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Illinois in the Middle

Last weekend I was in Champaign, IL, a place that felt like it should be dead-center in the middle of a cast-iron pancake griddle. On one side of the interstate were rows of new construction homes, while on the other, ploughed fields reaching out to the horizon with deep, dark tendrils. I find it hard to believe that this state, as rural and authentic as it is, has (or apparently will have) both of its past two governors serving time in the clink. Such strange un-midwestern values.


The Friday show was hosted by some friends of mine who were having mercy upon me by putting the thing on in the first place. If you are on my mailing list, then you probably received my recent desperate plea for shows, what with the sour state of the overall economy. Stacy and Jose answered my beggary with an invitation to play in their town of Naperville, a western suburb of Chicago. Aside from my growing impatience with the 15-year old sound guy/boy who apparently knew exactly what I needed in my monitors, therefore disallowing any of my offered suggestions, it was a nice and pleasing show complete with a promise to read Beowulf this summer. Jose Rivera and Ben Thomas both played a few songs and stole the show. Hot chicken wings and cold, frosty beverages followed. Saturday was a two-hour trip through north-central Illinois with Genevieve trying to guide me along routes I chose not to follow. Instead, I turned off the dreadful interstate and followed the Kankakee River’s edge for several miles to the town of Kankakee where I rejoined another north-south interstate to the city of Champaign. Along the two-lane river highway, I listened to my friend Andrew Osenga’s spectacular album, Photographs, in which he sings of that very waterway now positioned, snaking brown and fluid, along my left shoulder. I still love that album. You should, too.

An hour later, I arrived at my friend Phil’s place where he was finishing polishing his black Yamaha (before it got rained on), and two of his boys were shooting basketball in the driveway. We proceeded to play a quick game of Fog (not to be confused with Pig) where I completely dominated the match. I believe my sky hook ultimately won it. What can I say, short people were born to be point guards.

It was a bachelor pad weekend, since Phil’s wife (and amazing chef) Bethany was out of town. Saturday night we ate brats, drank Newcastle and watched 80’s freaky-strange film, “Big Trouble in Little China”, a movie I somehow never saw while growing up. Turns out, it was probably for the best. Someone please tell me the point of the greasy monster that appears in a grand total of three brief, senseless scenes? Also, were all 80’s movies over-acted? Or was it just John Carpenter at work?

Sunday morning I played a song at the morning services in hopes of luring folks out to the free concert that night. Though I didn’t completely scare everyone off, there were around 30-40 folks out on a damp, chilly evening.  And they were a quiet crowd. That threw me off, and I just got plain weird as the night wore on. I had a great time, but I’m sure my oddities left a few folks scratching their midwestern heads. Folks were gracious in their giving, and since these were the first shows I did as part of my new “I’ll play for any amount, including free” proposal, I’d say it was well worth my time away from home. Faith sometimes feels like murder, but these days it is good to wither to self. Duly noted.

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