Ribfest Is Rib-Rockin’-Best
With a name like Sid F’er, you don’t get many job offers for the executive suite so it’s probably no surprise that one of my first jobs, after college no less, was at a mulit-national firm called Red Lobster. I was positioned behind the bar and issued one piece of flair – a button exclaiming that LobsterFest is Lobster Best! It was kind of embarrassing to wear, especially when I forgot to take it off when I went out after work, but it has provided a cheesy, yet effective way to communicate my unbridled enthusiasm for every subsequent fest I have attended that was worthy of the honor.
But before I get carried away here, it was the music that saved this event from itself. I suppose since it’s called Ribfest, I’ll start with the food. Disappointing. I bypassed the offerings from the local neighborhood joints and went to the BBQ joints with a rib sampler (three baby back ribs) from Smoke Daddy and the same from Robinson’s. I’d think that representing at a fest you’d want to be at the top of your game, but the restaurants seem to lose something when they leave their home kitchen and take it to the streets. Like a team playing on the road. Although that might not be a good analogy tonight since I just watched the Penguins win The Cup in “Hockeytown”. Suck on that Wings fans. But I digress. I have a feeling their respective ribs might be better in more controlled conditions. The pool table sized grills seemed to suck the moisture right out of them faster than a vagina drying up during menopause. Nothing seemed to be falling off the bone, which is okay during contortionist orgies but not how I prefer my rib dinners. There’s a good hipster band name – Contortionist Orgy. But more about hipster bands later.
Fortunately, I did arrive early to check out an early band so I was able to avoid the painfully long lines that queued up starting around 7 pm, bringing the main drag to a complete gridlock normally only seen at the Circle Interchange during rush hour. I heard from a buddy in the area that the fest has grown exponentially in recent years, but I don’t think planners have changed the logistics of the layout. Even the TSA has tried some stuff to speed things up at the airport. At least I didn't have to remove my shoes to get in. Lincoln Avenue may not be as wide as downtown streets that host the bigger fests, but give it some thought and you might be able to avoid some of the logjams around ticket booths and the more popular offerings.
Also planted in the middle of the fest was an 18-wheeler tractor trailer combo housing a Playstation 3 arcade and marketing center. Serious, Northcenter? I hope they gave you some serious cash for that monstrosity because there was no other reason for it to be there. The irony of people going to a great outdoor festival in the summer in a neighborhood that I find attractive, only to line up to play effing video games almost knocked me into a vat of brown sugar BBQ sauce.
None of the non-food vendors drew me in – seemed like a lot of the same thing you see at every fest – dumb t-shirts, bad posters/prints (as if this world needs another Scarface poster), Cubs souvenirs, and some other accessory vendors that would seem more at home on Ebay Marketplace. Along with the usual suspects selling newspaper subscriptions and knockoff sunglasses. One other suggestion – lose the soap bubble gun vendors. Besides their obnoxious hawking in the middle of the street, it seems parents can’t say no to their kids and I was assaulted by bubble gun toting ankle biters throughout the festival. And parents, how about keeping the strollers out of my way. Especially the Hummer H3 versions you’re commanding these days. Seriously – your strollers are larger than my sub-compact car. So let’s keep it to carryout at Carson’s for ribs until Jacob and Emily can walk on their own.
Best Wardrobe Choice for Ribfest: The girl wearing the “Meat is Murder” t-shirt. Rock on. And no, she didn't look like a Smiths fan.
But before you completely disregard this event, stick around for Part II where I promise to shake the burrs out of my jockey shorts and tell you about some of the good stuff.
Northcenter Ribfest - Part II
When I was looking over the entertainment schedule at Northcenter Ribfest I didn’t see any familiar names, so I decided to research a few MySpace pages. Mostly for slutty teenage girls and Romanian prostitutes, but I eventually got around to exploring some bands. The one that jumped out at me was Deanna Devore. I have a soft spot in my heart for chick rockers, but she didn’t fit my normal profile. She wasn’t wearing fishnets and too much makeup and playing bass. She didn’t have the swagger of Chrissy Hynde. She didn’t have the manic intensity of Juliette Lewis. She wasn’t even a slutty teenage girl or Romanian prostitute as far as I could tell. The songs I previewed were on the mellow side but the melodies and rhythms had something extra, creating a mood I couldn’t quite define. But I’ll try – you know that feeling you get when you’re leaning back on a chair and you lose your balance and think you’re going to tip over but catch yourself at the last minute? Well it’s the opposite of that. And her voice drew me in. It sucked me into each song, placed me squarely into the groove and held me there like a needle tracking an LP. Even her promo photo was intriguing. Mona Lisa-ish. Not screaming rocker, not smiling, but definitely not angst-ridden or angry or brooding emo child. She’s Canadian, so maybe that was throwing me off. In any case, I decided to check out the show and bailed out of work a few minutes early to try to catch her set that kicked off Ribfest at 5 pm.
