Chicagoland tour recap: bad movies, good shows, nice folks, and a rental Prius

Well, it's Wednesday night and I'm home after a long weekend tour to the mighty Chicago Metro Area. Dawn & I moved away from Chicago five years ago exactly, but whenever I go back it's a bit of a homecoming in my mind. Here's how it all worked out:

FRIDAY: hit the road at 6:30AM in my rented Toyota Prius. That's right, a hybrid car. Took me a few times to get it to's weird not having a shift (just a joystick) or an ignition (just an "on/off" button). The touchscreen computer screen on the dash was cool. Rather than FM-broadcasting my iPod like I'd usually do, I brought along a bunch of Summertimey CDs in a cardboard box the way I did in the pre-iPod era. It was fun. For the first couple hours I listened to an audiobook called "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" by Sarah Vowell that my fried Richard loaned to me. I love Sarah's books, but I'd never listened to a book-on-tape (actually on CD) before. Sarah is my age and she's equally music-obsessed and culturally-reflective as me (probably more so), and I always enjoy her geeky confessions. I got through the whole book (5 CDs!) and felt a bit queasy after all that Gen-X self-analysis, so I popped in some rocking music for the rest of the day's drive. Would you like to join me in the Honeymoon Suite for some "Wave Babies" anyone?
I cruised across Wisconsin on a beautiful day and caught some classic American road images. Check out this pic of a gas station sign North of Madison on I-90/94! Love it. I was making good time, so I stopped in Waukesha at the brand new googleplex movie theater to catch a Noontime showing of the film Ocean's Thirteen. Sucked! I remember liking the first two in the series but this baby was a chore. Incoherent plot, too many cooks spoiling the supper, and not enough scenes of those guys just hanging around looking cool. I like Pitt and Clooney usually, but this time they really phoned it in.

Oh yeah, did I happen to mention that I was on tour to play music? Well, gig #1 was in Kenosha, WI where the church was a hosting a concert in honor of the dedication of their new sanctuary building. I was the opening act for the West Great Lakes regional Youth Encounter Captive Free band. 'Twas a bit of a reality check for me to open for the YE team, knowing that I myself was playing music in a Captive Free group freakin' EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. I had fun at the concert, though, and it was extra appropriate to play "Narthex" during the dedication weekend of a brand new church structure.

SATURDAY: Slept 'til 10AM (yayhooo!), checked out of the hotel, and zipped a few exits South into Illinois where I visited the once-mighty Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall. Back when I lived in Chi-town I loved this mall and it's multiple sections of factory-outlet record stores. Oh, the great music I purchased here in the $1 bins! Sadly though, all the CD stores are closed. There's only one FYE Music outlet remaining, and it's lame and overpriced. So rather than shop for music I went to another movie: Spider-Man 3! Sucked, pretty much. Once again, I enjoyed the first two of the series but this one was too long, too cheesy, with too many villains, and just plain yawn. So, back on the road, cruising through Chicagoland to Elk Grove Village where I played at my good pal Meghan's congregation. Another lovely group of folks at the show, and we all had a wonderful evening. The musical highlight for me was playing the rarely-performed song "Deadly Life" from the Sound Theology album, and reflecting on my gigs playing Gospel piano at United in Christ Lutheran Church on the West side of Chicago back in the '90s. A true cultural and musical education for me, indeed. Oh, and I also played my Chicago anthem "Ridgeland" which received a very warm response. "We could ride that two-lane on down to Tennessee."

SUNDAY, FATHER'S DAY: At 6:30AM I drove over to the morning gig, and was welcomed by this lovely sign in McHenry, IL. Played two morning services at this friendly congregation and had a wonderful time. Favorite musical moment for me was leading the congregation in singing "Oh Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," my current favorite hymn. When we wrapped everything up at Noon, I was pretty exhausted, but I had to drive an hour back into the city for my evening show. Chicagoland is BIG. Later that night I was in Park Ridge playing at an "emergent" worship service, and the congregation had arranged the sanctuary and balcony into the coolest layout I'd ever seen...discussion tables, puffy comfy lounge chairs, hipster decor, beautiful lighting, etc. 'Twas a very effective atmosphere.

MONDAY: slept in again, and had time to lay out by the hotel pool in 90 degree heat before Noontime checkout. My brain and body needed the refueling. Spent the rest of the afternoon revisiting my former life in Chicago. Drove past my old condo (where Sound Theology was recorded) on North Ave., drove past the parking garage on the campus of Concordia University that stands where my house (the Future Parking Ramp Studio) used to exist (and where the Muckrakers album was recorded). PLUS, I found a couple remaining record stores with amazing $1 used-CD bins. Thank goodness for Reckless Records in Bucktown and Dr. Wax in Hyde Park! Some cheap CDs I scored include:
Robbie Fulks "Revenge"
Low "Drums & Guns"
John Denver "Live"
Michael Penn "A Collection"
That night I played an evening show at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, for a intensive youth training program. The chapel is recently remodeled, but I remember playing there when my cousin Bruce was a student way back in 1993 (I think). There I was in the same space, so many years later. Most fun song for me during the gig: "Message in a Bottle" by The Police. After the performance I hit the road again, and made it all the way to Beloit, WI before needed to pull over at the Econo Lodge and fall asleep to the soothing sounds of "Saving Private Ryan" on HBO.

TUESDAY, I drove the rest of the way home listening to Michael Penn on the stereo, and tonight is WEDNESDAY and I'm preparing to leave for Texas this weekend for a 9 day tour.

Man, the recurring theme and realization for every gig and tour I've done in the past few months is this: Jonathan, you're getting OLDER. Everywhere I go it seems I've been there before, only 15 years earlier. And it's a bit'd think I would've "moved up" on the rungs a bit after nearly two decades. Shouldn't I be playing arenas or something by now? Then again, maybe the amazing thing is that after all these years, I'm STILL doing it, and I never quit. It's either pitiful or inspiring. You decide. I know for a fact there are people out there who feel both ways about it. I like reading the blog by Shaun Groves, who has a similar career to me as a touring acoustic fringy-church-resource musician (all though he's got an actual CCM rockstar resume). Shaun recently posted this quote about his musical life: Six years as an artist on a label. Three studio CDs and one live album. And I don’t love it. I’m grateful to be doing it. I like it. But don’t love it. And I’m fine with that. It’s work.

I find that very interesting. I guess I still totally love it. I doesn't feel like work for me. And certainly I'm going through a bit of confusion due to the onset of middle age, and I'm perhaps grieving the loss of my (maybe never reality-based) identity as a respected independent rock-club gigger, I'm still thrilled to be playing. So look out America...I will rock your local Lutheran church, see a matinee in your theater, scrounge the $1 at your area used CD store, and swim in the pool at your AmericInn, and I cannot be stopped.


Bridget Delaney said…
I wish we had used CD stores! Well, I can go to oen of the "Flea Markets" here and find the $1 CD thing. I'm lucky if there is anything good, though. One time I got five CDs, some just for memories. I never really listened to New Kids on the Block, but I got one of their CDs. I also got a CD by The Rembrandts. Yeah, got to say the theme song to Friends is their best work. See you in Seguin!

Stein Auf!

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