The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago is a rare and beautiful place.
It is a place where people of all ages can learn how to play folk music, and it was founded in the Old Town neighborhood. If (like me) you’re a fan of things being named what they are, then plus two. It is also the music store where Mike Gordon buys his banjos. Where Jeff Tweedy sent his kids to summer camp. Where Robert Plant heads to catch an early show before his gig downtown. Where Noam Pikelny’s warm up drills will make you never want to play the banjo again. Where Bela Fleck will give you an hour of his time and convince you to pick it back up. Where Bill Frisell comes to the microphone to announce Brian Blade is going to sit in with the band all night.
It’s also where I first fell in love with Leftover Salmon. The kind and folky workers at the Old Town School weren’t prepared for the non-stop pickin’ party of Leftover Salmon, but neither was I. In the year 2000 music was still a bit hard access, so I hadn’t heard much of the band. By the time they brought Sugar Blue on stage to blow the blues harp my mandible found the pavement.
Mark Vann was still in the band, and their “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” was in a constant state of eruption. Each song seemed to pick up steam from the song before, so by the time the band had played every second they were allotted and we walked home in a daze our blood felt thinner and our feet lighter. All these years later the band has entered yet another monumental stage in their long career. The addition of Bill Payne (who co-founded Little Feat) has brought a strong strain of swamp jazz into the Cajun Slamgrass of the Colorado band.
If you are looking for an example of what will light up the American Theatre in Phoebus this Saturday, check “Aquatic Hitchhiker” from last year’s live celebration, 25. If you want to hear the band’s range and depth of emotion, check their compilation O’ Cracker Where Art Thou.
The American Theatre’s acoustics are well known, and with the Deadrise, Six, the Point, Mango Mangeux, and all-time classic Mama Rosa’s nearby, you can celebrate spring and Bacchus and Zydeco in style. With Leftover starting at 8:00, and country soul act If Birds Could Fly getting started at 10:00 less than two miles away at Taphouse, and the weather set to be beautiful, you know what to do. . .