The husband-wife team behind the Madison, Wisconsin-based Harmonious Wail says their resolve to play uplifting music was tested when their son died three years ago.
It was his 30th birthday.
Sims Delaney-Potthoff said he and his wife, Maggie, got the call while their gypsy jazz band was on road.
“We kind of went nuts, the bottom just fell out,” said Delaney-Pothoff. “We were on the road in some god-forsaken town in North Dakota.”
Delaney-Pothoff said Henry died of a gunshot wound while “messing around” with friends. Talk about a gut punch. How do you move forward, let alone continue to perform as the “Dr. Feelgood” of music as they’ve become known?
“There were gigs on the books and frankly we could not afford to not work. You know, this is what we do,” Delaney-Pothoff said.
He and Maggie first went logical. He characterized it as a teachable moment.
“Now everybody let’s recite the laws of thermodynamics. The first law of thermodynamics is you cannot create nor destroy energy,” said Delaney-Pothoff.
With the emotions still processing “WTF just happened?” the logical led to the spiritual.
“We got to work on staying in touch with him,” said Delaney-Pothoff.
It started a day later during their morning coffee routine while contemplating the amount of work that needed to be done. An obituary needed to be written, the body needed to be taken out of the morgue, and numerous other duties needed attention. Then Delaney-Pothoff noticed a turkey on the roof of the house. He walked outside.
“And it looked right at me … I mean just went through me. And I just started crying. I said, ‘Henry, Henry, is that you?'" said Delaney-Pothoff.
He said the turkey walked down the roofline of the porch that led to his office window.
“And he tapped three times on the window and then he turned to look at me again,” said Delaney-Pothoff.
Sounds surreal, but you can talk to any number of people who will give you similar stories when their loved ones passed.
There’s more. A month later they were still processing the death as they contemplated fulfilling a “sweet gig” that had been booked long ago. He and Maggie decided they had to regroup and perform.
“As a mandolinist, I’m kind of a perfectionist. I’m always criticizing myself. But I realized that’s going to get in the way and is completely egoic. Music is this pathway to the other world ... I mean what else could it be? It’s just sound waves that go ‘out there’ and they just exist,” said Delaney-Pothoff.
He said Henry was in every single note they played at that sweet gig.
“Our hair was on edge. The concert was just amazing. Maggie and both thought as we took the stage, ‘They (the audience) all know, they all know.' And as we talked with them after the show, none of them knew,” said Delaney-Pothoff.
Three-plus years later, Sims and Maggie think about Henry every day. He may not be in every note as he had at the hair-raising gig shortly after his death, but the joy and uplifting spirit of their music remains.
"It's us playing music we believe in," said Delaney-Pothoff of their gypsy jazz style. "And it's a virtual guarantee that if you come to a Harmonious Wail show and look me in the eye and say, 'I didn't feel it,' I'll give you your money back."
Harmonious Wail performs at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts Summer Solstice Concert on the outdoor stage Friday, June 15, beginning at 7 p.m.
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