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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hearing great music and meeting cool people

I took a couple weeks off work because I haven't had a proper vacation in a while. Originally we thought about a trip to Colorado but we ended up staying in town, going to the beach and Art Institute but mostly hanging around the house. That left days free for writing and some recording and nights free for performing and listening.

Since John Condron was on vacation there was no open mic at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena on 8/1, so I checked out a place John and Scott McNeil mentioned called the Ashbary coffee house in Willow Springs. Heard a bunch of great young, original acts who perform every week before an attentive, appreciative audience in a small theater that fits maybe 50 or 60 people. I listened all night and finally got up at the end when there were only a few people left. I played Hinsdale and Stand My Ground and got a great reception.

The next night I checked out a blues jam hosted by friends Tom Kallai and Michael Brown at Live 59, a music club in Plainfield. I had a great time hanging out, talking to players and meeting people like keyboardist Dan Fidanze, who it turns out is friends with cartoonist Charley Krebs and newsman Dave Masterson. Tom and The Captain took over the Thursday blues jam from Marty Mercer a couple months earlier, but it's tough to make it out on a Thursday after playing every Wednesday night. It's not the alcohol so much as the adrenaline from performing keeps me up very late, and I must get up early for the day job.

On 8/4 (our 22nd wedding anniversary!) I performed with Tim Placher at his 7th annual Shindig at the Shanty party at his place along the Kankakee River near Wilmington. Tim's the keyboardist/music teacher who invites me to do marathon tag-team shows with him at Thayer Brothers' 30 Buck tavern in Joliet. I also played last year's Shanty party.

This year Tim had a special treat in store. A very talented fiddler named Cristina Seaborn from St. Cloud, MN, performed with us. They met a few years back at a show in Iowa marking the 50th anniversary of the final performance of Buddy Holly, Richie Havens and the Big Bopper. Christina performs with numerous ensembles, including with Bobby Vee. I did a set of covers and originals and she stayed up and played. Not only is she an amazing artist but very nice to talk to as well! I remember she said good artists aren't afraid to play ballads, and we talked about how it's good to be cool about making mistakes.

On 8/7 I went up to the Abbey Pub on Chicago's Northwest Side, a couple miles west of Wrigley Field. Traffic getting there was horrible but I still got there early. Their open mic is on the smaller of their two stages, called The Green Room, and hosted by Scott “The Madman" Madden. He was very cool to talk to; turns out we both graduated from Lyons Township High School.

Well, I was first to get up. Scott said I could do three songs. I played originals King Of the Mountain, Hinsdale and Wrigley Field, then Scott said do another so I played Stand My Ground. I felt great! I was chill and funny and the room responded wonderfully. There was a character there named Crazy Eddie who had a cool-looking bass so I snapped his picture, though I don't think he actually got up and played.

While having a smoke before or after playing I chatted with a nice guy. Turns out he was Dan Andree, fiddler extraordinaire for The Henhouse Prowlers. The guys in that band play bluegrass every Tuesday under the name Sexfist on the Abbey Pub's big stage. Once in a while an artist from the Green Room side of the house gets to play a few songs to warm up the Sexfist crowd on the big stage, so that's something cool to think about.

The next day, 8/8, was Hannah's 20th birthday so Jo, Hannah and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago and had a wonderful time. That night I played Tribes Alehouse and saw John Condron, Scott McNeil and a few other regulars. I got up after John like usual and played five originals. It was crowded and I didn't feel like I connected with the room. Oh well. I was sitting there thinking how attentive the room was at the Ashbary in Willow Springs the week before so I figured what the heck and drove up there. This time the sound guys running the show recognized me and got me up after a short wait. I played Ballad of Slowiks and Goof Off and got a great reception. I felt really at ease. Most of the artists there are a lot younger, but they encourage original performances and are very appreciative!

Driving home from the Ashbary I started writing a song called New Normal. I had the first couple verses and pre-choruses done by the time I got home. I picked up the guitar and found the key and the chorus and finished it in no time. The next day I recorded an audio demo with piano, drums and backing vocals and the day after that I videotaped a version played on acoustic guitar. It felt good to write the first new song since wrapping up the Rough Road collection a month or so earlier.

On Friday 8/10 I watched The Michael Heaton Band play at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. Michael's a great original artist based in Montgomery IL. He's been writing, performing and recording his own songs for a long time. A few weeks back he mentioned he'd be needing a bass player starting in late September, and I let him know I was interested. We exchanged numbers but hadn't talked until that night. He said he was having a couple guys up for auditions and would let me know. The guitarist and drummer were nice guys to talk to and I think I could learn a lot from such an experienced artist. Tim Placher was there and so was Jodi Wartenberg with a bunch of her family. She's a big fan of Michael's. John Condron was there hanging out, Kevin Krauss was working the door and there were other friends there.

Saturday 8/11 I was back at Chicago Street Pub to see Terrapin Flyer featuring former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten. Terrapin Flyer features guys from the bluegrass band Cornmeal, and I got to talking to Wavy Dave Burlingame, who plays banjo in Cornmeal and bass in Terrapin Flyer. Wavy said he's roommates with Dan Andree, the fiddler from Henhouse Prowlers/Sexfist that I met Tuesday at Abbey Pub, so it feels like a small world after all! Chris Corkery opened--he's a fantastic singer, songwriter and bluesy/country guitarist who I opened for at Chicago Street on May 4. Really nice guy, too, and I sat and listened as he asked Davy about playing gigs. I learned a lot just sitting there. Chris remembered me and was very complimentary about my writing and playing. Kevin Krauss was working, owners Triz and Kathy were there, saw Kevin Hegarty, Joel Arhweiler and other friends and it was a lot of fun hearing awesome music played by incredibly talented musicians.