Unkle Nancy Says Goodbye

Posted: December 4, 2010 in Random Sidenote
Tags: , , , , , ,

You may have seen this Unkle Nancy Press Release (available via various other sources) by Lady Katie Cook:

“After almost eight years as a solo artist, and four years as an ensemble, Unkle Nancy and the Family Jewels are retiring. Born and based out of Newport, the band claims Eugene as its home, and will be performing there on December fourth at the Wow Hall to a disbelieving crowd. Due to some harmless pranks in the past, the band’s fanfare is having a hard time accepting the truth: that this really is the end of an era. However, Nancy and the rest of the Jewels are moving on to work on different projects and explore new artistic avenues. The character, Unkle Nancy, will have a hard time being laid to rest after recording over 35 different albums, all of which will live on after the fourth, but most memorably, those of which were recorded with the band. The Family Jewels’ albums; Lovely, Gypsy Pirate Blues, Vagabond Tramp, Off The Map, and Lost At Sea, is what really brought locals out of the woodwork to appreciate the Unkle Nancy phenomenon. These are the albums that allowed the group to tour the NW as well as headline the Whit Block Party three years in a row. The Wow Hall performance will be something extraordinary, to be sure, so if there is one thing you save any of your money for after Black Friday, it’s a toast to Unkle Nancy and the Family Jewels as they depart on their last voyage.”

Here’s the long version…

I first saw Unkle Nancy perform with Keegan Smith and the Fam, Marv Ellis, and the Acoustic Minds at the Candlelight Room a little over two years ago. He riled up the crowd there in a way I’d never seen the regulars behave. He stood atop a chair, wide eyed and full force, spitting rhymes down at the eager dancing audience. He “battled” with Marv and a couple other guest singers, and by the end of his appearance, my ears were ringing from the screaming, whistling men and women around me. Then, almost a year later, I went to the weekly Sunday brunch at my lovely friend Erica’s house, where I met and chatted with a shy but animated, and dare I say attractive, guy in his P.J.s who introduced himself as Nancy. I didn’t realize that the Nancy I met and was shooting the shit with over a cup of coffee, was the same guy that commanded the Candlelight that night until after we bumped into each other at a Monday night Keegan Smith and the Fam show at club 915. He walked up on stage and turned into this entirely different person.

We headed to the PDX late-night staple The Original Hotcake House for some two A.M. breakfast, and after chatting with him for a while, not only did I realize that we are both total nerds, but that he was something of a musical legend in the Eugene area. He put out an album almost every three months (approximately 35 total), had been writing and collaborating with Marv and Keegan for years, and played nearly every instrument known to man. He was actually the first person to ever show me an omni-chord (a.k.a. a Q-Chord).

When his good friend Marv Ellis set out to create his own weekly musical happening in the Portland area, and initiated Northwest Fresh night at McMenamin’s White Eagle in No-Po, Unkle Nancy was by his side to play banjo, or whatever other instrument he felt like utilizing that evening. Every Tuesday, this event had painters creating live art, a raffle for one of the handmade leather works made by N.R.G, a wide array of the very popular feather hair accessories that have now become a staple of mainstream fashion in the NW, and a few other craft booths. I haven’t even mentioned the elite cadre of musicians involved which included, among others, the vocal styling of the Acoustic Minds, Nancy, Marv and whatever other musicians that showed up and wanted to collaborate. Marv functioned more as an MC than a front man, and one can only hope that he will create something else along the lines of the NW Fresh experience in the future. This kind of environment is heaven for the aforementioned artist who is an auditory locavore.

I think one of the things that has really drawn people to his music, to this character that he has created, is the mystery behind it/him, not to mention some of the controversial content he touches on in his lyrics. For instance, “Why the pseudonym Unkle Nancy,” is something that I have heard more than once when I present one of his albums to a new potential fan. The story I heard had something to do with a homeless man that crossed his path on a hallucinogenic hoo-rah, pre-Floater show, down in Eugene. “Say hello to your uncle Nancy for me!!” the haggard derelict exclaimed. *couch, cough, scratch*

It’s a shame that much of Nancy’s fan base thinks that his resignation from the music business is a hoax. He may have claimed to be married on one of his social networking pages, among other random tidbits strictly meant to fuck with whoever cared to pay attention, but this is no prank. There are other projects that Unkle Nancy wants to focus all his attention on. No doubt, that some of it has to do with the new facet of his audio obsession, which in my opinion was kindled by the Lonesome Chronicles lovingly told through Gypsy Pirate Media: a pod-io novel which is the summation, to a certain extent, of the story he’s been trying to tell throughout his vast array of albums. It ignited something in the artist.

Without a doubt, it also has something to do with the bureaucracy of the music industry itself. The kind of behavior the performer really enjoys indulging in, such as yelling at the crowd and instigating them, keeps his fan-base coming back, and scares the newbies away.This is not the kind of behavior many promoters and industry reps really look for. Musicians are supposed to seduce their fans, and stroke their ego, as well as their eardrums. He’s made a comment or two regarding some of his burnt bridges in passing, and his lack of caring on the matter. He mentioned how he and some of his other friends involved in the Northwest scene have a running joke that goes like, “Hey, remember when it was about the music?…..Me neither!”

And let’s face it. It’s also largely about his health. The last few times Unkle Nancy and The Family Jewels performed together, it took something extra for this caricature to get through the show. He’s no longer as agile as he was the two years ago when I saw him at the Candlelight, or last year, when I caught him in a guest appearance or two at Club 915. His hip dysplasia, among other things, have made this particular endeavor, with the wild expressions, and gravely energetic singing, a challenge to say the least. When you put everything that you have into the performance of your music, and you don’t leave anything for yourself, it’s hard to continue that lifestyle.

Just know that the show at WOW Hall on December 4th is the last show for Unkle Nancy for a long time and potentially forever. So don’t doubt, question, or hesitate, just make it there. Support someone who has been there to make music these last years for the love of music, certainly not for the money or fame.

I’ll be there at 8:00pm sharp, and I hope to see all your smiling faces there with me. Maybe we can share a pitcher of Ninkasi (one of Nancy’s sponsors) while we watch the gypsy man make history. I know I’m not alone in saying I can’t wait to see what this artist has in store for us in the future. Whatever it may be, is guaranteed to be epic

Scheme, dream, and I’ll see you in Eugene.


  1. Terrific article. This may be one of the most through and accurate pictures painted of Unkle Nancy. The “hallucinogenic hoo-rah, pre-Floater show” story you heard, I assure you and your readers, is a true one. I really enjoy your blog and think you have built it on a wonderful concept. It was a pleasure meeting you and look forward to being in Portland again soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s