Wrigley Field 2014: Round 2 — I Met Pat Hughes!

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Living just under three hours from Chicago insures that I make semi-regular trips to the Windy City. Often those trips have contained visits to Wrigley Field. I already wrote a lengthy post back in April about what the experience of the Friendly Confines is like, so I’m not going to rehash all of that here just because I went again. What I am going to do is tell you a few reasons why this most-recent trip to Wrigley was, by far, the best trip to date.

For starters, the Cubs actually won. This was the first game I have been to that saw the Northsiders reign supreme. How they won made it even better. We were fortunate enough to see a little bit of everything — Travis Wood homering, the Cubs scoring some runs, the Mets coming back, Anthony Rizzo hitting a clutch home run in the 7th inning, some insurance from Junior Lake in the 8th inning, and, naturally, the Cubs eventually winning in the 9th. This game was fun, exciting, and was shared with 28,000 other people –the most energetic crowd I’ve been a part of on the North side. Plainly put, it was perfect.

Then this happened:

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For those of you unfamiliar with the specifics of Chicago Cubs baseball, that is Pat Hughes –the long-time radio announcer for the Cubs. I understand that to many people, this probably isn’t that big of a deal. For myself, it’s a huge deal. As an impressionable ten-year old in the summer of 1998, I started following the Cubs for the first time. I had little clue about the game of baseball beyond the basics, but had been a Cubs fan by default growing up. 1998 was the first time they had been good in my lifetime –I didn’t have much interest in 1989 at the age of 2. Technically speaking, I was, initially, a bandwagoner. However, being ten years old, and being 100% unfamiliar with that term or what it meant, I attempt to dodge that accusation. Since baseball wasn’t big in our house –Michael Jordan’s Bulls and NBA basketball reigned– 1998 was the first time Cubs baseball had come to me, as opposed to me  having to seek it out. At ten, you don’t “seek out” a lot of your interests, they usually fall in your lap and you take them or leave them. I took baseball.

But we didn’t have cable. The Cubs were routinely on WGN and out of my reach. This led me to begin listening to the games on the radio. This meant spending almost every summer afternoon with Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. Hughes’ quality as a broadcaster has been widely recognized, so I let you look up those specifics, but aside from that quality, he, being a former umpire, has a deep love of all of the intricacies of the game –intricacies that he routinely passes on to his listeners. Starting at ten years old, I can tell you that I have learned almost everything I know about baseball from Pat Hughes –and, among others things, developed my lifelong obsession with famous sports radio/TV calls. Though I am probably one of the few people who would rather meet the radio broadcaster than anyone else in the Cubs’ organization, this was legitimately one of those few scenarios of life of getting to meet a personal hero. It was a brief meeting, but one that was no less gracious –it was after the game and I’m sure the man wanted to go home. He still took the time to turn around when I (non-threateningly) called his name, to hear my gushing piece about his impact on my life, to thank me for that gushing piece, to take a picture, and was even kind enough to introduce me to his new partner, former Cub, Ron Coomer –who was equally gracious. We thought about waiting for Len Kasper, too, but didn’t want to overstay our welcome by loitering around the emptying upper deck.

You don’t get many chances to meet those people that have had such a profound impact on your life. It wasn’t that it was overly difficult to meet Pat Hughes specifically, but you rarely get an opportunity to share what those people have meant to your life with those people, themselves. It was a special moment and a special privilege to have the opportunity I was given with Pat Hughes last night. The fact that it happened at Wrigley Field after a Cubs win with three of my closest friends makes it euphoric.

 

Setlist: May 31, 2014; East Peoria, IL

Mud Puddle Pizza

Row, Little Lady
Tipping Hats
Lullaby #12
The Lion’s Den
Pioneering
Streets of Paris
Music on the Fly (Kevin Davis)
Call the Rain Down
Ships & Stones
The Daredevil Christopher Wright (The Daredevil Christopher Wright)
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (The Beatles)
Brave
Orphans
Boots of Spanish Leather (Bob Dylan)
The Balloonist
The Gardener (The Tallest Man on Earth)
A Little Profit
Little Plane
All the Way (Eddie Vedder)
The Parting Glass (traditional)

Chicago –The Elbo Room Tonight! (5/6/14)

If you’re into the whole support local music thing, or into the whole drink-late-on-a-Tuesday thing, or have a creepy fondness for Midwestern folk singers, or just live in Chicago, stop into the Elbo Room tonight (5/6/14). I’ll be commandeering the lounge stage with friend and fellow songwriter, Dyanne Harvey (her music here).  Show starts at 9. Ends at 11. We’ll each present to you approximately 45 minutes of our respective brand of songwriter glory. I can’t speak to Ms. Harvey’s plans, but I plan on singing about romantically-frustrated hot-air balloonists, money-altered street musicians, misguided fame, a folk rocky rain dance, attempted cultural takeovers, and a song that mentions wizards and unicorns in the same line. And then probably four or five more.

