Toadstool Jamboree

In the 1990s almost every Black Hills bar with a stage and dance floor vibrated to the fresh sounds of homegrown talent playing danceable music almost every night of the week. Toadstool Jamboree’s intoxicating swirl of music was at the forefront of that exuberant, organic scene.

Toadstools Jamboree’s signature danceability and groove grew from the humble acoustic soil of Tom Whillock and Pam Hemmingsen playing Whillock’s original music at various small venues in downtown Rapid City including The Sixth Street Deli, Daily Grind and Global Market. Whillock was invited to play for a Songwriter Circle at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City and the project quickly grew from an acoustic duo into a multilayered musical experience when they recruited a full band to join in the fun. Whillock loved the idea of inviting the amazing Black Hills musical talent to join in and see what magic they could create together.

At the point a name was chosen for the band, Whillock and Hemmingsen had one daughter together, Summer Rain, and another daughter, Sophia Dylan, arrived within the year. The name Toadstool Jamboree was a mashup of one of their young family’s favorite children books The Cat’s Midsummer Jamboree, and the flush of shitake mushrooms growing from a kit on top of the refrigerator. The prescient book flap reads, “A whimsical, upbeat tale about the happiness that comes from sharing. A cat who loves to sing meets a toad who loves to play music. They take their music on the road, meeting a fox, a badger, a skunk, a goose and a raccoon who add their own talents to create a midsummer jamboree.” (Side note: any connection with so-called “magic mushrooms” can neither be confirmed nor denied).

Toadstool Jamboree wasn’t just a band name, it became an approach to playing music and being part of a community that defined the band, and one the growing audience would come to embrace. The extended band family became quite large and remarkably fluid, including fiddle/violin, mandolin, various keyboards, accordion, sax, trumpet, trombone, and a dizzying array of percussion instruments.

The original Songwriter Circle band included Matt Fox on mandolin and guitar, Bobby Sundby on drums, Jake Jackson on fiddle, Pam on vocals and percussion, and Tom on vocals and guitar. The talented bass player, Mike Reardon, was in the audience that night and immediately offered his skills to the project. Sundby went on to other musical pursuits shortly after and Chuck Loos grabbed the drum throne and has kept it ever since. It’s difficult to accommodate all of the wonderful folks in the Toadstool family into the storyline here, so we’ll leave that for the end.

It was a magical combination of musical mastery and adept songwriting that resonated like few others with Black Hills audiences. Whillock’s songwriting met Toadstool’s fans where they were and swept them along with the music. Toadstool Jamboree wrote and played stories of new and old loves, evolving perceptions of the world, watching children grow and learn, songs that called to mind whimsical memories of old friends and silly summers, and sometimes tripping through psychedelic dreamscapes with the likes of Pooh and Buddha.

Toadstool’s original music, performed with joy and skill, engaged their fans in a way that made everybody listening feel like personal friends, of Tom, of Pam, of Chuck, of the person dancing next to them. Hell, we even liked the bouncer when Toadstool was playing.

As the band grew and changed, so did the venues. They played progressively bigger stages, bringing their particular brand of groove-oriented rock and roll to the main stage at The Dahl Arts Center, The Uptown Grill, and Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, and as well as The Back Porch in Spearfish. At the apex of their popularity they opened and headlined at the biggest music festivals in the region: working their way up the list to headline the Heritage Festival at Rapid City’s Memorial Park Bandshell, opening for Blues Traveler, among others, at the Deadwood Jam, Joan Jett in downtown Sturgis, and Foreigner on the main stage the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis.

Throughout the 90s and into the next decade, Toadstool Jamboree, built an ever-larger, passionate following of music fans and friends who loved their grooves, the thoughtful lyrics, and their joyful spirit. Toadstool recorded four albums, all of which are just as wonderfully listenable today as they were twenty plus years ago: Homegrown recorded in Barb Evenson and Willy Grigg’s basement in 1996, Tongue in Groove recorded at Wolf Song Studio with Will Waller in 1999, Warts and All recorded live at the Heritage Festival and Stevens High School Homecoming Dance in 2000, and Naked in the Rain recorded in Bobby Z’s (Prince’s keyboard player) studio in Minneapolis in 2001.

At a time when it was almost unheard of for local bands to be played on mainstream radio in the Black Hills, Toadstool was able break into the rotation in 1999 with two songs from the Tongue in Groove album, often sandwiched between the likes of Sheryl Crow and Tom Petty. With the help of a Minneapolis promotion team, the Naked in the Rain album saw even more significant airplay, reaching AAA and College Radio markets in 44 states with two singles from that album, “Bandana Blues” and “Crash and Burn”. Whillock was asked to write a song to commemorate the opening of The Journey Museum in Rapid City and the band played for the grand opening. The band recorded the song and it was used for radio and TV spots to advertise the event.

Toadstool Jamboree was the house band for sweaty bars, outdoor festivals, mountain bike races, homecoming dances and proms, and lots of other good timey events from 1994-2003. Their mix of catchy and danceable originals combined with beloved covers from the Grateful Dead, Sublime, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and others made a Toadstool set the perfect soundtrack to most any Black Hills party. There have been a handful of reunion shows but last summer’s constantly morphing mini-tour, the first full reunion in over 13 years, culminated in three incredibly memorable and well-attended shows in August in Rapid City, Spearfish and Deadwood.

The Toadstool family tree (in mostly chronological order):

Christina Seaborn: violin on Homegrown and various other gigs

Willy Grigg: keyboards on Homegrown and a few gigs

Mike Ray: violin at a few gigs

Gary Bloomberg: sax on Homegrown

Mike Monahan: sax on the Homegrown album and ever after. He also added accordion to the mix

Mike Brennan: when Mike Reardon went solo, he recommended his bass student and Brennan aka the Groovedaddy aka the God of Thunder hasn’t left

Chad Lewis: went from our one rabid fan to spittin' rhymes on stage with us

Dave Koch: guitar, vocals and percussion

Chris Cady: guitar, vocals and percussion

Dan Sherrill: trumpet

Corey Ward: lead guitar

Will Waller: keyboards and recording engineering

Kenny Putnam: fiddle

Mattie Loney: fiddle

Mike Palmer: electric guitar

Jason Tschetter: drums and percussion

Tom Gorder aka Tommy the Silent: trombone