Over the weekend I had the opportunity to check out one of the great events Chicago has offered this year, The Chicago Roots Collective’s 3rd Annual Showcase. There were over 75 featured performers over two nights at The Elbo Room, and each of them shared a singular vision of a music-based community that is self-sustaining and effectively promotes all those involved. Before the show I had the chance to chat with some of the bands, and I found them all to be very gracious and focused, wanting to share the reasons why they are a part of the CRC.
After the interview, we went down to the bar area where the acoustic sets were going to be held. The Elbo Room is a cool, funky place. This area we were in was all jammed up with people either getting drinks or trying to stay close to the action. Andy Metz started playing right after we got there, and he was rocking it pretty hard despite many in the crowd still getting settled in and talking loudly. A couple songs in he announced a tune called “Achilles,” which is his take on Homer’s Iliad. This was my favorite song from his set. Afterward I was talking to him and he told me that he wrote the song when he was about 18, and that it’s become his go-to number.
After we finished watching Andy, we headed downstairs to catch Mike Mangione and The Union do their thing. This was the only group was involved in the interview that I had not seen live. I checked out some YouTube videos, and I thought they sounded pretty good. The videos didn’t do the band justice, and I can honestly say they are a great live band.
Even without their guitarist, this band brought the house down. If you’re unfamiliar, they play a kind of Celtic folk/rock and blues fusion with a lot of soul and funk for good measure. The band includes a cellist and violinist on top of the regular drum/bass/guitar/vocal. They are technically based out of Milwaukee, but they seem to be a very “Chicago” group. I loved the way Mike and strings/vocalist Tina (?) played off each other. Especially on the super-jammed out version of “Somewhere Between.” They’re playing in Evanston January 19th, and I plan on being there. You should, too.
We headed back upstairs so we could catch Glendenning’s set after that. When we got up there, The Western was finishing up a set that had the crowd bouncing up and down. After they finished up, The Ewing Theory took to the stage. They started out with a cover of “Bell Bottom Blues” that was marred by technical difficulties. I thought the guy playing electric guitar was pretty good, but the vocals were not coming off that great.
Glendenning came up and, not surprisingly, had a hard time fitting everyone on the small stage. This set also featured some technical problems. I chalk that up to so many different bands coming and going with different equipment.
This band has only been together about a year, so they have some things to work on, but overall I liked what I heard. I caught part of their set at Lincoln Hall earlier this year, but they had the unfortunate problem of playing before Republic Of Lights (a band that I love live). In their performance for the CRC Showcase, the band seemed tighter and more in step with one another. The only issue I had was that the vocals were mostly drowned out. Most of the problem was due to some feedback coming from the speaker behind them, I think. There were times, though, that Jake (the lead singer) was really projecting and it sounded great.
Back downstairs The Future Laureates were getting ready to start their set, and the crowd was getting pretty excited. They opened their set with a new song called “Kingston Blues,” and shit just got crazy after that. The thing I was most surprised by was how good their guitarist, Joe, is live. On record you can hear that there’s a guy who knows what he’s doing, but when you stand in front of him, you can just see him shred. It’s pretty impressive.
I think a lot of the set embodied what the Chicago Roots Collective is all about, which is a bunch of people having a good time and enjoying good music. Matt and Danny did a good job of keeping the crowd invigorated, and their fast-paced folk/pop was hitting the spot for the people in the front where I was standing. I could see the people all around sweating, and you can see in a lot of the pictures from the show that the band were giving it their all.
There are certain nights that stick out in my mind as being great all-around nights for music. This year there have been a couple of those nights: the first was Neutral Uke Hotel at Schubas with The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library and Golden Bloom. This was the second.
I’m a sucker for any group or collection of groups trying to create a sense of community, in music or otherwise. As such, The Chicago Roots Collective is one of my new favorite things to check out whenever I get the chance. On their own, a lot of the bands in the collective are awesome. Together they’re something even better.