|Ralph Covert and his string quartet will return to The Venue at 8 p.m. Feb. 25. Photo by Eric Schelkopf|
By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Chicago area musician and Glen Ellyn native Ralph Covert doesn’t need the backing of surging guitars or thunderous drumming to put on an energetic show.
Covert proved that in October when he and his string quartet put on an uplifting and memorable show at The Venue in Aurora. They will return to The Venue on Feb. 25 for another show.
The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets range from $20-$25, available at The Venue’s website at themusicvenue.org. The Venue is located at 21 S. Broadway Ave. (Route 25) in downtown Aurora.
I had the chance to talk to Covert about the upcoming show. He also fronts the band The Bad Examples and has a children’s music project called Ralph’s World, in addition to releasing several solo records.
I also had the chance to talk to him about his latest project with the Chicago Children’s Theatre.
Q – How many shows have you done with a string quartet and how did you come up with the idea to use a string quartet?
I did some shows with a string quartet on a few songs going back as far as the “Eat at Godot’s” record. The very first show I did with a string quartet was the “Eat at Godot’s” record release show at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.
It’s one thing to say, OK, let’s just slap some strings on it. But we were trying to really use the strings to do unique things with them.
We look at what we can do that will be fun and entertaining but also unexpected and refreshing.
Q – It does seem like many of your solo albums are more, I guess, acoustically based.
Yes, definitely. And that’s not accidental.
I have The Bad Examples as a vehicle for being rocking. I also have a lot of songs that are little more reflective, little more intimate.
In fact, my friend Chuck Troyka, who was the executive producer at “Eat at Godot’s,” was always a big fan of my acoustic stuff and really deserves a lot of credit for championing that aspect of my music.
Q – And I guess the string quartet kind of fits well in smaller venues like The Venue, right?
It does. But I think it would scale really well and remain intimate even in a really big venue. I think what we do with this combo, because there’s such deep musical textures, that you could put it in the Park West in Chicago.
Having no drums and bass allows it to be bigger in a way because it’s not beating you over the head.
Q – Do you think you are connecting more with the audience in these string quartet shows?
I absolutely do. There’s an emotional immediacy.
Q – I was at your show in October at The Venue and it seems like the string quartet lifts a song like “Another Beautiful Day” even higher.
That’s exactly right. The string quartet adds so much texture and depth.
Having Steve Gerlach on guitar and Mike Hartigan on keys on stage elevates everything. The three of us playing together, we collectively make each other better. It always happens.
They’re both such brilliant musicians and they’re such great listeners. And they so deeply, deeply care about the end result and the song.
We elevate each other when the three of us play together. And then you add on top of that the string quartet and that ability to take Michael’s arrangements and fill them with so much power and nuance, it’s just wonderful.
Q – Are they going to be back for the show next month?
Yeah, they’ll be there. It’s going to be the trio plus the string quartet.
Q – And of course you have a new project. Chicago Children’s Theatre recently premiered a video featuring your story and song, “Edward The Tap Dancing Elephant.” The video also features green screen tap dancing by Chicago tap star, Time Brickey.
I have a long and loving relationship with the folks at Chicago Children’s Theatre. In 2009, they debuted “The Hundred Dresses,” the musical that Gary Mills and I wrote that has since run off-Broadway and has been performed all around the country.
Q – What are you working on now?
The main thing we’re working on in the studio now is a new Ralph’s World album. I’m over the moon about how the tracks are sounding.
Because of the new video for “Edward The Tap Dancing Elephant,” we may well put the song on the new album. The video is so fresh and new.
“The Rhyming Circus” was the album that the song came out on in 2008 on Walt Disney Records. I feel that’s one of my best albums, but it never really got it’s due because that’s when the economy collapsed, in 2008.
Disney had booked a 90 show summer tour. The economy collapsed and they cancelled all but six shows.
So the album never had a chance.
Q – How have people been responding to the video?
It’s been phenomenal. People have been loving it.