Editor's note: Garden City’s annual Tumbleweed Festival will light up Lee Richardson Zoo’s West Green this weekend with music, art, children’s shows and Flat Mountain Brewhouse beer gardens. This week, we’re featuring different performers leading up to the festival. Once the music starts Friday, let us know who your favorites are at www.facebook.com/GardenCityTelegram or @GCTelegram on Twitter.
Victor and Penny, a high-energy Kansas City swing, folk and jazz band, was born of reconnected partners, a love of jazz and characters taking the stage.
Since 2010, partners on and now off the stage Erin McGrane (Penny) and Jeff Freling (Victor) have been putting their own twist and hearts into music made famous a century ago. The duo and their full band will perform at Tumbleweed for the first time this weekend, bringing together a set rooted in both classic jazz and modern influences.
“Someone said we were like a 1920s heavy metal band ...” Freling said. “The energy is very high. That’s a lot of that Kansas City jazz sound from back in the day. It’s just a lot of ...”
“Rhythm,” McGrane finished for him.
Freling and McGrane were a duo long before Victor and Penny, but their relationship has always been rooted in music — the two played in rock bands together in college before going on their own paths for over a decade. In 2008, the pair reconnected in Chicago and did music together to stay in touch.
Soon, they were bonding over jazz tunes from the ‘20s and ‘40s. When McGrane’s dad gifted her a ukulele not long after, the first echoes of the band began to reverberate — McGrane on the uke and Freling on guitar — Freling said. They played the early 20th-century jazz songs and then started to work in their own material.
“The songwriting is so pure, I guess,” Freling said of classic jazz songs. “It’s the combination of one thing that doesn’t happen much today, which is great melody writing. ... The feel is so infectious.”
The name “Victor and Penny” was a holdover from a play the two worked on in their early days, Freling said. Freling’s band members were all characters in the show, play-acting musicians turned assassins. Freling’s name? Victor California.
Around the same time, McGrane, herself in another band at the time, was scheduled to host and sing at an event. Freling accompanied her as Victor California and the two played several songs. The one that stuck was one from the ‘30s. The two kept playing together, McGrane taking on the name “Penny Arcade,” as in Penny Arcadia, and they’ve never stopped since.
On stage, the performers are themselves, McGrane said, and the lyrics tell their stories.
“I think they’re a lot about us,” she said. “A lot about love, about traveling, about love later in life and the sweetness of that.”
Classic jazz songs, from Kansas City artists and other greats, “still stand out today,” McGrane said. Victor and Penny is influenced by the melodies and lyrics of that era and their full band is based on the string band concerts of the ‘30s, Freling said — it’s a rhythmic group where the beat comes from McGrane and the bass instead of a drummer.
Those influences are integral to the group, McGrane said. It wouldn’t exist without it. And beyond that is the connection between performers, Freling said. People can feel it and it draws them in.
“The show is different every time because of the level of musicianship and the kind of musical interplay that you’re gonna hear. And it’s just fun. It’s fun, fun, fun,” McGrane said.
Victor and Penny will perform at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on the South Stage and 12:30 p.m. Sunday on the East Stage at the Tumbleweed Festival.
Wristbands are $15 for Friday, $20 for Saturday, $10 for Sunday or $35 for the whole weekend
Festival wristbands are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate for adults and $15 in advance and $20 at the gate for kids ages 11 to 17. Kids 10 and under get in free with an adult. All wristbands are good for the whole weekend and can be purchased at www.tumbleweedfestival.com or in person at Dillons East, Dillons West, Garden City Arts, Patrick Dugan's, The Corner on Main, The Safari Shop, Family Bookhouse, Golden Plains Credit Union and High Plains Public Radio in Garden City, Dillons in Dodge City, Dillons and Golden Plains Credit Union in Liberal, and Golden Plains Credit Union in Ulysses. The entrance to the festival will be to the south of the zoo.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the prices for the Tumbleweed Festival's admission wristbands were incorrect. All wristbands are good for the whole weekend and are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate for adults and $15 in advance and $20 at the gate for kids ages 11 to 17. Kids 10 and under get in free with an adult.