I got to the Pine Avenue United Church in Chicago about fifteen minutes early and sat in the car trying to meditate and calm myself. I had never played guitar in public before and had only played with our Kagan & Gaines ensemble for a couple of months. For the previous couple of days, I’d been extremely nervous about this event. When I saw Jim Goelitz, my guitar teacher pull up, I went to the door with him. He had brought three large guitar amplifiers from Kagan & Gaines.
Lawrence Brown, our bass player, is education director of the church, so he was already there for the youth outreach program, which lasted all weekend. Justin Young, our drummer, was also already there. Jim and I set up the amps in front of the stage next to where Justin had set up his drums.
The room was a large auditorium-like space the size of a basketball court (there was even a hoop at the end opposite the stage). Near the stage were a number of folding chairs and behind them were folding tables and chairs.
The program started a little after 3:00. Six young women did an interpretative dance to a couple of modern recorded gospel songs. Then four young people from another church did a mime interpretation of two gospel songs. They wore black robes and white gloves. Stark white makeup highlighted their facial expressions.
I’d been nervous that Alex Scaramuzza, guitar, and Mickey Johnson, vocal, hadn’t arrived, but they made it before it was our time to go on. I was relieved our group wasn’t first on the program. It gave me a chance to get used to the space and the audience.
We started with an instrumental, Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack.” Then Mickey came up and we did “The Thrill Is Gone” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “My Girl,” and “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Even though it wasn’t on the planned set list, Mickey announced Otis Rush’s “Feel So Bad” and we played that after “Thrill.”
He obviously likes that song, and he used it effectively to get the crowd going. He had suggested playing it at our practice the previous evening. Fortunately, I had an intuition to go over the chords yesterday and so I was able to get through it OK. I played almost the entire set without music.
As our final number, Jim picked “Equinox,” the John Coltrane jazz tune, which I felt weakest on. Fortunately, Jim and Alex played the melody. I’m still having trouble with the timing on it. Once Mickey left, the audience started to disperse. They especially responded to “My Girl,” recognized the instrumental lead-in, and sang along.