Come on out and say hi, support independent musicians, drink on a Tuesday, and bask in two songwriters who dream of turning a small profit at an out of town show.

WHO: A Metropolitan Guide + Dyanne Harvery
WHERE: The Elbo Room; Chicago, IL
WHEN: Tuesday, May 6th; 9-11pm
HOW MUCH: $5.00

And just as your preview, here’s the song about romantically-frustrated hot-air balloonists

Reflections on the Night Before My Last Day of College

The journey through academia is a long road for anyone who drudges through it. And while my tender age of 27 probably still keeps me on the younger side of college graduates, my journey through hasn’t been the most direct path up the mountain. In fact, I went up, down, left, right, backwards, and forwards. I took almost every route other than the most direct one. And now, finally, as I type this entry, I am sitting on the eve of my last final of my last class of college.

When I was about 22 or so, I made a pact with myself (that I broke shortly after). It was at a time when life at a community college wasn’t “doing it” for me, and I had little-to-no interest in completing my degree at a proper four-year institution. This decision was coupled with the desire to work, to hold a steady job, and to proudly champion my own independence. And for two years, I did exactly that. Those two years were spent stocking and maintaining the 100-plus ATMs for CEFCU here in central Illinois. Though it may sound random (it kind of was given my worthlessness at machine maintenance), it was a good job, and one that I (mostly) enjoyed up until the day I left. It was during my time there that my interest in music began sprouting. I had started writing songs and playing shows regularly across the second half of my time there. It was then that I made a pact that I was going to pursue music full blast and if I hadn’t “made it” (whatever that meant) by the age of 27, I would then return to school and still make it out with a bachelor’s degree before the age of 30. To me, this felt like the perfect middle ground of wanting to be a self-supported musician giving his all to his craft, and showing I had some degree of sense by keeping friends and family from thinking I had totally lost my mind.

It took me about a year to realize that the job I had servicing ATMs not only made it impossible to return to school (different schedules weekly, nights and weekends occasionally), but it made it impossible to put any kind of real effort into “being a musician.” Never mind that I was writing generally forgettable songs and had garnered little attention from, well, anyone. It didn’t take long to recognize what benefits returning to college might have. I have never cared or aspired to climb the corporate ladder, and soon realized that I was fast becoming stuck in that exact environment, unable to do the things I really wanted to do. At that point, the choice to return to college and abandon my financial stability felt like an easy one. Now three years having blazed by, I’m less than twelve hours away from being done with the college work I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish to begin with.

So, here I sit, at age 27. Though my “pact” with myself has long dissolved, parts of it remain in spirit, and it feels strangely significant that the last lingering echo of academia fades just after that 27th birthday –the birthday that now celebrates an accomplishment, as opposed to an approaching dream-squashing deadline. In a way, though, it’s done both. I’ve slowly accepted the reality that my music will probably not lead me to fame and fortune. I’ve even reached the point when I’m not even 100% sure I’d want it to. That might just be a consolation prize attitude from someone realizing that where they fall in the pecking order of talent/drive/luck just isn’t that close to the top, but it’s also semi-liberating, regardless. And when you’re fast-approaching the end of college, “liberating” is a verb you’re willing to entertain often.

Since those months and years at CEFCU, I’ve written 56 songs (and parts of about 30 others that died along the way) and have played shows in 33 different cities across 8 states. And while frustration and disappointment have ruled every bit as often as excitement (if not more), it’s impossible to say that my experience with music hasn’t been a successful one. Perhaps not the fame and fortune every musician seems to dream of, but a success all its own. I’m confident I will continue to enjoy the glimpses of success music has already afforded me, even if it’s never on a large scale. As I move beyond college, I’m ready for that to be good enough.

Music became something for me around the time I left CEFCU (March 2010) –my first EP came out just three months later. It became something significant around the time I started at Eureka College the following year. So when I reminiscence about the bulk of my, relatively young, musical life, most all of it overlaps with my time at Eureka. Perhaps, then, you can forgive my reflective state of mind this evening.

