We just got home from Chicago. It's 2:02 am. We took a Sunday night show in the city at Bootleggers on Division because we'll be playing across the street at The Original Mothers in 12 days and we thought there would be a slim chance that some people might wander into the bar and we could make a couple of new fans for the show...
We were wrong. It wasn't a slim chance at all. It was worse.
We brought a catastrophic number of people to the bar tonight...three. Out promoter would not appreciate that number, believe me. I had thought I picked a good night because none of my coworkers have to work tomorrow, so I figured we could bring in a dozen or so...but no...three. We got there and the bartender didn't even know we were supposed to play. He had to make a phone call just to find out who we were. Not a very good start. We set up in a corner where we could barely fit and sat (with a beer in hand) for an hour or so until we were supposed to start playing. Not one patron walked in during that time. Not one. Not a very good start.
One of the three people we brought was my wife riding in with a very good friend of ours. They weren't even there when we started to play. 9:00pm came around, we had one person in the bar (mandolin player's guest), a bartender, and a bouncer. Three people heard us begin that set. Not a very good start. Not a very good start at all.
And then Chicago happened.
The bouncer, Levi, kept going outside and telling people we had live music. Nobody else on the street tonight had live music. The people who came in sat down and ordered beers...and then started nodding their heads and tapping their feet. We finished songs and got what could only be described as applause that is slightly louder than a golf clap. But they kept listening, and more kept coming. The bartender, Thomas, kept smiling, filling pints, and making people feel welcome.
The bar didn't fill itself to capacity, but it got a little crowded in the front where we were. And from 9:00pm to 11:00pm, nobody left. People came in, they ordered beers, and they never left. We played, and they nodded their heads, they tapped their feet, at some point, they clapped along in rhythm. They ordered more beers, they continued to clap along and at times even sang along. They slowly turned their golf claps into raucous cheers. They stopped talking so they could listen to the band. They smiled at us and high-five'd their friends. They had a good time, and from 9:00pm to 11:00pm, nobody left.
We started the first set thinking, "This was a mistake, let's get this over with," and ended that set thinking, "Let's just take a 3 minute break instead of 15, I want to keep playing for these guys."
By the time we finished the 2nd set, the people in the room made themselves sound like a hundred people cheering for a band they'd been following for years. They asked for an encore, and we didn't even know if we had anything we could play. As you may recall, it wasn't a very good start. But when we finished the last note tonight, the patrons of Bootleggers let us know that we did what we came to do. We made fans from the streets of Chicago. And a few have told us, with no uncertainty, that they will be there on April 10th...it was not a very good start...but it was the best of endings.
And here's my favorite part. There were several people there tonight that will not be in the crowd on April 10th. A group of four were finishing some work and heading out tomorrow to go home to San Antonio. Another young guy, who turned out to be a musician himself, was returning tonight with his friend to California. An hour North of LA. They all told us that they intended to go to a bunch of bars for their last night in Chicago, but heard us play and stayed. In fact, they asked us how often we might tour and gave us names of bars in their hometowns that we should come play so we could see them again in their towns.
Once upon a time, I had as a bucket list item, 'Start my own band, play the piano and sing.' And as of tonight, I have some new items in the list: 'Play at Mi Casa in San Antonio and Juan's in California.'
And do you know why? Because Chicago happened.