On Friday night, every single seat in the auditorium of the Lawrence Arts Center was filled. People lined up against the walls in the back, peeked in from side doors, and held their breath while they witnessed the end of a musical era in Lawrence. That auditorium is where Drakkar Sauna played their final show.
There were no tears, there was no pain… only smiles and laughter. Such is the nature of a Drakkar Sauna show. The folky musicians have always had a cheeky sense of humor to them, and this farewell show was no different. It started with the auditorium dimming the lights while the two comically peered into the darkness that was the audience. The dapper duo were gussied up in their old-fashioned best, with embroidered vests and fancy ties. We’ll call it “prairie chic.”
Since this is a band you normally see at social events in Lawrence over the years– such as in-store performances at Love Garden or early patio shows at the Replay– folks were calm, chatty, and relaxed. The wild prairie children were running amuck and dancing on the stairs, the beer was flowing, and the toes were tapping.
Wallace Cochran and Jeff Stolz started off the nearly-two hour set in their usual positions, perched on chairs and huddled around their instruments. They harmonized in each other’s ears, smiled, and brought out what Wallace called “a lot of rattlers.” Over the years, instead of utilizing bass players or drummers, the band opted for seeds, shells, goat hooves, a tambourine shoe… whatever unusual noisemaker they could get ahold of. This eventually became very indicative of their sound.
In reality, these are two very down-to-earth dudes who enjoy making music and throwing back a couple of beers. But you’d never know it by their lyrics. We like to think of Wallace and Jeff as exciting storytellers. Their songs conjure up all sorts of adventures and experiments with science. We’ll never know what prompted their unusually strong obsession with outer space.
After a few numbers about space exploration and the history of rockets, they started to bring out the guest stars, and there were many. Paul Schmidt of the Midday Ramblers and and Wayne Gottsine of Split Lip Rayfield were two who spent the most time onstage. They delighted the audience with a couple of trumpeters, including Kelly Hangauer, who plays with Jeff in his other band The Hips. When he wasn’t blowing on the horn with Hearts of Darkness’ Sam Goodell, the two trumpeters were swaying from side to side.
With Floyd the Barber’s Ryan Johnson on drums and The Ants’ Chad Ryan joining them later in the set, Drakkar Sauna’s sound took on an entirely new form. What we were now hearing was a full-fledged rock band, something we’ve never really pegged Drakkar Sauna as. But we were also watching a snapshot of the Lawrence music scene in the early 2000’s. Here you had a lot of big players who enjoyed the small scene. Some went on to tour, some stayed home. But all have played a part in the upbringing of several Lawrence musicians. These are the folks who helped create a musical palette in good old LFK, and now they were onstage together once again creating something new. By the time Tanner Spreer and Evan Herd from Psychic Heat joined them, the sound became an all-out psychedelic get-down.
Drakkar Sauna ended with not one, but two encores. As they took the stage for the first encore, somebody yelled “Aloha!” The reason is because shortly after the show, Wallace and his family boarded a plane for Hawaii, their new home. Hearing someone yell “Aloha!” at them pulled at our heartstrings a little bit, because the word means hello AND goodbye.
Wallace spent as much time working at The Merc, our lovely local co-op in town, as he did playing in Drakkar Sauna. He told the audience “It’s been a pleasure to serve you, and to sing for you.” Then they played a song called “Don’t Get Sentimental.” Before anyone could gather their delicate emotions, Wallace stopped in the middle of the next song, gave one big pat to Jeff on his shoulder, and said “Well, thanks for everything,” and continued the rest of the tune (below). The cheers from the audience were so loud, you could hardly hear the two friends finish out the rest of the song.
During the final encore, they recruited two of their guest musicians once more, ditched the microphones, stood at the front of the stage, and played acoustically for everyone. On their way out, they gave delicate farewell high-fives to people sitting in the front row, then exited the stage.
That was it. That’s all you get, folks. That ends a very unique decade of folk music in Lawrence. But the imprint these two left will continue to shape the scene for at least another decade. At the beginning of the show, the Arts Center’s Ben Ahlvers introduced the band, and noted that everyone has their own interesting story on how they were introduced to Drakkar Sauna. The band may never know all the ways their unique and bizarre involvement in the locals’ lives helped shape who they are today. But for now, we’ll consider it just another footnote amongst the many adventures these storytellers brought to life here in our quiet Midwestern town.
Words and photos by Fally Afani