I’m not going to write pages and pages about all of the life-affirming memories I made at Eureka because, honestly, I didn’t make that many. I was a non-traditional transfer student who commuted from 25 minutes away every day. This insured that my time on campus was spent primarily in class, and sometimes doing homework. The friends I made were mostly based within my major (since we all had the same classes –Eureka is an extremely small school), and by my second semester, everyone who lived on-campus knew each other more than I ever could only showing up for classes. After all, they were living with each other. I was just a familiar face on the outskirts.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love my time there. This is where I learned how to write well (whether or not I do, I’ll leave that up to you),where I learned to love and value good writing,  and where I developed my love of doing it. It’s where many of my creative impulses and interests began intersecting and crafting the guy you see today. So, three years and $36,000 of debt later, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it. Feel free to ask me that again when I’m struggling to pay my loan payments every month.

It’s not always a smooth transition while my music finds its place in my life, but I have little doubt that I’ll be happier for it once that transition is complete. As my post-college life prepares to begin with no record deal in sight, 27 has ended up being the transitional year I ultimately planned it would be five years ago. Except now I have the college degree at 27 instead of starting it at 27. So despite taking one hell of a roundabout way of getting here, I’ve still managed to save myself three whole years. That, dear friends, is better than anything a record deal could possibly offer.

An Afternoon at Wrigley Field -April 24th, 2014

10176097_910711676312_4122054590327130381_nThere are few places in the world that cover the wide spectrum of emotions that Wrigley Field does. On the one hand, for Chicago Cubs fans, it is ground zero for moments of unimaginable sporting heartbreak –in the form of both mind-numbing mediocrity, and doses of painful, unexpected, sometimes just creepy, bad luck. But on the other, Wrigley is a place of (baseball) perfection. It houses echoes of a century of history –the fact that it is a generally non-winning history is irrelevant here, so hold your jokes– is a bastion of hope for forlorn Cubs faithful, and a place where tradition is held in the highest regard. Being the Cubs loyalist that I am, I want them to win and dream about the day they finally do, but if anyplace in the world could be a tangible explanation that winning isn’t everything, the corner of Clark and Addison is that shining beacon.

And that’s what I experienced yesterday –April 24th, 2014.

Naysayers will frown upon the winning-isn’t-everything mantra as some lame, Barney-the-Dinosaur-esque, consolation prize to actually winning, or the classic “See, this is why the Cubs will never get better! All you stupid Cubs fans flock to Wrigley no matter what, so the owners don’t have to worry about fielding a good team!” I’ve always thought that the point of having team allegiance in the first place was to be with that team through it all –even if that means 100-years of heartbreak. You’re damn right it’s hard to be a Cubs fan, but to stop supporting them as an institution because of their struggles is something I, and many other Cubs fans, couldn’t possibly do. That’s our curse. Just be happy you were born a Cardinals fan, or a Yankees fan and enjoy your cases of Division and World Series titles. Just realize that rooting for a winning team doesn’t make you a better or worse person. That’s a lesson far too few people take to heart. And, somehow, I doubt the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs just to make money –they weren’t exactly poor beforehand.

View from Isle 415, Row 6, Seat 103

View from Isle 415, Row 6, Seat 103

As I sat in Isle 415, Row 6, Seat 103 yesterday, I thought about all that while watching the Cubs drop 5-2 to the equally-terrible Arizona Diamondbacks. I thought about Steve Bartman in 2003, the collapse in 1969 (and that damnable black cat at Shea Stadium), the Babe Ruth “called shot,” the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” the decades of heartbreak and disappointment, all the way up to the 100th anniversary game the day before that saw a potential game-ending ground ball ricochet off the second base bag, helping squander a three-run lead and a Cubs win (it almost had to happen that way, didn’t it?). All of that combined didn’t have a prayer of quieting the essence of the field, history, and atmosphere in front of me. “A spiritual feeling, if I ever knew,” to quote Eddie Vedder’s Cubs anthem “All the Way.” Wrigley Field is a holier place because those things happened.

I’m speaking broadly here and don’t wish to compare baseball heartache to actual devastation, but as people, we are drawn to places of great loss and defeat, because there is often a lesson of tremendous victory and perseverance buried behind those losses and defeats. Before June 6, 1944, the beach of Normandy was just another spot along the French coast. Before December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was just a naval base in the Pacific. We return to these places to honor the struggles and losses, but also to honor what these struggles and losses meant for the future. Once again, I refer you back to my previous statement about not equating these things with something as generally insignificant as baseball, just making a broad point.

