Meeting your heroes is a surreal experience.
Jessica and I traveled to Chicago this past weekend to see Some Girls at the historic Double Door. We arrived at noon, with plenty of time before the show to see the sights of the Windy City before heading down to the concert venue. Unfortunately, I had become sick with a lovely head cold just two days earlier and found that my strength was wavering. Still, I was determined to not let sickness spoil a weekend that I had been looking forward to for (literally) years. After checking into our hotel, we took the train down to the Double Door, just to assure ourselves that we knew where it was and that we wouldn’t be lost when the time came to attend the show. We were both tired from the flight, so we headed around the corner from the Double Door, got some lunch and took time to relax. Once we felt a bit renewed, we headed across the street to check out a vintage clothing shop. The architecture in Chicago is really cool. There is a very historic feeling to many areas that we visited. It reminded me a lot of Europe in the way that old and new structures merged together.
Back on the train, we headed downtown to find our way to Navy Pier. We didn’t know much about it except that it was a unique feature of Chicago and that we seemed to remember that Juliana Hatfield had played a show there once. When we got to the Pier, It became evident that we had entered a major tourist area. Nevertheless, we had spent enough time trying to get down there that we decided to take a look around anyway. We took our time as we made our way to the end of the pier, which was a lot farther away than we thought. It’s a huge pier. Along the way, we took a ride on the ferris wheel and took pictures of Lake Michigan — which looked more like an ocean.
From the pier, we headed back to the vicinity of the Double Door. We had planned on going to the Sears Tower, but a combination of fatigue and unco-operative public transit routes made us decide to skip that part of the plan and find a warm place to sit, eat and wait for the show. Across from the Double Door is a nice little restaurant named Penny’s, and that’s where we went to have a bowl of soup and rest our legs. Jessica and I most definitely did not want to be tired and groggy for the concert we had come so far to see.
About 45 minutes before the doors were to open for the show, we headed across the street to wait in line. We had nowhere else to go, really, and there wasn’t enough time to go see anything else of interest. At first, we wondered if we were in the right place because there was no one there. We could hear a band doing a soundcheck inside, but no one was waiting to get in. Then the door opened and Heidi Gluck walked out. Jessica and I just looked at each other with big dorky grins on our faces. It was pretty cool. With the door partially open, we could see that we were definitely behind the stage and that there was a sign telling patrons to go to the other entrance. So we walked around the corner and found ourselves, again, the only ones in line. We waited for about five minutes before another woman came to stand in line. She was really nice. Her friend came later, and they told us that if we’d come so far to see the show that we should wait a while after the show because Juliana almost always comes back out to talk to people.
When we got into the venue we quickly staked out a table close to the stage so that we could sit down for the opening acts and be close enough to get to the front row when Some Girls came on. The first band was a local Chicago group called Air This Side Of Caution. The lead singer was definitely channeling Jeff Buckley; a woman standing in line with us earlier had told us about this band and how much she loved them for that Buckley-esque vibe. They were actually an excellent band. Not entirely my style, but undeniably talented. The second band was the opening act advertised on the Double Door website: The Unbusted. If nothing else, they were entertaining. There was a seemingly endless flow of self-deprecating remarks, false song endings, and insane stage banter. At one point during the set, the nice woman we had talked to in line earlier turned to me, poked me and said, “Juliana is standing right behind you.” We turned around, and — sure enough — there she was, with a big smile on her face as she watched The Unbusted. Talk about cool. Man, that was cool.
As soon as The Unbusted left the stage, Jessica and I got our stuff together and moved up front, as did a lot of other people. The anticipation was killing us. I guess you just have to understand how important this music is to us. I have been a die-hard Juliana fan for over ten years, and have never had the opportunity to watch her perform. Jessie and I just fully admire her amazing range of skill and talent and had been planning this moment for over a year. Needless to say, Juliana Hatfield has been our hero.
