Dan Reilly plays sweet music for those in need
People Who Matter
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Community: Fulton Township
Family: Wife, Marcia; two daughters, Chelsea and Nikki.
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, farmer. His songs are country-flavored. "Flatlander Blues" got extensive play on the radio, and he and the Barnswallows have played Summerfest.
Why he hasn't made it big: He doesn't want to. Songs that made it to the radio "kind of made it on their own," Reilly said. He's turned down offers to tour: "I don't want to be in no big cities. I don't like life on the road." He'd rather stay near home and play area establishments. An agent from Chicago once called and said he could put Reilly to work every night. "(I told him), I don't want to work every night. Then I'd be calling it work, just like you. Once my music gets into too much business, it's not fun anymore. As long as it is paying the bills, I'll keep it where it's at. I think it's a miracle to get paid to do music in the first place."
Advice to others: Call your own shots. Be self-employed. "Pick something you like to do, and figure out a way to get paid for it."
How he writes his music: Stuff catches in his head. Once, Reilly was having lunch in an Indianford tavern. A fisherman came in and asked a woman there to describe the town. "It's two bars and a bait shop," she said. A song was born.
Some of his favorite things: Hunting. Sitting on a bucket watching the bobber go own. Making music in his basement. Seeing the good that comes from his fundraising. Hauling his guitar around on his travels, singing and partying with the locals in such places as Irish pubs and the streets of Jamaica. "You can go anywhere with music," Reilly said. "Everybody speaks music."
Awards: The Melvin Jones Fellowship award from the Lions Club, where he is a member.
FULTON TOWNSHIP Dan Reilly was born after his time.
Like Henry David Thoreau, Reilly relishes his solitary time. He lives off his land and his wits.
Reilly, 56, of Fulton Township also abides by old-fashioned barn-raising ideals, always ready to help his community.
Jim Linsley, a farmer down the road and longtime friend, said Reilly is "one of those guys who's always there. If there is some sort of charity event or fundraiser, he usually has something to do with it."
Reilly serves his community with his music, time and energy. Other people donate money or merchandise; he donates his many talents.
When asked the source of his largess, Reilly searched for an answer and then simply said:
"If we ain't here to help each other, what are we here for?
"Music gives you a chance to give back and have fun," said Reilly, who plays 12-string guitar and harmonica. "I can't give everybody $500, but I can give a $300 or $500 gig without having it taken out of my pocket.
"You go give them music, and that draws the crowds where they can raise money."
Reilly and his wife, Marcia, have had their own share of challenges, friends say, adding that may be another reason for the couple's empathy for others.
Their two babies were born premature, and the oldest, Chelsea, is blind as a result.
Those who benefit from Reilly's generosity include private people down on their luck, his former country grade school, low-income children and children with disabilities, wildlife organizations, the Lions Club, veterans, the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped and the local police department. Reilly acts as auctioneer for charity events. He has played his guitar by the bedside of a dying woman after being asked by her family.
Last year, Reilly donated to Edgerton Community Outreach more than $1,500 he raised hosting a haunted house on his property. He also donates surplus produce there.
Blaine Larson, an Edgerton police officer, called his friend "Mr. Edgerton."
"He doesn't say no," Larson said of Reilly. "When people call, he says ‘yes.'"
John Thompson was in the Lions Club with Reilly.
"He's just a good 'ol country Irishman who likes to give things to people and doesn't need a lot for himself," Thompson said.
Reilly likes seeing the results of his work come back to the community, whether it's donated food or conservation land bought for the public.
Friends say Reilly could be wealthy if he charged for every event he donated.
But Reilly said a short stint in Nashville convinced him he doesn't want that lifestyle.
Instead, the self-taught musician lives off his music here, playing dinner clubs and bars. He earns enough for his needs, and he and his family don't seem to need much. They live on the homestead in a cozy, wood-heated house. They don't have air conditioning, and a friend says Reilly cools off in summer by sprawling under a large willow.
Reilly abhors the thought of working for somebody and supplements his income by farming and selling produce from a seven-acre garden.
Linsley described Reilly as an "old-school" person who is always willing to help and expects nothing in return.
"Danny always finds value in people and not material things," Linsley said.
"He was born a couple hundreds of years too late. That's what his mom always told me."