My first impression was how tiny she is – or maybe she’s just playing oversize instruments and only collaborates with large musicians. She was laid back, comfortable with her own command of the material and trusting her bandmates with their parts. She was solid on each of the three guitars she played throughout the set and even added a little percussion in a number early on in the set. Her stage persona and performance completely met the expectations I had going in, but the songs sound even better live. When music transcends garage rock sometimes you wonder if it will translate well from the studio to the stage, and this show had a vibe that washed over me like the smell of chocolate chip cookies. That’s a good thing. I like cookies.
The drummer seemed competent in several styles as he moved through the set like a marshmallow fiend in a box of Lucky Charms, whatever that means, and the bass player rounded out a solid rhythm section. The keyboard player made me nervous… for some reason I kept waiting for him take over and make it about him and his keyboards. Maybe because he was barefoot. Never trust a barefoot male musician. But I’m happy to report he kept it in check and added a layer to the music that bridged the rhythms with Deanna’s lyrics. I’m no Simon Cowell, but her voice doesn’t seem polished and I’m not sure she would make it through an American Idol audition, but in this case I mean that as a compliment. It’s real, it’s not off-key and it works perfectly for her. And for us. Oh, there was also a cello player, but I thought she kind of got lost in the mix at this show. It would likely sound swell on the next record.
I even did some journalistic digging. Not quite Watergate stuff, but I did run into one of the band while buying her EP and asked a couple questions. I hoped to get a word with Deanna but she stayed backstage. It was a small crowd so maybe she didn’t think anyone wanted to talk to her. Or maybe my stalker-like behavior scared her off. But rumor has it that the live shows may be limited for a stretch while they go into the studio to put together a new record. I’m bummed I may not see her again this summer, but I suppose we’ll all be rewarded with some new material. She did a tune I believe she said was called “Next To You”. It wasn’t a cover of one my favorite Police songs, but if it’s any indication of what’s to come the new record is worth waiting for.
Speaking of the EP, not only did she write all the material but if you believe everything you read in the liner notes she also played all the instruments on the CD. It’s too good to be true. It’s like a chef claiming he can make a killer risotto and a mean-ass bowl of venison chili. It's the kind of music I'd put on if I liked people and ever had them over to my house for dinner.
Finally, if I haven’t sold you on Deanna yet, I’ll share her Ribfest banter with you:
“I’ve never had ribs before. I’ll have to try one. We don’t have ribs in Canada. We’re born without them.”
I guess you had to be there. It’s all in the timing and delivery.
Thanks Canada, you’re finally starting to make up for Celine Dion.
I caught a couple other acts, which involved following Deanna’s drummer and keyboard player to where they were pulling double duty with Tom Schraeder and His Ego. Besides being named after my second favorite type of tire valve he seemed to have an alt-country type thing going on which can be hit or miss for me, but I decided to give him a chance while I tore into the first of my rib samplers. My first impression here was that the band appeared to be an updated version of the cast of Dazed and Confused. He opened with a couple acoustic tunes which were listenable but needed the band. When they came out, they put together a decent set that included some good hooks and catchy tunes. They claimed they were the gods of Oshkosh, Wisconsin the night before, and I can see them being a lot of fun to see for an evening in a dive bar type setting with some cheap beer and a bowl of peanuts. And they have a girl that plays the saw. How cool is that? She gets that sound that you hear in the old cowboy movies while they’re riding off into the sunset. I dated a girl once who lived in a rural community and when I went to her house for dinner once night, they had a crosscut saw with a landscape painted on the blade hanging on their wall for decoration. But I never saw any of them play it.
I wanted to see The Blakes, but I ran into a buddy and his family and decided to plop down on the dirty Chicago sidewalk and join them for my second sampler platter. Sorry, Blakes, I’ll catch you next time because I get the impression you can tear it up.
I bid my buddy adieu and decided to stick around to see what The Harlem Shakes had going on. It seems that the only requirement for this band was to own a hoodie, some skinny jeans and an interminably happy attitude. Needless to say this annoyed me and I had to find a television to catch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. So sorry, boys, but maybe you’ll catch me on a better night next time.
All in all, not bad for a $5 donation.