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October 2002
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Not Just Another Joe on the Street.

After a ten-year absence from the Island scene, former resident Joe Cunningham returned for a week of vacation, with his wife and two boys in tow. Those whose memories stretch way back into the 1980's well remember Joe's musical offerings to our fair isle, particularly his sessions at the old Circle M Restaurant on summer weekends. There, amidst a panoply of local musicians, Joe would offer regularly updated musings on Island events, characters, and the various eccentricities of rural living. His satirical vignettes became the centerpiece of those well-attended jamborees, some of which were enhanced by demonstrations of local performance art; most famously Tim McDonough's on-stage slicing and dicing of a chicken in record time. Back in the day, Greenwich Village had nothing on us!

History repeated itself on the night of August 20th, when a small group gathered at the home of Joe's sister Jayne on King's Highway to listen to Joe spin stories of his intervening years in New York and San Francisco, the latter being his home of the last several years. The crowd was regaled with Cunningham's own songs, some taken from a musical he wrote a while back: "Joe the Quilter", the story of an actual 17th century English quilt maker. Other highlights of that night in the old stone farmhouse included Josh Broder joining Joe in a duet from their collaborative musical on the life of James Strang; Stryder Croswhite performing a Soundgarden hit with Joe on guitar; and Cindy Gillespie-Cushman leading the vocals on a couple Hank William's gems. Robert Cole gave a poetic interlude as well, reading two poems from a recently published collection of his work.

Of course the evening wouldn't have been complete without the good Mr. Cunningham reaching back through the halls of memory to resurrect the era of the BIRA, that shadowy underground organization once so boldly dedicated to a certain cause: in other words, the Beaver Island Re-unification Association. Joe, who of course never personally knew any purported member of this activist-prankster gang, brought the crowd more or less up to date on the doings of the crew that valiantly fought for the creation of one Island Township. It seems that though the signs of their existence are increasingly rare, the observant local can still detect evidence of their influence. Yet, sadly, it was learned that the BIRA's entire retirement fund for their die-hard leaders and officers was tragically wiped out within a matter of weeks; it being a garage full of warm Old Milwaukee.

By the end of this tale there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
There are some elements of the not-so-distant-past that are gladly evoked, and thanks to Joe the Island got a little taste of them on this summer evening, and was harkened to remember when.

–Robert Cole

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