working title is "Reality Checks Shouldn't Bounce".
With all that he’s done and all that he’s working on it’s no wonder that the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter said,”Stephen Lee Rich is a one-man variety show.”
For booking information call:
Visit the website at
CD's : Facing Monday, Pachanga Records (solo)
Because We Can, Travenia Records (with
Two Guitars, A Dulcimer, and an Attitude, DulciYodel Music (with Sandy Andina)
Acoustic Dog: Volume 1, Pachanga Records
Tappin' Out A Rhythm. Pickin' Out A Tune.,
Mudcat Blueplate Special, www.mudcat.org
On The Internet:
The Andina and Rich Comedy Hour - an hour of
music and laughs every Sunday night on Red
The Broadjam YouTube Channel
Yahoo! Music Unlimited
Music Made In Madison.com
and much more.
Other Media to air Stephen Lee Rich:
WGN TV, Chicago
WFLD (Fox32), Chicago
TVW 14, Madison, WI
Penguin Shoeshine Theater- Stephen Lee's weekly,
three-minute comedy spot on KOPN in
The Midnight Special, both on the local
broadcast on WFMT in Chicago and on the
nationally syndicated broadcast.
Traditions, WFDU, Teaneck, NJ
Pastures of Plenty, Back to the Country, and
The Mudacre Bluegrass Special, WORT,
Live and Local, WSUM, Madison, WI
"Higher Ground with Jonathan Overby", a
state-wide, live, variety show which
broadcasts on the Ideas Network of
Wisconsin Public Radio.
FOLK IT! a live radio show on A-3 Radio in
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Welcome Mat Down at Escape's Open Mic
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Welcome mat down at Escape's open mike By Ben Broeren Special to The Capital Times "I'm a lizar...Welcome mat down at Escape's open mike
By Ben Broeren
Special to The Capital Times
"I'm a lizard," Stephen Lee Rich shouts at the mike with a grin. "People say I should get a job, that I should make something of myself, like my cousin who made a fortune selling auto insurance," he continues with a swaggering, Creole accent.
Of course, Rich isn't really a lizard, but his poem mixes the personalities of a talking lizard and a 1950s beatnik poet in a parody mocking Geico commercials.
The self-described "friendly, neighborhood, yodeling cowboy" co-hosts, with Ron Dennis, an open microphone event whose history goes back to January 2002.
Dennis says Rich's humor and dedication throughout the years have allowed the open mike to thrive and find a good home at Escape Java Joint.
Their open mike originated at the Speed Jump Java Joint in 2002. After a little more than a year, Rich took over as main host, and carried the tradition to its current home despite the closing of two of its previous venues.
"We're excited about being back on Williamson Street," says Dennis. "It's sort of a music hub."
Rich says the open mike maintains its eclectic aura that allows for everything from autoharps to accordions to aboriginal didgeridoos. He invites the budding artist in "nonprofessionals" to develop stagecraft and experiment. "Anything goes with us," Rich says with a chuckle. "Just keep it family friendly."
Nancy Rost, a regular, says it's "a scene that's really organic, where artists perform not for money, but for themselves and for each other." The line between audience and performer is blurred, as they take turns applauding each other after their time onstage, regardless of skill level. Rich sums up the mentality when he says with a chuckle, "To quote Peter Schickele, 'There are no bad songs. Occasionally, there are bad sets of ears listening to them.' "
Venue and tradition
Rich says he and Dennis had no trouble establishing at the Escape after the previous venue shut down. In December 2005, they contacted owners Duane Erickson and Greg Bosonetta at the suggestion of several in the Madison music community. The two agree that the encouragement of Bosonetta and Erickson has helped the open mike stay afloat by providing a spacious location.
The immense coffeehouse is made up of nine rooms connected by a winding hallway that begins with a welcoming feng shui rock garden and palm tree.
Avant-garde oil paintings, splashed with lime green, crimson, violet and gold, adorn the hallway from the living room to the art gallery in the back. Rich and other hosts usually hold the open mike in the gallery, where the rotating displays of photography and paintings match the diverse quality of the performers who take the stage every Saturday.
At the open mike, the host guarantees newcomers and regulars alike they will have their time to perform. When Rich hosts, he welcomes performers by opening with classic country-folk songs. He plays Roger Miller's "Walking in the Sunshine," strumming delicately on his guitar and yodeling after the refrain.
The intimate crowd of eight to 15 smiles as Rich sings, "Think about a good time had a long time ago; think about forgetting about your worries and your woes." Rich lightens any initial performance anxiety as the audience whistles along and nods their heads.
As people perform, a silent attentiveness greets them. This helps performers come out of their shell, says Rost. She agrees with Rich that the open mike has helped her gain courage in front of a crowd. Had she not gotten involved with Rich and Dennis' open mike, she says she probably wouldn't have started recording her songs and playing her own gigs. "They'll help bring out the best in you," she says.
Dennis, when he hosts, promotes artists in whom he sees talent, pushing artists like Rost to do their own gigs outside the coffeehouse setting. A member of the Madison Folk Music Society, he promotes artists via e-mail lists and connects artists with local venues. "The Internet has made it much easier for the public to hear more independent artists," Dennis says.
Rost also takes advantage of Internet networks, posting original topical and political satire on Web sites such as myspace.com. One of the staples she plays at the open mike is "Welcome to Boscobel," performed to an original melody on her keyboard. She says the song depicts the tension inherent in the rural Wisconsin town, where the population is hoping to profit from the construction of the maximum security prison while trying not to think about what goes on inside.
