GREEN BAY – Bob Balsley, a guitar hero on the local music scene for decades who has played all over the world and all across Lambeau Field parking lots with the roving Packers Tailgaters Band, is getting a concert and album in his honor.
“In My Life: A Tribute to the Life & Music of Bob Balsley” will feature a who’s who of area musicians performing 20 of his original songs Feb. 25 at the Tarlton Theatre in downtown’s Broadway District. An accompanying commemorative, limited-run album will feature studio versions of the artists playing those same titles as well as several tracks by Balsley.
Participating musicians include Brass Differential, The Chocolateers, Troy Heinz & The 57s, Dale Anderson of The Delta Jets, Beach Patrol, Zoomie Hardtke, Rändi Fay, Jeff Hinnendael, Shawn Connelly, Gerry Sloan, Cat Plan, Good for the Soul, The Rusty Tambourine, Jasha, Alley Cat & The Purrrfection and Little Cisco, along with “surprise guests.”
“He’s been a staple and a local legend in Green Bay for a long time, and this tribute and celebration of him is a long time coming,” said musician and Tarlton co-owner Tarl Knight, who is spearheading the project and also performing as part of it.
The tribute has been in the works for the better part of six months but was kept under wraps until Sunday night when Knight and participating musicians surprised Balsley, who had been sidelined with a health issue over the holidays, with the news during his gig at RumRunners in Green Bay.
“It was very emotional and special,” Knight said. “We’re all glad he’s better, and the idea is just to celebrate someone very special to our community while they’re still here with us. Very often we celebrate people after they’re gone and say all of the things. We get to do that now while he’s still here.”
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Balsley has played and taught jazz, blues, rock, country, R&B and classical guitar for decades and founded the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Guitar Camp in 1983, which drew aspiring guitarists from across the country. His series of instructional books, including “Understanding Guitar Chords” and “Understanding Guitar Chord Progressions,” were published by Mel Bay Publications, and he has done clinics for guitar manufacturer Gibson.
Fellow musicians interviewed for video segments that will play between acts on the night of the tribute have said it’s no exaggeration that he’s responsible for teaching half of Green Bay jazz and guitar.
Balsley has performed with such big names as Chuck Berry, Van Morrison and Bobby Vinton, collaborated with and influenced countless area musicians and played not all over town but in dozens of countries. In 2007 and 2009, he traveled the world with the Semester at Sea Program, performing in nearly every port and playing a reception for Bishop Desmond Tutu in the Bahamas. It was an adventure he shared with the Green Bay Press-Gazette with regular updates for a feature called “Where in the World is Bob Balsley?”
Never one to tout his own talents or accomplishments, Balsley is “a notoriously poor self-promoter,” Knight said. On his Facebook page on Monday, Balsley wrote he was finally picking himself off the floor after the surprise.
“I don’t deserve this honor or this incredible group of talented humans. I love you all,” he wrote.
“It’s that kind of person that deserves it the most, the one who always pushes his students and his bandmates and his collaborators and friends into the spotlight … and that has been Bob his whole life and his whole career,” Knight said. “This is a chance to shine the light on him for one night, and it’s not enough, but it’ll be special.”
Tickets for the tribute concert are $30 and up per person and available only as table seating for parties of two to five people at thetarlton.com. No single tickets will be sold in advance. Doors open at 5 p.m., with a dinner option for an additional cost. There will even be cocktails named for some of Balsley’s songs.
Each ticket includes a copy of the album, which will be limited to 200 copies. Artists recorded 20 of Balsley’s nearly 100 songs at Hinnendael Studios in Green Bay and Rock Garden Studio in Appleton.
Kendra Meinert is an entertainment and feature writer at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at 920-431-8347 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.