As per usual, I arrived at the venue about five minutes late. But, to my defense, parking was a madhouse. And why wouldn’t it have been? Winter Weekend, just like any event hosted by C-U Folk and Roots, was the place to be last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. That being said, I guess I should have planned for traffic and lousy parking. Let’s just blame my chronic lateness on my genes.
As I entered the Rose Bowl Tavern for the last night of CUF&R’s winter event, I was welcomed by that familiar smell of old cigarette smoke that clings to the wood paneling on the walls like a ghost of Honky-Tonk Bars Past. For some, it’s an annoying or gross smell; but for me, it’s like a hug from my grandfather or my great-uncles. Rob Krumm, a staple in the folk, country, and Western scene around town, greeted me at the door before I found a seat at the bar where I could have a good sightline of the stage. I would play many rounds of bar-stool shuffle throughout the evening as different groups of friends and couples jockeyed for seats next to each other. Eventually, I would opt for a spot on the back wall, away from the fray.
Image: A cartoon winter scene with a pine tree covered in snow, a snowman playing a banjo with a fierce face, two forest creatures playing an upright bass and a guitar, a rabbit playing a single drum with a carrot, and a bird playing a wind instrument. The text on the poster reads, "CU Folk and Roots Winter Weekend, The Rose Bowl & The Iron Post," followed by a schedule of the weekend's event. Image from the C-U Folk and Roots webpage.
Cole Bridges had already begun part of the solo portion of his set with his new band, The Overpass. Bridge’s voice rings of that good Southern affect — a slight drawl within a nice baritone — but his lyrics echoed the sentiments of the life in Midwest. His dress reflected his sound: a blue button-up, a white-tan hat (not a cowboy hat, but certainly not a fedora), jeans, and an acoustic guitar. He looked the pinnacle of the Midwestern country scene. After a few songs, the whole band joined him on and in front of that stage. With a six-piece band, it’s hard to fit everyone on the wood. Bridges and The Overpass dropped a single together back in January (you can find a Splog about it here), but their performance on Saturday night was one of their first together as a full band.
As they play together, Bridges’ body language constantly communicates the joy he gets from being on stage. Even during the slowest, most contemplative songs, he bounces and moves about. At times, his emoting seemed out of place with the song and the band. However, for my money, I’d rather see someone up on stage who you can tell is enjoying what they are doing than someone who is trying to perform every word. The room seemed a little small for a band of this size, and, unfortunately, all the mixing in the world wouldn’t have made it possible to sound balanced in the room.
Following Cole Bridges and The Overpass was The Chickadee Sermon, a local “comfort folk” group. This show doubled as Winter Weekend and the album release show for their newest offering, Town to Town. The band, made up of Mike Tasch, Olivia Tasch, Jennifer Hood, and Charlie Harris (who serves on the booking committee for F&R and is part-owner of the Rose Bowl), focuses on simple, acoustic arrangements and tight vocal harmonies. And throughout their set, they really nailed their aesthetic, almost to a fault. The room was packed at the Rose Bowl, bifurcated between those sitting in chairs nearest the stage and those standing behind them and around the bar. At times it was hard to hear the nuances of the band’s playing. Mike Tasch’s banjo perhaps suffered the most (for some, less banjo is probably a godsend; but, a player myself, I yearned to hear more).
Image: Four members of The Chickadee Sermon stand against a setting sun. Mike Tasch and Charlie Harris stand on either side of Jennifer Hood and Olivia Tasch. One can side green grass and trees behind them. Photo by Anna Longworth.
Chickadee Sermon’s set alternated between original songs and arrangements of American traditional folk and old-timey tunes. They even threw in at least one Grateful Dead cover of “I Know You Rider,” a song that has been floating around the Americas since before the 1920s but was a staple of the Dead’s live shows. This cover was maybe my favorite song of the night, if only because the band finally gave solos to Tasch on banjo and Harris on upright bass. Their harmonies were tight, and their playing was superb, but I longed for a quieter room that would have allowed them to shine a bit more. At the end of their set, fans brought up roses and balloons, including what, I think, was a sloth on a rainbow. As album release events go, this one was quite successful for the band and enjoyable for the audience.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the Rose Bowl before the last band of the night, Devil in a Woodpile, could take the stage. As I was walking out, I could feel the bar’s excitement for these Chicago natives to bring the night home with some hot blues and ragtime. I walked to my car, feeling musically fulfilled and mildly grateful. Grateful to live in a town full of musicians ready to create and share, community groups and venues ready to host them, and a public yearning to hear and to feel (even if they talk a little louder than a curmudgeon like me would prefer). Judging just from Saturday night, I feel confident saying that C-U Folk and Roots Winter Weekend was a success. To keep up with their goings-on and future events, check out their webpage.