From the band’s inception, the motto of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation has been “Make the kids jump!” We put that slogan on posters, t-shirts, record covers, and even on our own custom-painted Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars back in the day. But on Monday night, May 17th at SPACE in Evanston, Illinois, “Make the kids jump” became more than a motto: it became a reality for a whole new generation of young rock & roll lovers. To see so many teenagers and young adults dancing so fervently that night in a garage music mosh pit was a vital, unexpected shot of Rockme renewal.
As I reported earlier, the far flung members of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation gathered in Evanston on Saturday, May 15 to rehearse for our gig at SPACE (the Society for Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) that Monday night. Our sax man, Thomas “The Iberian Wolf” Larson, who recently moved with his family to Madrid, traveled the farthest. Our keyboard whiz, Steve “The Decider” Rashid, who lives in Evanston, didn’t have to go anywhere at all. In fact, we were invading his studio, Woodside Avenue Music, for our rehearsal. Lucky Steve.
Bassist Rush Pearson came to the rehearsal equipped with set lists and color-coded index cards for each song we were thinking about playing. We gave Rush a lot of grief for his color code – guys in bands love busting each other’s balls – but everyone was secretly glad that someone was paying attention to the details. And, boy, was Rush on top of the details. He took the organizational bullet for all of us – and managed to survive. And thanks largely to Rusty and his index cards, we managed to arrive at just about the perfect number of songs for our two sets at SPACE. (Sorry, Emilia, but we couldn’t squeeze in “I Forgot”.)
After our long day of rehearsal at Woodside Studios, the band was invited to a party at the Evanston home of our Northwestern classmate, Katie Tabor and her husband Sam Fishkin, who’s also an NU alum.
One highlight of the Tabor party was a screening of “Max & Helena” a beautifully shot short film starring one of the band’s best buddies (and yes, another NU classmate) “Fat Dave” Silberger. The other highlight of the evening was meeting so many children of our Northwestern pals. At our age, many of our kids are well into their teens and, in some cases, they’re college age. They’ve grown into real people. Interesting people. It was a pleasure to see so many of them gathered in one happy place, enjoying each others’ company and making it seem as though they thought their parents’ old Rockme pals were interesting, too. (Little did we realize we’d just met the core of our Monday night mosh pit.)
On Sunday morning, the singers in the band met for a vocal rehearsal at Steve’s house. With Brad Hall strumming an acoustic guitar, Steve, Casey “Casemo” Fox, Brad and I worked through vocal arrangements for such Rockme classic as “I Fall in Love Everyday”, “Surf”, “I Wanna Be There”, and new Woodshed @ Woodside CD tunes like “Hitchin’ A Ride” and “Steve”. This sweet sounding, harmony-laden, easy-on-the-ears musical interlude inspired the idea that our next reunion should be “Rockme Unplugged”. With Riffmaster playing lead on a ukulele. (Just kidding. About Riff and the ukulele. We’re serious about the “Unplugged” idea.)
After vocal rehearsal, we took a trip to the Ukranian Village neighborhood on the west side of Chicago to meet he rest of the band at a rehearsal studio called Fabsound, owned and operated by an Eastern European native named Fabien. Fabien’s spare, cramped studio, built in the basement of his turn-of-the century house, reminded me of the basement room that the Romanovs were ushered into by the Bolsheviks. And a glance at how close I would be to Riffmaster’s amplifier in this confined space triggered fear that I was doomed as well. But, despite the fact that we left with our ears ringing, Fabsound turned out to be a fab place for us to focus on nailing our two sets down.
On the day of the gig, the vocalists met at Woodside Studios for a quick harmony brush-up before the whole band came together to rehearse a few songs with Tom “Beefma” Kalicky”, my old high school pal and bandmate, and a member of The Rockme Foundation back when the band was young.
We hadn’t played with Tom for years, but his familiar baritone saxophone was soon adding the big bottom to “Young Boys & Girls”, “Surf” and “Louie Louie” — just as it did in the days when all of us but the Riffmaster had a full head of hair.
Arriving at SPACE for our sound check we were greeted by our friend, fellow musician, bon vivant and impresario, Stuart Rosenberg, one of the SPACE partners. Stuart showed us around his magnificent facility, but there was little time to absorb it all. Melissa Etheridge had just performed a WXRT radio sponsored event in the room that afternoon, and we would have scant time for a sound check. We were soon on the stage, knocking out several tunes for the engineers at the soundboard before the doors opened at 7:30 for our 8:00 show.
At 8:00, the room was already getting packed when I got onstage to introduce our opening act – MORI and the Moonwalkers. It was a particularly moving moment for me because the keyboard player in the band is my own daughter, Emilia Barrosse – and, like Emilia, the entire band is made up of Northwestern students. As Mori Einsidler led her group through their tuneful, rocking 3-song set, it was a moment for Rockmes (and many Rockme fans) to reflect on our own roots as classmates and friends at Northwestern, and to appreciate how the next generation is carrying the music forward. The kids are still driven to pick up guitars and play – nearly 6 decades after Elvis electrified American youth, and 46 years after The Beatles came to our shores to shake up “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the nation’s entire social order in the process.
After “Bubba” George McClellan’s elaborate and inspired Dragnet-Peter Gunn influenced introduction, the Rockmes took the stage – and the rock and roll party was on! SPACE was jammed with hundreds of rocking revelers on a Monday night. It would be impossible to list all the great friends who came out to share the evening with us. The only frustration that night was not having the time to personally let each of them know much we appreciated that they came, they saw, they rocked. And paid the cover. In fact, it went so well at the box office that SPACE invited us back to play again next year.
The best thing about our wonderful crowd was that they DANCED. There’s nothing that drives a rock and roll band to perform at its best than a happening dance floor – and SPACE was not so much a concert venue that night but a crowded, crazy, sock-hopping dance hall. And there were a lot of young people, high school and college students, filling out that dance floor.
The next generation was also at work off the dance floor. Our Rockme logistical coordinator, great friend, and, of course, fellow NU alum, Terry Barron, brought his teenage son, Taidgh, with him from New York to share the adventure. But enterprising young Taidgh was not content to just listen to the music – he sold the music: moving a remarkable number of “Rockme All Stars” and “Woodshed @ Woodside” CDs. Taidgh was recently named the Rockme Retail Merchandising Coordinator. I tell ya, that kid is going places!
Back on the dance floor, the greatest moment for me, and for entire band, came late in the second set – when we realized that the large group of young people that commanded the first few rows on the floor were getting more and more into it with each song, passionately singing along with me every time I jumped off the stage and offered them the microphone. The kids sang just about as much of “I Saw Her Standing There” as I did.
Then, at one incandescent moment, the kids all started jumping up and down in a simple but dynamic dance that we who remember the late 70’s punk rock scene would call “pogo-ing”. The kids were, quite literally, jumping! Eureka! We had made the kids jump – and thus honored our motto.
There could not have been a better way to end a memorable weekend of friendship, nostalgia, family, and rock and roll renewal.
See you all back at SPACE next year.
And stay tuned for more news about “Rockme Unplugged” and our grand plans for the “Rockme Iberian Tour.” How do you say, Make the kids jump” in Spanish?