written by Dorothy St.Claire
Rick, Melissa, Colin, and I got to the House of Blues about a half hour before doors. I reacquainted myself with the building, stashing my bag in the production office at the top of a million flights of stairs before the doors opened and the party began.
It was quite the Midwest reunion as I ran around the venue, bumping into more friends around every turn. I couldn't hide my gigantic smile as the Founding Fathers played and Kinfolk filled the building. By this time I was starting to become pretty familiar with some of their songs, and getting to know their flow, which I think is key to shooting a performer.
The Founding Fathers set was fun and loud and energetic and got people really pumped for the rest of the night. The room was getting close to full and people were ready for a couple nights of killer music.
The House of Blues in Chicago has this magnificent patchwork quilt curtain. I love this curtain, and I love the excitement it produces. You can't see the stage. You can't see what they're doing up there. What are they doing up there?!? When you can see the stage you at least have an idea about when they're ready and when the band might start. Here? No clue. Especially if you're partaking in the giant cans of Dale's Pale Ale that the Chicago House of Blues apparently now sells. And a LOT of people were partaking in these giant beers. A LOT.
All of a sudden, the house music stopped and the guys started playing as the curtain opened to thunderous roars. The excited strums soon turned into "Illinois Rain" and the thunder rolled through the whole building as Kinfolk from the floor to the balcony jumped up and down. It was fast and it was crazed. Jeff added some funky pedal to the mix as he ushered in "Kentucky Mandolin". Everything went as it usually does until Dave stepped up with his second solo. My eyes got wide and I cocked my head towards the speaker, listening as Dave took off on his own melodic stroll through the song. It was pretty kick ass. Ben took his bass solo and the whole band rounded the song out before sliding right back into "Illinois Rain". It was quite a different sandwich… and to start the show with it? Hell yeah.
As everyone else tuned, Ben approached the mic and pointed to his left. "Down here on the guitar is Adam Aijala, he'll play any song you want if you shout the title at him." Of course, everyone starting shouting at Adam, which was clearly Ben's goal. Adam looked at the crowd as they all screamed incoherently. "I heard that. Heard that. Let's continue in this rain thing." With all of the requests coming at him, surely someone wanted to hear "Rain Still Falls".
"Good evening everybody. I hope you like jug band music for the next 4 1/2 minutes." Ben took a deep breath before continuing, "Well a rich gal, she drives in an automobile!" Jeff took a moment to dedicate his fast-ass-bluegrass solo to his mom who was sitting in the balcony before shredding a little "Over the Waterfall". Ben followed with, "Well you know a poor gal, she'd love to do the same!" And Adam took his own fast-ass solo. "Those guys are good, aren't they?" Ben asked before bringing us all the way into "My Gal".
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ben Kaufmann on the bass!" The crowd cheered as Ben smiled and said "Thank you. But it's absolutely my pleasure to do this. The applause are icing on a cake that I enjoy very much. That being said, it is a hell of a lot nicer to play to all of you folks than to none of you folks." He went on to introduce Dave, who didn't say a word before they all began "Winds of Wyoming". I always love this song, but tonight the bass really stood out. It a good way. A great way. The House of Blues has great sound, and right now it was perfect as the bass pounded away underneath Jeff and Adam's alternating solos that led us into an all-out Davey J jam.
Jeff's "Fine Excuses" came next, followed by Adam's "Another Day". I had finally told Adam that I always sing "When the rain is fallin' you can hear me, Colin" at the beginning of this song, but as he started singing it tonight, he gave no clues that he was actually singing it to Colin like I imagine. "Criminal" came in with a little less funk than usual, but brought in a huge cheer from the crowd at the mention of "Going back to Colorado". And then when Adam played that little lick and the band flew into "Ten", the room turned into a crazed sea of jumping and dancing Kinfolk. As the song progressed and went to its dark place, Jeff pulled out some of his new effects and eventually brought the song into "Girlfriend is Better". Like most songs, "Girlfriend" has these little bits, these little parts, that if done a certain way make the song perfect and explosive. So, as Jeff sang "Baby that's all that we n-n-n-n-n-n-n-NEED!" I was thrilled. The jams were hot, the energy was high, and "Girlfriend" finished strong before noodling back into "Ten".
As the curtains opened for the second set, the lights went real low and feedback filled the room. "Sidewalk Stars" began the set and went perfectly into "Ain't Been Myself in Years". Dave took over with "You're No Good" and then it was Ben's turn again with "Straight Line".
One thing I love about the House of Blues in Chicago is all of the different places I can go to shoot. I spent some time in the opera boxes for a killer "New Horizons"> "Funtime"> "New Horizons" sandwich, watching Ted's amazing lights and getting sucked into the crystal clear sound. As Ben stepped into the spotlight and sawed at his strings with the bow, the sound reverberated off of each person, creating a thickness and a vibration in the air until "Funtime" pushed its way through. This was another one where Dave soared; bringing us a funky swing sound in his solo. The bass and mandolin filled the air again as we prepared for the rest of "New Horizons", which finally came back in with a vengeance. It was a huge mid-set sandwich that seemed to prolong the entire set.
I made it up to the third level for "One More", holding on for dear life as I tried to switch between taking photographs and dancing. This was an intense "One More", as Jeff gave us everything he had, "It's always whatever you want dear, whatever you need, whatever you want, SUGAR!" It was too good. And it was a cool view, but vertigo was setting in so I made one of my many trips up to the production office (luckily I was already on the top floor) to change lenses and then I headed back down to the stage as the band rocked out "Southern Flavor". (This was yet another song that had me shaking my head in disbelief as Dave took his solo.)
Dave and Jeff sang "This Train is Bound For Glory" as I got comfortable next to Chris on the side of the stage. "All the Time" started and suddenly Chris realized where we were in the set and frantically tore through a folder full of lyric sheets. As I looked on, I saw there was no organization to the papers, and I breathed a sigh of relief right alongside him as Chris found the sheets he was looking for. "All the Time" wrapped up and Chris sprinted onto the stage, taping down the lyric sheets in front of Ben and Jeff as Jeff introduced Chris Pandolfi and Andy Falco from the Founding Fathers and, of course, The Infamous Stringdusters. Ben changed to his electric bass, and that along with the lyric sheets would tell any die-hard fan that "Come Together" was coming up next. The extra banjo and guitar both stood out right away, adding another layer to a cover song many of us have heard more than a handful of times.
"Well thank you very much for coming to the party." Ben said to all of us as we felt the end coming near. Luckily, we had a huge "Traffic Jam" coming our way before it was all through, and these six guys on stage rocked it. Hard. I loved watching Adam watch Andy and I loved watching Dave watch Chris. It's always a joy to see them all have so much fun on stage, and to know that they're just as entertained as we are by the musicians around them. This was probably one of the biggest, most intense versions of "Traffic Jam" I've heard in quite some time. It stood on its own. It didn't need to be in a sandwich to bring us the goods.
The encore started with "Here Comes Sunshine", and as I saw that Ted was going to let the lights stay nice and dark, I decided to change my lens one last time. I made my way all the way upstairs and back to the photo pit before the song was over and Jeff thanked everyone one last time. They did it right with their choice of closing song, playing an extraordinarily fast "Shady Grove". Unfortunately, Jeff's ears must not have been working because he came in early on the chorus a couple times.
It's always a blast spending a couple days in Chicago. For me, it's just gotten better and better over the years. Getting to stay with dear friends and getting to know this venue and the staff each year has been a real treat. Night one was over, but we still had night two and a Kinfolk Party to look forward to!
Written by Dorothy St.Claire
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