While the Cubs have not hoisted a World Series trophy during their stay at Wrigley, given its age, it’s logical to think it has hosted more singular moments of sporting bliss and sporting heartbreak than just about anywhere else (Fenway Park, not withstanding) in baseball. Just because the biggest potential moment hasn’t arrived yet, it doesn’t mean that all of the other lesser moments haven’t left their mark. When I was sitting in the stands watching my beloved Cubs lose yet again, I thought about that. I enjoyed being able to see Pat Hughes in his booth broadcasting, probably reaching someone whose perception of baseball he was changing without even realizing it (much like he did for me when I first heard him back in 1998 as an impressionable 11-year old without cable TV), the crowd’s roar when Anthony Rizzo homered, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and standing in a place that was so much bigger and more important than any singular event that has ever happened inside of it.

If someone can’t see beyond a win-loss result after that, I pity them. The same way all of you non-Cubs fans pity us for swearing that someday our beloved Cubbies will claim that elusive World Series title.

Midwestern Followers Unite (No, I’m Not Asking For Money) + The Wildest Music Story of My Career

MidwestSceneryUnless you’re skillfully adept at ignoring the posts from this site (highly probable), you’re well aware that I’m a musician in addition to being the writer that pummels your feeds at every possible juncture. I’ve been playing live music for 5 1/2 years, have put out five albums of varying lengths (two most-recent of which you can buy here), and keep a fairly active live concert schedule. This has often been in tandem with collegiate coursework and/or jobs. And this, along with my fiction writing, is the primary reason this website/blog exists in the first place. As I wrap up my final two weeks of college (!), I’m preparing for that ever-so-uncertain summer/future post-graduation when I really have no idea what’s on the horizon other than seeing Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds in Milwaukee in June, and a few imminent trips to Wrigley Field. There’s excitement and horror in equal ratio to that uncertainty.

But like most musicians, I wish success on my music. Time, work, love, and money all pour into this music, even when I don’t necessarily have all of them to give. I have no shame to humble myself to my potential audience, because, in truth, I need you. I need you to listen, I need you to buy the music, I need you to come to shows. You’re an immensely important part of the equation and I don’t ever want it to sound like you’re not. The best I can do is share the music I create, and hopefully meet a few of you along the way (and hope you like what I’m offering –as a musician, and as regular old me). Music can be incredibly self-gratifying, but it’s infinitely more meaningful when it’s a two-way street.

Case and point: A friend of mine recently caught up with their brother who they hadn’t talked with for a while. He informed my friend that my song, “Lullaby #12,” was his favorite song of all time and that he had covered it at multiple shows in multiple states. You can imagine my excitement. I do recall him mentioning that he liked it several years ago (I have never met him) and indirectly asked permission to cover the song, which I of course granted, but I never realized anything had come out of it. But his favorite song of all time? And that’s just half of the story.

I don’t know the details, nor do I need them, but he ended up in jail for a short period. During his time there, he told my friend that he sang “Lullaby #12″ to the 16 people in his cell area every night and that they wouldn’t let him sleep until he did. This cycled through the 40-50 people who came through during his stint there. When someone does something like that with something you created, what can you possibly say to it? An obscure song that was quietly drifting away into the annals of my music history reached further than I ever thought any of my songs would, much less a simple ballad mixed among an album that all of 15 people in the world own (After the War, 2011). You’ll understand if I told you this more or less made my decade. If you’d like to hear the song, you’re welcome to listen through the link below. If you want a digital download of the album, get in touch via comment or email.

That story has been a tremendous encouragement, and has been one of the driving forces for me to approach the summer as I am: By playing lots of shows across the Midwest! As I type this, I have 12 shows scattered with several more in development. And I’m always looking for more. If you know someone that may wish to have me, or know someone who might host a house concert, or people who might like what I’m offering, tell them about what I’m doing and I’m always happy to come. If you’re in the areas, come to a show. You have no idea how far little kernels of support go, or how crucial they are for the well-being of artists of any kind. I’d also love to meet the people who are kind enough to follow this blog. If you live in Europe, or anywhere else (I know a few of you do), I’ll admit to probably not making the trek for some time, but take a listen and get in touch. Help me start cultivating relationships abroad so that when I do come someday, it’ll be a rocking trip.

Thank you all for your support and here’s to a great, uncertain summer. Enjoy the music.

~Brian (A Metropolitan Guide)