You ever hear how sometimes our neck of the woods gets referred to as “flyover country”? Screw that.
The only place to start is with an epiphany. And I had a stunner in 2006, and here’s how it went. I had spent years and years traveling distances great and small to see my heroes in concert. Blur at the Metro. Marah at the Pike Room. Eitzel at the Majestic. Adams at Exit/In. Clem Snide at the Annex. Reilly at Birdys. Pulp at St. Andrews. Wilco at The Vogue. You Am I at Beachland. Westerberg at the Guthrie. Pernice at Spaceland. Avetts at Mercy. Snider at Station Inn. Dylan at Newport (easy, easy, I’m talking 2002).
At some of these shows, I’d catch my mind wandering a bit—I was imagining these artists doing the same show, only in Fort Wayne. With a bigger, more appreciative, better crowd. One that took nothing for granted. I was thinking, Fort Wayne would love you, baby. But artists like these—the relevant, the buzzy, the up-n-comers—rarely came our way. They drove by, went around, pushed through, flew over.
My mind would wander…how could you get your heroes to play your hometown? Well, I was just perplexed. For years. And then, one day, the answer became clear:
You ask them.
(Funnily enough, they tend to say yes.)
So in May of 2006, The Avett Brothers played on Calhoun Street, as part of the DID’s block party series that summer. It was a cathartic show, in about a hundred different ways. This was a couple years before those guys were on Columbia Records and playing with Dylan at the Grammys.
The following August, Tim Rogers (of You Am I) came to town and played at Columbia Street West. It’s rare enough for Sydney’s You Am I to make it over for a US tour, so a Rogers solo jaunt is to be savored—especially since his What Rhymes with Cars and Girls is one of my all-time top five records, and the tour is just five shows long (LA, Seattle, Austin, Fort Wayne, NYC, duh). Rogers loved Fort Wayne, and Fort Wayne loved Rogers. The legendary Joel Faurote photographed his first concert that night. Tim played a song called “Any Old Time” at this gig, a song which opens with the line, “Any old time you want to come ’round, try some Speckled Hen, or just put me in my place again…” I’d never had Old Speckled Hen, but I had been put in my place, and it became a goal of mine to track down this brew. And soon enough we’d convinced Kim Jacobs of the nascent J K O’Donnell’s to put it on draft as their house English Ale.
I was fortunate that my old band, The Trainhoppers, opened both of these shows.
2007 saw the Ike Reilly Assassination at the Botanical Conservatory, for Lucky Seven. We served Speckled Hen, Rolling Rock, and nothing else.
(I’m only mentioning shows OLG had something to do with—like these. Meanwhile, these same sorts of things were happening all over the city, on most nights of the week, in new and re-emerging clubs and non-traditional venues and with wildly creative bands (like my compatriot Nate Utesch’s Metavari) leading the charge. It was like a movement.)
In 2008, Rogers was due to return to the States, and requested a Fort Wayne date. We booked him for—yes—J K O’Donnell’s and I got to design what was probably my favorite non-RMike poster of my career. And then…his work visa got held up, and the tour was off, at the last minute. The thing was, we had an email list full of hungry punters, aaaaand…no gig. So we hopped over to the roster of Tim’s booking agent (Kevin French) to see who else might be around, and noticed that Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide—OMG, Clem Snide!!!—was playing the last show of his Lose Big tour in Columbus on Friday night. Our show was sposed to be Saturday. So I asked if Eef and his band would add a show, and play Fort Wayne, with almost zero notice, the following night. And he said yes, even though we’d lost J K’s by that point and the only venue we could find was the front room of Calhoun Street Soups, Salads & Spirits (CS3). (The yet-to-be-dubbed “Tiger Room” in back was booked for a drag show, which only added to the evening.) Turns out, the front room actually works for bands, especially when people are hanging from the rafters.
Eef loved it, too, and called back six months later to kick off Clem Snide’s Hungry Bird tour in one of his new favorite venues—The Tiger Room at CS3—with one of his new favorite hostesses, Donna with her brilliant laugh and excellent menu. So we did it again for Meat of Life in 2010. After that show, I grabbed Eef and told him that we had a sliver’s sliver of a chance of setting up a show where the Fort Wayne Philharmonic would back him for a few songs, much as they had done with his buddy Ben Folds in a much more formal engagement. And 17 months later, Fortissimo actually happened, in IPFW’s beautiful Auer Performance Hall (setlist included “Denver” solo on uke…”Denver”!!!!), with an encore at The Tiger Room the following night.
Tim Rogers’ cancellation in 2008 sucked, but the Clem Snide / Fort Wayne love affair is the kind of outcome that sorta explains why we think the guitar is lucky.
Which brings us full circle.
A couple of months ago, Eef wrote in asking about doing a show in Fort Wayne to preview Clem Snide’s new album, Songs for Mary. Only this time, he wanted to do something a little more inventive. Solo acoustic, no PA—”all naked”—and perhaps at the OLG HQ. Tickets would be a tad more expensive, but we’d have a drawing for a just-for-you MP3 from Eef, some free downloads and “maybe have some cupcakes on hand or some such.” Amazing. And after hosting Mark Hutchins’ Sleepy Furnace, Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan, and of course Ike Reilly for unbelievably memorable shows within OLG’s walls, we thought—yes.
Next thing you know, Tim Rogers writes in. “Miss yer drawled vowels Matt.” OMG *swoon*!!! Tim’s gonna be in the States for a couple of weeks and his short US tour is pretty much being planned around making sure a Fort Wayne show can happen—and it’s just a week after Eef’s performance. But where to put it? It could go anywhere, and would fit perfectly at The Brass Rail, or The Tiger Room, or the Arts United Center, but, well, we simply can’t resist the idea of hosting two of the finest songwriters in the world in our walls within a week of each other, so…it’ll be here.
(And realistically “here” is not the OLG offices, so much as 1301 Lafayette—in the Lotus Gallery on the first floor of the building we call home.)
I couldn’t more confidently believe that both of these shows are going to be once-in-a-lifetime, miss-it-and-regret-it-forever evenings. We’d love to see you there, and by there, I mean here.
Here’s your OLG Late-May 2012 schedule:
Eef Barzelay (w/s/g Chris Otepka of Heligoats), Wednesday, May 23rd, 8PM, 1301 Lafayette Street, 46802. (tickets)
Bike-It art show at Lotus Gallery, Saturday, May 26th, 7PM, 1301 Lafayette Street, 46802. (free)
Tim Rogers (w/s/g TBA), Wednesday, May 30th, 8PM, 1301 Lafayette Street, 46802. (tickets)
How do you get your heroes to play your hometown? It’s pretty simple: you ask them.
Someday they might ask you the same thing.
There will be no more flying over.