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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hopstring Fest and a new song

The Righteous Hillbillies
By Ted Slowik

The weather was awesome Saturday for the second Hopstring Fest celebration of craft beer (hops) and Americana music (string) in Joliet. Chicago Street Pub owners Mike and Kathy Trizna deserve a lot of credit for putting on a great festival on so many levels.

First, the location is awesome. Downtown Joliet has had its struggles over the years and hey, it's no Naperville. But The Pub is a fantastic restaurant, craft beer house and venue for live local music. There are other restaurants and venues downtown now, like Mojoes, The Department and McBrody's. There's the Rialto Square Theatre, and the University of St. Francis has its arts program downtown now and Joliet Junior College is building a great new facility for culinary arts and other programs.

The Steepwater Band
Silver Cross Field, the city-owned ballpark that opened in 2002, is an absolutely perfect venue for Hopstring Fest. The two stages are set up on the concourse and in the picnic area beyond the outfield wall. There's no actual use of the field (for now), but there was plenty of space for people to sit in camp chairs they brought and watch the bands, and get great brews from the many vendors, and fantastic food. The tacos from Stefanich's are to die for! There are great views overlooking downtown Joliet and the castle-like Joliet Central High School. It's great that it's an all-ages festival, and kids 12 and under get in free!

Scott McNeil and Allison Flood
Hopstring Fest is a much more enjoyable experience in my opinion than Taste of Joliet, held out at the Park District's Joliet Memorial Stadium. I hope Triz and Kathy raise the bar again in 2014, because Hopstring Fest has tremendous potential to grow in popularity and become Joliet's premier summer festival for food and live music.

Tom & Becky
The entertainment was awesome. On the main stage I caught performances by The Steepwater Band, Righteous Hillbillies, John Condron and the Old Gang Orchestra, Chicago Farmer and Magic Box. They were all phenomenal, and the sound was outstanding. 

The family!
It was great seeing so many people! Way too many to name them all, but must acknowledge several. First, it was awesome that Jo, Hannah and Noah came to the fest. It's always great to spend quality fun time together as a family. Brother Mike made the trip down from Bolingbrook to hang. Nice of City Manager Tom Thanas to say hi--I think the most of Tom and all he's done for this town. Sorry he's leaving the job earlier than he'd like but hey, that's up to the voters here who elect the City Council. It was also good seeing friend and former council member Tim Brophy.

Chris Flood
Big thanks to Chris Flood, who managed entertainment on the acoustic side stage and added me to the lineup--the only write-in performer at Hopstring Fest 2013! Thanks Scott McNeil for an awesome job running sound, and Aly Flood for singing "Red Rover" with me. Had a wonderful time talking songwriting at length with the great Matt Biskie. Great seeing good friend Ron Kostka, and Tim Placher, Chuck Pelkie and Harold McCay, Jodi Wartenberg and her sister Jane and Jane's husband Jim, Pat Otto, Alex Hoffer, Tom & Becky, Charlie Champene, Don Nudi, Kevin Krauss, Kevin & Pete Hegarty, Joel Arhweiler, John Green, Chris Foray, glass artist Sue Regis, Eric Johnson and many, many others. Nice to meet Bill Startz.

Triz asked if I'd blog about Hopstring Fest for Joliet Patch, and I was happy to oblige. Thanks to Karen at Patch for the coverage and to everyone who shared the posts about the performers. I think it helped generate some buzz about the Fest and I know it helped get at least a few more people there. I think the publicity also earned me a spot in the lineup--like a guy who works hard in training camp and earns a spot on the roster. Sometimes good things happen to good people.

It was awesome to play in a great time slot for Jo and the kids and for many good friends and some new ones who said they liked the show. I played five songs, "Record Store," "Springfield," "Hinsdale," "Red Rover" and "Back To You."

"Back To You" is a new song. I've been toying with the basic chords for a couple months, ever since I learned Joni Mitchell's "Coyote" in open C tuning. I owe a great debt of inspiration for the music to the guitar playing and writing of Matt Biskie, and also the guitar stylings of Tristan Charles, who makes it look so easy. Also directly and personally to thank for this song are John Condron, who provided the inspiration for the opening line along with Aly Flood, and Alex Hoffer, whose diligence and hard work as a songwriter inspired me to finish it.

It's the first new song I've finished in five months, since "Red Rover." I think part of it was mental, that I wanted to get "Red Rover" recorded before moving on to something new. Next time I know to not book studio time four months in advance! I'm really happy with it though, on many levels. Since switching from bass to acoustic guitar two years ago, I've made it a point to explore playing and writing in different keys (with a capo), in different tunings, with slide and with other accompaniment (harmonica). These all help broaden my range as a writer and performer and keep the material from all sounding the same. It's all good.

So, I finished writing "Back To You" Friday night and recorded a video demo of it. On Saturday morning I also recorded the first audio demo for it, with a little upright bass and backing vocal accompaniment.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hanging out with Matt Biskie and Vaudevileins

By Ted Slowik

Last night I attended an awesome private performance at Third City Sound in Joliet by the great Matt Biskie and the band Vaudevileins.

