The golden years should be a time of relaxation, recreation and self-discovery. The unique sound of Cliff Simonsen and Mike Fansler, who together make the Qi (pronounced "Chi") Brothers, delivers just that.
Simonsen, who plays the Dobro and sometimes the mandolin, provides an eerie yet ethereal melody. Fansler on the congas adds an Americanized island intonation.
The African conga rhythms and the electric Dobro bring to mind images of standing in line at the all-you-can-eat buffet on a cruise line. But in a valley quickly becoming known for its notable blues musicians, a little "Cheeseburger in Paradise"-like musicality is well, refreshing.
After both men retired, their wives insisted they get together for some jam sessions about 18 months ago. Simonsen, who retired from a 28-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard, looks more like a member of ZZ Top with his fedora and long gray beard. Fansler, a former probation officer, is carrying on a family tradition of musical performance.
The two men quickly took their jam sessions on the road, performing at wineries, restaurants and special events. Most notably, Simonsen and Fansler organized a fundraising benefit held at 38 Central in Medford Saturday for a 7-year-old Central Point girl with bone cancer.
"It wasn't standing-room-only like I'd hoped, but the people that came were very generous," said Simonsen. The event consisted of live performances by four bands including the Qi Brothers, a silent auction and wines by the glass with donated wine from local wineries.
When the Qi Brothers are not organizing benefits, they play gigs just about anywhere as long as they are home in time for bed at 10 p.m. Fortunately the Tidings Café meets that criteria, and the Qi Brothers brought their beats to the newspaper office one sunny afternoon.
"Neither one of us are the kind of musician that stuns people with our virtuosity, so we entertain and we're locked in on the people and we keep that exchange going," said Simonsen.
The Qi Brothers want to instill happy energy in the crowd, which is also the inspiration for their name, as Fansler, a devotee of tai chi and chi gong, explained. "'Qi' is a Chinese word for intrinsic energy, and that was one thing that Cliff and I always seem to bring wherever we play."
Qi Brothers does seem more appropriate than the group's original name, Red Dog and Geats, which didn't make the cut with the men's wives. "Our wives didn't like that name, they keep reminding us that we're old guys," said Simonsen.
Since both men are only in their 60s, they hope to get more gigs in the valley and keep performing. "Somewhere on the bucket list is a CD on there, a bona fide nicely done recording," said Simonsen.
Since both men like to be home early for bed, they rarely play bars. "We played the Touvelle Lodge Sunday and that was the first down-and-out 'bar' that we worked. Neither one of us drink," said Simonsen.
Since Fansler was involved in law enforcement, he has to be careful who he plays with. "Every time I would go to a band to see if we could work together, they'd be smoking dope or drinking hard and with what I was doing, it wouldn't be too appropriate for me to be around that," said Fansler.
Now that they are mostly playing daytime gigs and sport gray beards, "We don't get invited out to the parking lot at breaks," Simonsen said.
When they are not performing, they are busy working on honey-dos and gardening. So getting to go out and perform is a real treat, they said.
"Playing at the wineries and shows, it's a nice excuse to wear my nice clothes from when I worked," said Fansler.
To see the Qi Brothers in their nice clothes, visit South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8.
Mandy Valencia is a freelance writer and videographer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.