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Musical Odyssey

Deering and Down to open for Leon Russell tonight in Florida

Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2004

Since leaving Alaska two months ago for an extended exploration of their musical opportunities in the southeastern Lower 48, Juneau/Skagway duo Deering and Down has had a fair share of fortuity.

And a chance encounter with an antique dealer and a renowned sculptor in St. Petersburg, Fla., has landed the group one of its biggest gigs yet.

They open for rock icon Leon Russell tonight in downtown St. Petersburg at the Jannus Landing Courtyard, a 1,500-seat venue built in 1888. It's the oldest outdoor venue in Florida and the largest outdoor venue in central Florida.

"This whole thing is serendipity," said the Rev. Neil Down, by phone from St. Petersburg. "Leon Russell has played with Frank Sinatra and all the Beatles. Just to enter his mojo is pretty humbling."

Rev. Down and Lahna Deering, both singers, writers and guitarists, have played throughout Alaska, Canada and Europe since they met in Skagway in 1998. They recorded Down's latest album, "When a Wrong Turns Right," in February 2002 in Ireland with Henry McCullough, a former guitarist for Paul McCartney's Wings and the lone Irishman to play at Woodstock. For more information about their projects, check out www.burnbarrelrecords.com.

In April, they decided to head out on the road indefinitely. They've been staying with Deering's relatives in Florida and Georgia, and Down's relatives in Baltimore. There's no timetable on when they're coming back.

"I don't know how long it's going to be," Deering said, after a show at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa, Fla. "It will definitely be for a little while until we wear out our shoes."

"We came down here about two months ago, and the first couple of weeks we were knocking on doors and trying to introduce ourselves," she said. "The Rev. was relentless and just kept on calling. We've made some great friends. Everyone's sort of into passion art. It's just been a good time on the road."

"I love Alaska so much," Down said. "I appreciate it so much. And I know Lahna does too. But there's a handful of places you can gig, and it's just as expensive if we want to go to Anchorage for a gig as it would be to fly to New York or Hong Kong."

"Realistically, we just both thought we should come down here and see if the proof's in the pudding," he said. "We've had such great feedback, and we were blessed with the European thing and the U.K. thing. We thought we'd go to the East Coast, where they don't let anybody in very easy. It takes a little bit of finesse in a sense, but things have been percolating."

The perseverance has paid off. Deering and Down have toured through Florida, Atlanta, Baltimore, and points in between.

"What's happened is that we've been starting to play at great clubs and these venues that are more famous," Down said. "I love the comfort zone of Alaska, and we've got so many great friends up there. But it's really good to get out and make sure what you're doing is up to snuff."

In May in Baltimore, they hooked up with director Steve Gilliam and filmed a video for "Suddenly," off Deering's 2001 "Coupe de Villa" album, at the famous Royal. Gilliam used "Suddenly" in his film, "Fall Before Paradise," which recently won Grand Prize at the Director's View Film Festival in Stamford, Conn. The film has also been invited to Los Angeles for the Dances With Films film festival. Check out http://www.fallbeforeparadise.com for more information.

"We went out shopping for clothes, and he had us in makeup," Deering said of the video. "We were all fired up, and Steven was pumped up to do it. It was strange trying to lip synch your song. We're just going to see what happens, and how it turns out. Maybe it will be aired sometime."

The Leon Russell gig came together after a friend, an antique dealer, introduced them to Kevin Brady, a well-known sculptor and painter in St. Petersburg. They mentioned they'd like to open for Russell, and he mentioned that he happened to know one of the bookers at Jannus Landing.

"He said, 'You guys would be perfect,' and he made a call," Down said. "I did a follow-up, and we sent them a package and they listened to it."

Deering and Down head to Atlanta after the show with Russell, then continue north for a Father's Day show at the Cat's Eye Pub in Baltimore.

"What we really want to do, is we have a stack of new tunes that we're stoked to get in the studio," Down said. "They're going to feature Lahna. She's got some red hot stuff she was playing tonight (Sunday). We're looking to find the right studio and go in and lay down some tracks. And we're hoping that we can secure some funding to do it."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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