Third City is the studio where I'm recording, and it was cool of owner Bill Aldridge to open his doors for an intimate group of friends to hear the band play. Bill plays bass in the band, which includes Jeff Julian on vocals and guitar, Andrew Payne on lead guitar and Brennen Chouinard on drums.

Vaudevileins play upbeat, original rock music. They sound great together, and it was fun getting to hang out with them because they all like to laugh and tell stories and talk about music and have a good time. Each is a great musician in his own right, but together they make some truly fantastic sounds. Jeff has a great voice and sense of humor, and hearing them perform live is a very playful experience.

They've been performing and recording together since 2010, and they play all over the Midwest and even beyond sometimes. You gotta admire a group that packs their lives into a green Ford van and drives hundreds of miles for sometimes weeks at time to play in a bunch of cities. And to go through the closeness of touring and still be friends is really cool.

I recorded a little bit of their performance, and you can hear what they sound like here.

Before Vaudevileins played their set, the small crowd of us gathered there were treated to an awesome acoustic set by Matt Biskie. Matt's an incredibly talented songwriter, singer and guitar player. He's a nice guy, too. So if you ever get the chance to hear him you should. In fact, I would definitely recommend buying music by both Vaudevileins and Matt Biskie because it's very entertaining and artful music.

If you check out Matt's site, you can hear some songs he recorded at Third City Sound. He says he honed his songwriting skills playing in bars across Illinois, and some of his music draws from his experiences working in railroad construction and living in motels throughout small-town USA. He has a beautiful voice, writes heartfelt songs about relationships and it's always a pleasure to hear him play.

I uploaded a short clip of Matt's performance, which you can watch here

In short, it was a great night with great company. I made some new friends, and people like Chris and Allison Flood were there, and it's always a good time hanging out with people who enjoy creating and appreciating good live, local original music.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A productive and exhausting 26-hour weekend in the studio

By Ted Slowik

The return to the recording studio to work on originals after a 27-year hiatus went great. Spent 14 hours Saturday recording acoustic guitar and lead vocal tracks for six songs, and 12 hours Sunday adding accompaniment to four of them.

This took place at Third City Sound, located above Chicago Street Pub in downtown Joliet, Illinois. Proprietor Bill Aldridge exercised extraordinary engineering feats and skill at recording everything, especially the acoustic guitar and vocal tracks. Producer John Condron displayed surgical production abilities, arrangement direction and accompaniment choices and performances. And musician friends Pat Otto and Aly Flood lent their amazing talents to the project. 

Here's a little video snippet of John arranging and rehearsing the "Red Rover" harmony with Aly. Everyone involved was great to work with, very professional and immensely talented.

We accomplished much, though we still have a bit of finishing up to do. We'll finish in a few weeks and the plan is to make this six-song collection available this fall. The six songs are "Red Rover," "Ballad of Slowiks," "Record Store," "Hinsdale," "Springfield" and "Dear Editor."

I purposely chose six songs that are fairly easy to play and sing, and that have been well-received by audiences in the two years since I began performing as an acoustic guitar-playing singer/songwriter. The six are all stories, and none has long, wide open space where solos would be needed though there are a couple of interludes. Pat, for example, fills a couple beautifully with mandolin on "Red Rover." Aly sings harmony on that one, and Pat also plays mandolin on "Slowiks." John played drums and keyboards on "Red Rover," drums on Hinsdale and together we recorded foot stomps and hand claps for "Record Store." John also played banjo on "Record Store."

Saturday was grueling for an old salt like me. It's warm up in that studio, despite this being an unusually cool August. I sure did sweat a lot playing and singing all those songs. Actually, my voice was so tired, we knocked off at midnight Saturday and had a pint downstairs in the pub, then I sang the last two songs, "Hinsdale" and "Springfield," when I was refreshed on Sunday morning.

Scheduling-wise everything went smoothly, with Pat and Aly stopping by at different times to record their parts. John efficiently made use of the time and had some percussion tracks for "Slowiks" done in the time it took me to go on a run for IPA beer, cigarettes and Chicken-N-Spice. I love John's choices and ideas, and my job on Sunday was basically to stay out of the way and make sure everybody else had what they needed to be happy.

It was late Sunday night when we wrapped but Bill was kind enough to burn a rough mix. No sneak peaks, as the tracks aren't finished yet and when they are the plan is to release them together as a collection available for sale, for say $5 for the six tunes. Such a deal! I have to get a website up and running and sign a deal with a record label or start my own, but these are trivial matters. The songs are great and for the first time since 1986, so are the recordings of them!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Flashback to 1986, and a return trip to the recording studio

By Ted Slowik

I've made a few references in recent posts about looking forward to recording some originals soon at Third City Sound in Joliet. It'll be my first time recording some of my songs professionally since 1986. That was 27 years ago.

I've no idea why it's taken so long to return to real recording. Life happens, I guess. I was content making home demos of my songs all these years. Now I'd like something better.

