Cedar Rapids, Iowa (July 14, 2013) Chuck Suchy (pronounced Soo-key) isn’t a professional singer-songwriter. Really, he isn’t. He says so himself. Technically, a professional is someone who earns his living through a vocation. Chuck earns his keep as a third generation farmer, living in Mandan North Dakota on the farm his grandparents started over 100 years ago when they immigrated from Czechoslovakia. Knowing what life can be like on a farm, I wonder how he finds the time to hone his songwriting and guitar playing skills to the level he displayed Sunday night. Both lyrically and musically, all his songs were carefully and intimately crafted, and his playing displayed a level of virtuosity that added to the sense that each song he performed was an expression of love not only for the song (and the subject of the song) but for the audience as well.
Chuck grew up with his hands in the soil, among the farm folk of south central North Dakota. He learned the simple joys of hard work, loving the land, and appreciating how working it can offer the reward of knowing you have done something good and constructive in the world. His lifelong inspiration has been things such as the simple joy of watching the flight of a red-tailed hawk above a field, or playing with his dog along the river, or the first time his father trusted him with a “grown up” task around the farm.
All of these experiences, and more, shine through Chuck’s songs and stories. With personal narratives such as “Indian Dreamer”, “Partsman” or “Dancin’ In the Kitchen” we catch a glimpse of what life was like for him growing up on a farm in the heartland. These are songs about real people, living uncomplicated lives that touch the heart with a sense that the simple, straightforward life we like to call the “American Dream” is still alive-and indeed thriving-in the lives and hearts of people like Chuck Suchy and those he knows, loves and sings about. It’s refreshing to hear such songs at a time when it seems so many folk artists are writing songs expressing the angst of lost love, or political commentary stemming from dissatisfaction with today’s social or political conditions.
Not that Chuck avoids such commentary. “Georgianna”, off his latest album “Unraveling Heart”, tells of how one man’s dream to preserve his land after his death, perishes in face of greed and “progress”. Yet even when Chuck is singing about difficult issues, his joy in life and living is still apparent. Even a song like “Georgianna” left me with a sense that through Chuck’s eyes, the world is a much better place than what most people see, because he takes the time to see and appreciate what really matters in life.
I especially liked “Molly’s Field”, in which I felt myself witness to a young farm boy playing with his dog, chasing butterflies through a field and enjoying a side of life that many never experience, being wrapped up in the trappings of modern technology and electronic entertainment. “Burma Shave Boogie” displayed Chuck’s wry sense of humor, as he strung together slogans from numerous old “Burma Shave” signs (if you are old enough to remember them) into a foot stomping boogie that had the audience laughing, clapping and singing along.
That is perhaps the best thing about seeing Chuck Suchy live: he is so approachable. His love for his audience is genuine. He wants people to share the emotions he felt when writing a song, and feels when performing it. Between the open-hearted eloquence of his songs, and his stories of his life and how he came to write them, I felt like I had been invited over to his house for a singalong, rather than attending a concert.
And Oh, those stories. Just as lyrical and engaging as his songs, Chuck could have simply told the stories without every singing, and the audience still would have been transported to the farmlands, riverbanks and small towns of North Dakota that form the heart and backdrop of Chuck’s music.
So, Chuck Suchy says he isn’t a professional singer-songwriter. Based on his performance Sunday night, he could have fooled me.
P.S. This was Chuck’s first visit to Cedar Rapids. He is very proud of his Czech heritage (when he got too warm, he took off his shirt, revealing a T-shirt with the words “Pravda Vitezi” on the front. This was especially delightful to the many people of Czech heritage in the audience. In fact Chuck discovered a couple whose ancestors came from the same village as his grandparents. During both the intermission and after the show, Chuck spent time signing autographs and talking with people. A lot of friendships were formed Sunday night at CSPS.