Old soul-oist

One-man show The Wrong Omar at Eaton’s Taffy’s

By Lisa Bennett

The world is full of truly amazing people. In 1884, Thomas Stevens became the first person to bicycle across North America. In 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the full 21 miles across the English Channel. In 1992, Mae Carol Jemison became the first African American woman in space aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. What do these remarkable people have in common with Joey Shaheen? They are all the very best kind of soloists—the truly brave sort who follow their own beat and thrive, regardless of the restrictive norms society or family tries to hold them to.

Shaheen is one of those amazing soloists destined for fame. Also known as The Wrong Omar, his artistry is an intoxicating blend of folk rock, bluegrass and rich story songs with subtle pop influences thrown in.

“I grew up on Beatles, progressive rock and show music,” Shaheen says. “My mother was an opera singer and my brother was a bluegrass picker.”

It’s easy to see those influences in his work. The fun, upbeat melodies and easy sing-along lyrics make his music the kind you just can’t get enough of. Listening to him perform, you can tell musical innovation is in his blood. From the unusual percussive styles to the unique musical style blends, the vast range of influences in his music is simply decadent. But the sheer scope of Shaheen’s musical genius can only be fully appreciated when you see how the music is made.

Shaheen starts out with a portable piano on his lap, then adds an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, a kick drum, a tambourine and shaker. And, he plays them all by himself! “It’s like a steam punk Dr. Seuss or something,” Shaheen says.

Less dramatic, but certainly no less impressive, are the stories behind his work. Joey Shaheen got the title The Wrong Omar from a funny, true story about a botched prison release. According to Shaheen, years ago, in Elk River, Minnesota, there were two inmates both named Omar. One was due for release. The other was not. The Sherburne County Correctional Facility accidentally let the wrong Omar go. Despite ads in local newspapers, television and radio pleading for him to return and finish out his sentence, the wrong Omar declined the offers. A week later, after the real Omar had been released, newspaper headlines read, “Wrong Omar Released From Prison.”

“Sometimes at the end of a show, I’ll say ‘I want to than the Sherburne County Correctional Facility for making this show possible!’” Shaheen laughs.

Perhaps Shaheen’s most moving story is the theme for his song, “Miss Ellie Won’t You Go Bike Riding.” Years ago, Shaheen bought a little yellow house in Minnesota. An elderly woman named Ellie lived across the street. Every morning, Shaheen would sit on his back steps and Ellie would go hang out her laundry to dry. They eventually became friends and Shaheen would call out silly things to her like, “Ellie, let’s go drinking and dancing tonight” or “let’s go sky diving!” and she would giggle. One day, Ellie waved Shaheen across the street as though she had an errand for him to run. He went over and a smiling Ellie led him to the garage and showed him an old-fashioned Schwinn bicycle she’d gotten at the church yard sale. She wanted to ride the bike. She hadn’t ridden a bike in over 40 years and Shaheen was skeptical. He carefully weighed the pros and cons, then said, “Let’s do this.” He rolled the bike out onto the sidewalk and helped her on. She clung to his shoulder a bit as he gave her the same instructions he’d given his own kids. He started walking with her, then trotting, then jogging and gave her one last push before took off down Patterson Street. She was really wobbly at first, but she got the bike into a stable groove and down the block she went. She made a right hand turn, then disappeared from view. Then he became really worried. What could happen to her? He waited with baited breath. To his utter relief, she rounded the corner a few minutes later heading down 5th Avenue. She was flushed, but she was smiling. As she made her “landing” and caught her breath, she said “Thanks Joey” before walking the bike into the garage.

“It was the last time I ever saw that bike,” Shaheen recalls. “She had that one ride with me, and then passed away some time later.”

Like Shaheen’s stories, The Wrong Omar’s music is truly meaningful and real. The smiles and uplifting atmosphere it provides is one of those wonderful added bonuses you just don’t want to miss out on.

The Wrong Omar will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6 at Taffy’s, 123 E. Main St. in Eaton. For more tickets or more information, please visit thewrongomar.com or taffysofeaton.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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