by Ex Fabula Blogger Steph Kilen
The goal of the Terminal Milwaukee series was to bring people from different Milwaukee communities together and to delve into the life and storytelling talent of Tom Crawford. Get the Billy Mitchell Drum and Pipe Band, accordionist Steve Meisner, punk band The Lubricants and gospel group, The Gill Singers all on stage with Tom at the helm, then throw in Milwaukee historian John Gurda, the Ex Fabula founders and an audience full of people wiping their own tears in singing “Loch Lomond,” and I say you’ve exceeded that goal by leaps and bounds.
That’s how the final episode in our Terminal Milwaukee series ended. It began with the Billy Mitchell band playing Tom through the audience to the stage, a Scottish fanfare for the son of a Scottish immigrant who, along with his son, the audience got to know intimately by night’s end. Tom explained to us his devotion to Milwaukee and how it got him temporarily kicked out of his favorite coffee shop, though also applauded by other patrons.
Bagpipes, polka, punk and gospel may seem a random grouping, but the evening’s musicians not only delighted in their own right, but also served to illustrate the eclectic nature of Tom’s taste in music and his life’s experiences. As Tom told the story of his boyhood obsession with the banjo and how he was forced instead to play the accordion, Steve Meisner affably provided the soundtrack, leading the crowd in Milwaukee favorites, “Roll out the Barrel” and “Who Stole the Kishka.”
John Gurda, who had provided historical vignettes at every Terminal Milwaukee event in the series, including one earlier in the evening about Alverno, provided one final vignette recounting the history of the Terminal Milwaukee series. As he told of the series’ inception, the masterminds behind it (modesty, be damned), the neighborhoods we’ve visited and the characters we’ve met, the audience got a true sense of the profound history that Milwaukee is living and creating every day. As Ex Fabula founder Amy Schleicher puts it, “reclaiming Milwaukee’s narrative” and we feel that is indeed what it was.
The Lubricants raised quite a ruckus, much in the way Tom did in his youth. His second story told of his journey from middle school, um, “trouble maker” to a place where he was able to begin to find and embrace his true self. Though the chorus of the Lubricant’s hit “Hemorrhoids” was still ringing in the audience’s ears, the Gill Singers took the stage to raise everyone’s spirits and to usher in Tom’s last story of the deep, spiritual, if sometimes tumultuous connection between father and son. Moved as we all were by the Gill Singers’ sincere performance, there were few in the house not wiping tears as Tom showed photos of his father in his final days and told of the pain Hugh and his son caused each other again and again, and how they somehow found redemption in each other’s eyes.
We could not be more proud of Tom…the series, everyone who participated in every way and our city, Milwaukee, which in the end, made it all possible. At the end of the evening, one of our own, Justin Shoman said what we were all thinking; “There is no place in the world I would rather be tonight.”
We hope the spirit of this series – the communities, places and people of Milwaukee – will linger, so that you have many more nights feeling the same sense of overwhelming pride and sincere admiration about our hometown, the great city of Milwaukee.