Heidi was the first to come out and set up her gear. First a bass check, then a check of her harmonica harness, and then a look-see at the slide guitar. Freda came out a few minutes later to set up her drum kit. Jessica and I both commented later on how young the Girls look in person, as opposed to photos. Heidi and Freda set up pretty quickly, and then there was a lull in activity while the tech did the soundcheck. We noticed that none of Juliana’s guitars were onstage. Her mic and amp and pedals were there, but no guitars. So it was somewhat endearing to see Juliana part the rear curtain and hoist her guitars onto the stage — all by herself. She climbed up onto the stage and just kind of scooted her guitars around a bit on their stands until she felt like they were in the right places. She is so small and thin; photographs just don’t seem to capture how petite she really is. A kick or two to the plywood board with her pedals on it. A thorough check of her amp settings and mic positions. She dumped a handful of handwritten notes onstage, near her pedals, a safe distance away from anyone’s reach. I had heard from the band’s message board that these were “cheat sheets” for one or two news songs that she didn’t want to mess up. While she was still tinkering with various items, Freda and Heidi came onstage and were greeted by a warm applause. Everyone got their instruments ready and Juliana thanked everyone for coming to the show — making it a point clarify that this was a band and that they had recorded an album and would be playing mostly those songs along with a few new ones. This night would no doubt be like countless others, with someone who hadn’t paid attention calling out for her to play one of her own songs. It was nice that she at least tried to diffuse the false idea that this was a “Juliana show” with a backup band; no, this was a group. Emphasis.
After the intro, the Girls politely asked for setlists which had apparently not made it onstage yet. The tech dashed up and laid them down on the floor. I can tell you what the first song was. It was a cover of the Mysteries of Life’s “Native Tongue” — which, I believe, was written by Freda. It was just beautiful. For the life of me, I can’t tell you what order the other songs were played in, because I was pretty blissed out and wasn’t focusing on the details, but the band played all of the songs from the album as well as a cover of the Blake Babies’ “Nothing Ever Happens”, a song called “He’s On Drugs Again” (which rocked hardcore), a song called “When I Let My Guard Down” and another new song titled “That’s The Last Time I Fool Around With You.” The last song was the bluesy “Malted Milk” with Heidi playing a mean and lazy steel guitar. The encore was one song: an utterly goosebump-inducing rendition of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” with a stellar harmonica part played by Heidi and ending with Juliana singing “Only love can break your heart…” over and over again — acapella — in total silence. Man, it just gave me this tingly feeling.
After the show, Jessica and I waited around, as we had been advised, to see if we could meet the Girls. Heidi was the first person we got to talk to. She was genuinely nice and signed our CD cover and chatted a minute with us. We kept waiting, and I sort of figured that we’d never see Juliana but then there she was, tossing a tackle box onstage. She seemed a bit upset for some reason, so we were kind of hesitant to call out her name (we later learned that there were some very rude guys outside who had been making her angry). Besides, it’s just weird to be that close to someone you’ve admired over the years, but never actually seen. But Jessica was the brave one to call over to her. She came over to the edge of the stage, and Jessica told her about how we had come a long way to see the show and asked if we could have her sign our CD and take a quick picture with her. She asked if we could hang on because the crew was “on her ass” to get everything loaded onto the truck.
So we waited while she got her guitars stowed and her tackle box filled with her pedals. She disappeared backstage for a while, but then she made her way back over, just as she said she would, and apologized for making us wait. She said she felt sleep-deprived and tired, but sort of lit up a little when we told her we’d come from Texas to see the show. She said she didn’t think she was worthy, but Jessica assured her that she was. So she signed our CD and we got our picture (which I hope comes out good). But even without the picture, I still have my memories. It was just great. As we made our way to the door, we saw Freda at the merchandise table and got her autograph just as the bouncers were getting ready to use force to remove stragglers from the room.
I’m pretty sure that I speak for Jessica when I say that we’ve both been in a weird, semi-dream state since that night. It’s surreal to meet your heroes. Somehow it doesn’t seem poosible that we flew across the United States, saw our favorite musician perform and then got to talk to her. Now we’re home again — so quickly — and it all seems too impossible to be true. But it is. And we’re so glad we did it. We finally met the most influential person in our musical lives, and that’s worth more than anything.