Since getting involved, Rost has also gotten in touch with the local performers' group the Madison Songwriters Guild and recorded "Welcome to Boscobel" for the guild's latest anthology. "Nancy is someone we're really proud of," Rich explains. "In the beginning she was really shy." Rost has guest-hosted the open mike numerous times.
A culture of artists
The cultivation of homegrown talent and experimentation is one of Rich's main reasons for sticking with the open mike through the years.
"We get bombarded by television and radio; there tends to be a sort of group-think," Rich says. "Musicians are by definition iconoclastic."
Rost, for example, will sometimes improvise songs by playing Mad Libs with the audience, asking for a noun, verb, adjectives and a premise. After collecting responses, she'll sing a melody about a "magnanimous plum tree," for instance, while hammering out blues riffs on her keyboard. The laughter in the crowd is contagious, as everyone's thoughts are mixed in a tart, though refreshing, concoction of high witticisms and ardent applause.
Rich's wife, Ingrid Frances Stark, plays some original Irish-style tunes on a variety of pennywhistles. Sometimes dressed in medieval attire, she reads original ballads and iambic pentameter poetry on topics ranging from passionate love to medieval mysticism from two notebooks that she carries to every performance. Onstage before performing, she quips, "I've spent the entire day in the Middle Ages. And I have to say, time travel is hell."
The open mike, with humor and improvisation, allows aspiring artists to express themselves in a weekly cultural communion. Bosonetta and Erickson are glad to provide a place for this culture, to keep its tradition going and attract a more regular crowd of customers. "It's great entertainment value," Erickson says.
As with most shows, Rich invites all to come back by doing a sing-along to Utah Phillips' "The Hymn Song." Phillips once said, "Songs are not written but assembled out of what you hear and see in the world around you."
Published: September 19, 2006
Review Of the CD, Facing Monday
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Stephen Lee Rich is a local treasure. Any musician can learn a lot from watching this yodeling c...Stephen Lee Rich is a local treasure. Any
musician can learn a lot from watching this
yodeling cowboy live. He keeps the show
rolling with high-energy songs, expressive
delivery, and a balance of emotion and
humor. He presents the music as
entertainment, without a trace of ego
This album is full of fine-crafted original
old-style country songs, delivered
with a twangless folk sensibility. "Never
Gonna Live That Way Again" revs things
up; "Porclight Blues" brings things way
down; you can practically see a fly
hovering around the lightbulb. The
human-condition-themed "I've Had
That Happen To Me" is one of my
favorites, with some great vocal
harmonies, and the insightful line
"The miracle of life is that we all endure".
The album is a defiant look at
personal tragedy, laughing in the
face of death. The song "Facing
Monday" has a line that just breaks
your heart: "Love just died on
Sunday. I'm facing Monday on my own".
A few of his live gems are great here.
He covers Sandy Andina's "Caffeine",
a hora that explores the need for liquid
speed; and his showpeice, Ray Baas
Sawyer's "The Yodel Song", gives the
album an intense and light-hearted
Rich is the regular host of the Urban
Market Open Mic, which goes back to
its days at Speed Jump Java Joint
(and before that, Mother Fool's),
has cultivated a scene of its own.
Rich is more than a musician. He
cultivates music as community.
He's a good man to get to know.
--Aaron Nathans, The B-Side--
Press Quote: 1
"Stephen Lee Rich is a one-man variety show."
Press Quote: 2
"... bright, funny, and original."
Press Quote: 3
"...a vetran folkie."
Review of the Andina and Rich CD, Because We Can
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Andina and Rich - Because We Can Before Stephen Lee Rich came to Madison, he spent a couple o... Andina and Rich - Because We Can
Before Stephen Lee Rich came to Madison, he spent a couple of decades on
Chicago folk scene, where he often collaborated with singer-songwriter
Andina. Because We Can!, their first full-length recording as a duo, is a
fast-moving tour of highlights from their joint repertoire. Andina and
heart and humor into this colorful array of folk, old-time pop and
Andina and Rich are both accomplished songwriters and musicians - Rich's
guitar style and Andina's way with melody are especially strong - but
take themselves too seriously. There are parodies of old folk chestnuts,
doo-wop harmonies, and even a couple of kazoo solos. The title track,
which has made
waves on the Dr. Demento radio show, is a model of political songwriting
that's thoroughly entertaining. It's one of many songs on the record that
the duo's wonderfully off-kilter timing.
An inclusive folk aesthetic permeates this album, with live recordings
jug-band jam keeping things loose and lively. You get the sense that this
music is meant to be passed around and shared, especially on the
You Can't Do It All On Your Own and the yellow-ribbon-reclaiming ballad
Home, with its pretty, singalong chorus. The many guest musicians include
Amy Curl on piano and Doug Hamilton on upright bass.
A few narrative and introspective folk songs bring depth to the project.
Orange and Pink Prairie Sky distills the feeling of freedom on a country
trip, and has an interesting combination of pop and bluegrass textures.
dramatic Time Has No Mercy evokes America's move west.
I was surprised to see Christmas songs on the album this early in the
Fortunately, one of them grouses at the whole long season. If you feel
differently, you might like the well-crafted, sentimental
Mike Wiegmann engineered Because We Can!, which he produced with Stephen
Rich. The production is inspired and true to the spirit of the artists'
Stephen Lee Rich's repertoire is as diverse as his influnces.
He does original song like "Facing Monday" and "Truckers' Secret",
country covers from Waylon and Willie on back to"Uncle" Dave Macon,
Novelty and comedy songs, and music written by friends and colleagues
like Sandy Andina, Aaron Nathans and Tom Dundee.
He tailors the length of his sets to the needs of the venue.
He's done three fourty-five minute sets in small, intimate clubs, one hour sets
for larger clubs and outdoor events, and fifteen minute sets for comedy venues.