By Brittany Ward
June 14, 2018

Courtesy Victor & Penny

This Friday, a Lincoln favorite will be in town performing at Crescent Moon at 8 p.m.. The hard-swinging folk jazz band, Victor & Penny and Their Loose Change Orchestra are popping up to Lincoln during their jam-packed schedules and bringing some surprises with them.

The band performs in many forms. From a duo with Jeff Freling (Victor) and Erin McGrane (Penny), to a trio, quartet or quintet with Rick Willoughby on bass, James Isaac on clarinet and Kyle Dahlquist on trombone, glockenspiel and accordion. For Friday’s performance Victor & Penny will be borrowing top Kansas City jazz player Jeff Harshbarger to play bass. They’ll also be bringing their newest project, a 7-inch vinyl that was recorded in partnership with Kansas City’s EAT. HEAR. RECORDS., a moniker for recordBar’s new project. With the record plus a few other songs that have been recorded, the band has hopes of having a fifth album come together soon.

Freling and McGrane are not only recording but are kept busy with music instruction, course substitution, writing, arranging, running workshops and doing presentations. A big project that has been in motion for about a year is their two-part performance workshop. It utilizes McGrane’s expertise and background in theater performance, emphasizing the performance aspect of being on stage and not just focusing on the music technique. The workshop starts with conversation, lecture and discussion that usually ends up being very lively. The second part is putting part one into action, performing and practicing what they learned together in a welcoming environment.

From the workshop, they have witnessed a drastic change in people’s performance in both students and professional musicians. The most recent session, in Kansas City, hosted a wide range of performers, young to old, improvisational violinist to a Capella singers and everything in between.

Coming up later in the year will be a presentation in Tulsa at the Woody Guthrie Center that dives into Kansas City jazz and the evolution of the Kansas City sound. The presentation is not made just for musicians but for everyone, especially those interested in history.

“It’s kind of this great intersection of the wild west Kansas City story during prohibition era and how the Kansas City style of jazz that developed out of that time,” McGrane said. How that happened and how it’s related to the big personalities of that time. And that relates to us, in that we’re that kind of hard swinging style that we play is directly inspired by the music and the style that was developed in Kansas City during the prohibition era. There are some pretty famous names that were here, Big Joe Turner, Julia Lee, Walter Page, and more.”

From their inspiration and style of music, Freling and McGrane decided they needed a name that was more vocative of that era. At the birth of the group, the band was involved with a play in Kansas City. McGrane produced and acted, Freling wrote music and was the music director and the band also played in it.

“The writers of the play gave everyone in the band a name and my name was Victor California,” Freling said of the origins of the band’s name. e thought that was a fun name so we kept Victor and thought we would pick something for Erin as well. Penny came from a lyric in the tune “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” which is an old 30s song and the line is “a melody played in a penny arcade.” So, it’s Victor California and Penny Arcadia.”

Another important lesson the pair teach is something they work on every day and have been since beginning this journey:professionalism. Expectations are difficult to overcome when starting out as a performer. Thinking there will be 50 people at a show when six only show can be disappointing and maybe discouraging but it is important to remain professional. It may not have been what was anticipated but performing at 100 percent every time, no matter the circumstance can be the most rewarding. Having someone from the crowd come up after the show and explain how much seeing the show meant to them and how the music has impacted their life is really the reward.

“Whenever that happens it really reminds us why we do this in the first place. It reminds us that we are here for the audience. We’re here to entertain the audience and give them a gift. We’re not there for them to give us something but to give them something,” said McGrane.

Living and breathing music is something they are truly grateful and fortunate to be doing as a living, especially being able to do it with their spouse. Owning a business, creating art, travelling and living together, it’s a lot and it’s not for everyone. When you are workaholics like McGrane and Freling, the challenge isn’t taking the time off but allowing yourself to take a vacation as well as balancing both making the art and the business side of things. That being said, they love what they do, love impacting people’s lives with their music and teachings so they know it’s all worth it in the end.

To keep up with Victor & Penny, check out their website or Facebook.

Brittany Ward is a multimedia intern with KZUM.