Back in 1986, during my college years, I was in a band called Nobody Knows. That band had sort of evolved out of the first band I was in, Suspended Animation. There were lots of people in Suspended Animation at times: Dave McGranahan, Bill Small, Maggie Callahan, and sound man Ray Hood. But the core was guitarist Paul Vassek, keyboardist Rich Westrick, drummer Ron Kostka and me on bass.

Paul started out in Nobody Knows with me and Ron as the rhythm section and Dave Kent on guitar. Then Paul introduced us to brothers Bill and John Moll and the whole happening Westmont scene. Once were busted by the cops jamming after hours in Miro Ledajaks' deli on Ogden Avenue. Eventually John took over drumming duties from Ron and Paul dropped out. For a time a keyboardist named Tom Hardesty played with us, but Nobody Know was mostly Bill, Dave, John and me.

Suspended had done some recording once, in the early '80s, in a studio in Naperville called Old Plank Studios. A guy who engineered us did a nice job. His name was Phil Bonnet. In 1986, I was taking a video production class at Lewis University and needed to make a music video. I tracked down Phil, who was then at a place called Solid Sound in Hoffman Estates. (Phil passed away in 1999).

Bill, Dave, Tom, John, Ron and I all worked on the recording for the song we were doing for the video, "Blue Eyed Girl." It was one of my first originals. I wrote it about a girl I liked in high school who ended up dating Ray. Suspended played it, and I'll always be grateful to Rich for encouraging me to finish writing the song when I had only written the first verse and chorus and played it for him.

I recall there was some uncertainty about who would play drums on the track, so both John and Ron were there. John ended up playing, though Ron's featured on backing vocals. Recording in hand, we made the music video with help from a Lewis classmate, George Seaton. I filmed his video, and he filmed mine. A girl from Lewis named Barb played the blue eyed girl in the video.

Well, that's pretty much the story of the last time I was in a recording studio to record original work. If you get a chance, check out the video we made. It's an authentic snapshot of what rock music was like in the mid-1980s.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A wonderful week of live local music and talented company

Pat Otto and Tristan Charles
By Ted Slowik

Had a fantastic couple of days making and sharing music with friends and very talented company this week. The amount and variety of musical talent in Will County never ceases to amaze!

Wednesday night I hosted open mic at Tribes Alehouse Mokena, a first hosting there. Many thanks to Tribes owner Niall Freyne for letting open mic continue even though regular host John Condron was unavailable. John told me he started hosting open mic there in September 2011. I started going in November 2011 and have been there most weeks since.

It's always a great time and wonderful showcase for local live music, especially originals, and this week was no exception. Everything went smoothly and there were some new faces in addition to many regular standouts. 

Nick Domberg and Brian Barry
Everyone who played sounded great. Newcomers like Raj, Matt, Zach and Dan were very impressive, as were Pat Otto, Tristan Charles, Scott McNeil, Jim Connolly of The Dingo Babies, Nick Domberg and Brian Barry of The Neighbors, and one or two others. Ryan Olsson's sister Cailee and Brian's wife Kristin were great company, and the entire staff at Tribes are incredibly courteous and fun people to work with. It was fun opening the night with a set of a few tunes, performing the role of host and emcee for the evening, and setting up, running and putting away the sound equipment. All went well.

The Neighbors played a show Friday night at Chicago Street Pub Friday night, and at Tribes Wednesday Brian and I were talking and next thing you know I'm opening for them. They're a fantastic band with a great sound, musically and vocally.

Despite the short notice my brother Mike was able to come down and catch the show. He took some pictures and shot a video of the Slowiks song. I had a wonderful time despite breaking two strings, during the first and last songs. I opened with a cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and closed with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Coyote," but it was all originals in between. I played "Hinsdale," "Springfield," "I'm Low," "Red Rover," "'Murica," "Dear Editor," "Acts of God" and "Record Store." It was a good set, over all too soon but set a good tone for the evening.

Andrew, Steve and Rich
Nick and Brian, along with Andrew and Steve Becker and Rich have a great thing going with The Neighbors. They play a wonderful mix of covers and originals, and some guests, including Alex Hoffer and a female vocalist, joined them for some songs. I managed to capture Instagram videos of snippets of a couple of their tunes, including one featuring Steve on bass and Nick on harmonica, and another featuring Andrew's vocal talents and the band's awesome harmonies. If you ever get a chance to see them perform live, you should check them out--you won't be disappointed.

Other than that, I was saddened to learn this week about the passing of my friend and former boss at The Naperville Sun, Jim Lynch. He was a good newspaper guy who died too young, at 59, of cancer. I recorded a version of "Dear Editor" in his honor. If you watch/listen to that, be sure to also check out this two-minute cover of The Who's "Happy Jack," just so you're not left feeling bummed out.

Next weekend is a big one indeed, one that I've been planning for since back in April. For the first time since 1986 I'll be recording some of my music professionally in a studio. It's been far too long and I'm very excited. I'm hoping to record about six songs at Bill Aldridge's Third City Sound in Joliet, with production help from John Condron and some accompaniment by some very talented individuals. Until next time, cheers!