By ERIC SCHELKOPF
The Chicago Roots Collective is making it easy for you to see and hear some of the more adventurous bands on the Chicago music scene today.
The Ewing Theory, The Future Laureates, Molehill and Jackpot Donnie are among the bands set to perform at the 4th annual CRC Festival Nov. 16-17 at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. More information is at www.chicagorootscollective.com.
I had the chance to talk to Tom Mangione, acting CRC president and member of the band Mike Mangione & the Union, about this year's festival.
Q - This is the fourth year of the show. What have you learned from past shows and what were your goals for this year's show?
When we first started in 2008, the year of our first festival, none of the Chicago Roots Collective (hereafter, CRC) bands had put on a show of this magnitude. Many of us had put bills together, for sure, but they had been the standard two or three act shows.
There was a learning curve involved. As a result, the first CRC Festival was very straightforward: we booked the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville on a Saturday and all 10 acts played in continuous succession.
Needless to say, it was a long day and night; we had to start rather early and deciding the order of lineup was brutal. I think we had to draw names from a hat that year because going on too early or too late can be difficult and demanding for a band and their fan base.
The following year, we applied the lessons learned. We changed the format to a two-day show and added a singer-songwriter showcase in a separate room.
The CRC bands were split over the two nights, five each night, and we reached out to emerging acoustic acts to play the showcase. As such, it became a festival in the proper sense of the term.
This year, we also had to pick a different venue to allow our vision to take shape. We decided on the Elbo Room (because it has two floors) and had so much fun there, we went back the following year.
This new format also lent itself to the CRC's mission of playing more, bigger, and better shows. Added to this mission, furthermore, was a nascent sense that we could create a community a small, humble haven for singer-songwriters and roots musicians.
This year, our goal was to change locations. We decided on the Beat Kitchen because it is a vital venue in Chicago, a change of scenery for us, and it has a space upstairs to accommodate the S/S showcase.
Continuing on from this point, I believe we will keep the same format, dedicating the whole weekend to roots music, holding a showcase, and changing locations to pay homage to Chicago's world-class venues.
Q - How did you go about choosing the lineup for this year's show? What are the standout bands in this year's festival?
A It was rather interesting this year. Four of the original CRC bands could not commit to play the fest! This, I believe, was a good thing because those bands were already booked for other shows before we decided on a date.
We tried to find a weekend that worked for everyone, but failed every proposed weekend a good number of the bands were busy. We took it as a sign that four years on, not only were the CRC bands still active, they had achieved a measure of success and were out and about spreading their music.
To fill the slots, then, we called on some acts that had played our showcases to join the main stage. In my mind at least, this had been a serendipitous development because it forced us to deal with change and
growth in the right direction.
I don¹t mean this as a copout, but I don't think I could point to a standout band. I think the CRC Festival itself is unique and notable as a whole.
Q - How does the show fit into the mission of the Chicago Roots Collective? What success stories have the Chicago Roots Collective had? What is the group planning to do in the future?
Our official mission dating back to our first meeting was stated as such: The Chicago Roots Collective is a collaboration of musicians working together to get their music heard. It took us an entire meeting to come up with that gem.
Very meager, I know! We were prone to set the bar rather low. But, to be fair, most of us were just starting.
Along the way, we changed our perspective. Accordingly, after our first year or so, the primary tenet of the CRC became a mission to feature emerging Chicago musicians.
Over the years, the CRC fest has hosted scores of singer-songwriters. Each fest, moreover, has featured about 75 Chicago musicians.
That's no small thing for a modest, local festival. What's more, many artists have gone on to make a name for themselves, as soloists or bandleaders, in the Chicago music scene and across the nation.
While we don't take credit for launching their careers (it is their talent and perseverance that has done that), we do take pride that we have helped to create a little community within Chicago.
From this framework the CRC, as it is now, was born. In addition to the annual fest, then, CRC bands collaborated between fests and put on a large number of shows, in Chicago and now beyond.
So, though we started modestly, we achieved our goals and then some. CRC bands have played at all the major venues in Chicago (aside from those above a 1,500 capacity) since founding the collective.
In the future, we want to make some changes; though have not worked out the details, in the next six months we will open the membership of the CRC to others. It is time for new blood, we figure, and time to help others to partake in the CRC mission.
If anyone is interested, they are advised to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q - How does the Chicago music scene compare with other music scenes?
I think Chicago is one of the most difficult markets to play. Chicago has been, and continues to be, a nationally and internationally recognized music hub. But, for some reason, there is not an abundance of locally minded music institutions in terms of infrastructure: radio, print, and even some of the venues.
This may be true in cities like New York and Los Angeles, but it is not the norm. In other cities, there are an abundance of radio stations, TV stations, venues, and newspaper outlets that are excited about supporting the local scene.
Milwaukee, believe it or not, fits this description. And there are others as well.
I've already hinted at this, but in rethinking our mission, we decided that the CRC is a network of like-minded individuals who have a similar sentiment in common: there is strength in numbers.
This does not apply solely to the musicians who are fighting an institutional machine, however. The most important part of the equation, the factor that actually creates a scene, is a receptive audience.
Along the way we have found many like-minded people who enjoy the roots and S/S sound, and they are willing to take a chance on new music that might otherwise glide under the radar. They come, they listen, they buy albums, and they chat afterwards and share drinks.
So, in the end, in a very vital way, the scene is only as good as the people who create and consume it. Seen in this light, Chicago ranks high on the list.