On Saturday, the Hotel S'n'S basement show celebrated its sixth year of bringing together our group of friends from across the U.S. and Canada. The big question was, would it be the last? There had been talk that the Tweedys might not do the auction again, at least for awhile. We figured we had better stuff as much fun into this weekend as possible, just in case.
As if that's ever a problem. Friday night kicked off with our annual party. This year's theme: Vampires at a Discotheque. August didn't leave me with much spare time, so I ended up with one of my lamer theme costumes. Just some ninety-nine cent plastic vampire teeth and some "vampire blood" spray candy. Luckily, Paul's "Vampire Weekend" getup picked up the slack. Many of our friends couldn't make it to town until the next day, but Sam and Sooz's friends filled in the gaps. We spent Friday night happily drinking blood punch, playing Rock Band, watching Sam's mix of old commercial clips on the big screen, and dancing to Gaga and the whole vampire party mix.
And then Saturday arrived. Some of us made the traditional gourmet encased meats run to Hot Doug's in the early afternoon, and then it was on to Hotel S'n'S to finish preparations. I had my pie pops to artfully arrange, and the food kept rolling in. As usual, our potluck was truly outstanding. Walrus brought not only the soft serve machine and plenty of fixings, but a sno cone machine as well. Cathy brought a flan cheesecake and Japanese-style curry. Dick's meat returned after a one-year hiatus, to much fanfare. Kris and Alison brought brisket from Smoque and the famous mac 'n' cheese. Sooz's orzo, Kristina's slaw, Uyen's little Guinness cupcakes, Tamala's stuffed bread, a donated keg of Alpha King ... and much more. We ate and drank well all night long.
The Tweedys arrived a bit earlier than usual, and we got down to business. Ever since year three, the show's format has remained the same: each person requests a song, then chooses someone to go next. Jeff has some warning of the songs we're planning to ask for, but that doesn't mean he can or will play them all. Still, I think we got an especially high percentage of granted wishes. I was thrilled to finally hear Richard and Mimi Farina's lovely "Reflections in a Crystal Wind" live. "Big Rock Candy Mountain" was a surprising treat, and the Elizabeth Cotten song "Freight Train" was one of my favorites of the night. Another was our own favourite Canadian, Judy, lending a hand with some tricky lyrics in Neil Young's "Look Out For My Love."
Cover songs are rare and therefore notable, but Jeff's own songs provided the heart of the show. "More Like the Moon" is nearly perfect, and Saturday night's performance was no exception. "Nothing Up My Sleeve" made a welcome return, and "Misunderstood" turned into an excellent singalong. Of course, who could forget Jeff serenading Zelda the pug, asleep at his feet, with the third verse of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart"? Racy! Zelda remained unmoved.
A major part of our show is the atmosphere. As I mentioned, this was year six, and things felt comfortable and familiar. From both performer and audience came plenty of sarcasm, storytelling, joking, drinking (okay, that was really just the audience) and general tomfoolery. We don't use a PA, and the central air was turned off so Jeff wouldn't have to sing over it. Conditions in the basement quickly became hot and sweaty, which somehow added to the merriment. This may be cheating, but during one of the breaks I got in a song request for an upcoming show. Strike while the iron is hot? Or something. I also learned that a "new" song we overheard at a South Bend soundcheck is actually by Linda Thompson. Clearly I need to brush up on my British folk artist catalogs.
The show ended hours after it began with our traditional "Candyfloss" sing- and dance-along. Before that, though, we got in one more cover: Big Star's "Thank You, Friends." Never have the lyrics to that song felt more appropriate, dancing around Sooz's basement and belting it out with some of my favorite people in the world. As Jeff stood amongst us, playing, I thought ... damn. We certainly have been lucky. "Thank you again!" morphed into "Thank you Jeff!" Tipsy and sentimental? Sure. Singing from the heart? You bet.
After the show came the sweaty group photo, the distribution of posters, and a few other things. By the time Susan and Jeff had gone, it was officially Sunday morning. Time for a second (third, fourth, whatever) round of eating, and then the music to begin again in the basement. We had multiple guitarists lending a hand this year, and two egg shakers in addition to the Dr. Teeth tambourine. Just call us a band. Mart's set was the postshow highlight for me, as it always is, and Rob provided some tasteful assistance. My favorite song, I think, was "I Am the Walrus." After having played Ringo on that song just the night before, I was content to shake an egg shaker and sing along. Music and friends: a wonderful combination.
The fun didn't end with Saturday (er, Sunday morning.) Eleven of us met for brunch at Milk & Honey, to say goodbye before more planes departed the Windy City. U, Heidi, Paul, and I followed that up with a walk around Grant and Millennium Parks, before heading back to S'n'S to scarf down leftovers (Japanese curry and slaw!) and watch the Emmys and Mad Men. It was almost Monday before I reluctantly headed back home. Yes, Harry McClintock, I would like to hang the jerk that invented work.
Was this the final year of the private show auction? We don't really know. When we won that first auction in 2004, it seemed like this whole situation was too good to be true. By 2010, I know it was too good to be true ... but somehow it was true nonetheless. Jeff and Susan have done amazing things for all of us, and even more amazing things for the charity. If this was the end, we had a hell of a run. If this wasn't the end, then here's to the future. As a matter of fact, here's to the future regardless. Thank you, friends.
I've had a Wilco-intensive month or so, with some New Pornographers thrown in for good measure. But things are about to get Crowded Housey, beginning Sunday.