I had the luxury of a few days’ actual vacation before the gig, so I got to enjoy the this truly windy city more than I have ever before. The lakeside thing is pretty great, I gotta say, though the wind comes with it, and it is no joke in mid-October. A bike ride down along the water from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park is…dreamy.
I’d played at Uncommon Ground’s original location last year, and found it to be one of the nicest performance experiences anywhere, so I was excited to play at this newer, larger branch. They really treated me well at that first gig, very professional and accommodating, and one could hardly ask for a nicer room to play acoustic music in.
I took a 50-minute El ride from downtown (which doesn’t seem unusual; this city sprawls) into Lakeview, and after ten more minutes walking finally found the ‘Ground. As with the other location, this was an awfully nice-looking but unpretentious building, mindful of its place in the greater environment (a banner announced that it had been deemed “Greenest Restaurant in America”) but not shy about its upscale menu. I was ushered into the music room, and found a great space to match the one I knew, decorated in tasteful natural wood (bamboo, I betcha) with a raised stage that looked as if it were scrubbed daily.
I dumped my stuff in the green room – a rare luxury – and soon met my fellow performers, Jarryd Scott Steimer and Ethan Butler. I’d put together the bill for the evening, and had taken great care to find people whose music I liked. They proved to be genuinely friendly as well as great musicians, so I was feeling great about the music to come.
The one disappointment was that I didn’t see any of my posters up. I’d labored over a cool design, gotten it okayed by my co-players, and had copies Fedexed to the club, but none were in evidence. I’m hardly in the position to be able to complain to my hosts, but it was a bummer to have wasted the time and money, and of course the opportunity to tempt a few additional listeners.
Even so, the vibe was great and the setup eminently comfortable, so my good mood didn’t tarnish very much. I sat down at a table with some friends and enjoyed Jarryd’s opening set. His voice and precise, often hushed arrangements were beautiful in the space, and I found myself a bit nervous that the relatively hard-rockin’ set I’d planned might be a bit much. I added a few mellower tunes in the margins of the setlist I’d hammered out that afternoon, then went into the green room to warm up.
(There’s no glamour in a green room, really, but a place to warm up voice and guitar for a few minutes before going on is pure gold. I’m pretty frequently stuck using a bathroom for this purpose, I hate to admit.)
I congratulated Jarryd on a great performance, plugged in, and started my set. As always happens in the first tune of the first set of a tour, I was so struck by the exhilaration of hearing my guitar echo around a room with people in it that I barely thought about what I was playing. This is why I always open with something very familiar, my fingers are kinda on their own in playing the tune while I come to grips with the excitement of being onstage. This time, the feeling lasted for a number of songs, so I had the odd sensation of watching my fingers and hearing the sound without being conscious of playing, exactly.
Uncommon Ground falls into the “listening room” category of performance spaces, which again makes it one of my favorites. Even though people are eating and drinking, there’s no chatter at all, generally, and the stage is the focus of the whole shebang. My enjoyment of the situation made the set fly by, and before I knew it the time came for me to wrap up.
People were very complimentary afterward, and I felt pretty good about how I’d played – that oddly unconscious type of performance always makes me unsure how I actually came across, so the nice words were especially welcome. I settled down with the reward of a ginger martini and watched Ethan Butler do his thing. He’s a great guitar player, and I especially enjoyed the fact that he uses many of the less-common chord shapes that I favor. His mix of r n’ b and folk fit the space perfectly, and I hated for the evening to come to an end. Good hanging afterward with some good friends, then a quick cab ride down the quiet lakeside back to the hotel. A great way to start tour.