Illinois in the Middle

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Last weekend I was in Champaign, IL, a place that felt like it should be dead-center in the middle of a cast-iron pancake griddle. On one side of the interstate were rows of new construction homes, while on the other, ploughed fields reaching out to the horizon with deep, dark tendrils. I find it hard to believe that this state, as rural and authentic as it is, has (or apparently will have) both of its past two governors serving time in the clink. Such strange un-midwestern values.

eric_petersThe Friday show was hosted by some friends of mine who were having mercy upon me by putting the thing on in the first place. If you are on my mailing list, then you probably received my recent desperate plea for shows, what with the sour state of the overall economy. Stacy and Jose answered my beggary with an invitation to play in their town of Naperville, a western suburb of Chicago. Aside from my growing impatience with the 15-year old sound guy/boy who apparently knew exactly what I needed in my monitors, therefore disallowing any of my offered suggestions, it was a nice and pleasing show complete with a promise to read Beowulf this summer. Jose Rivera and Ben Thomas both played a few songs and stole the show. Hot chicken wings and cold, frosty beverages followed.
Saturday was a two-hour trip through north-central Illinois with Genevieve trying to guide me along routes I chose not to follow. Instead, I turned off the dreadful interstate and followed the Kankakee River’s edge for several miles to the town of Kankakee where I rejoined another north-south interstate to the city of Champaign. Along the two-lane river highway, I listened to my friend Andrew Osenga’s spectacular album, Photographs, in which he sings of that very waterway now positioned, snaking brown and fluid, along my left shoulder. I still love that album. You should, too.

An hour later, I arrived at my friend Phil’s place where he was finishing polishing his black Yamaha (before it got rained on), and two of his boys were shooting basketball in the driveway. We proceeded to play a quick game of Fog (not to be confused with Pig) where I completely dominated the match. I believe my sky hook ultimately won it. What can I say, short people were born to be point guards.

It was a bachelor pad weekend, since Phil’s wife (and amazing chef) Bethany was out of town. Saturday night we ate brats, drank Newcastle and watched 80’s freaky-strange film, “Big Trouble in Little China”, a movie I somehow never saw while growing up. Turns out, it was probably for the best. Someone please tell me the point of the greasy monster that appears in a grand total of three brief, senseless scenes? Also, were all 80’s movies over-acted? Or was it just John Carpenter at work?

Sunday morning I played a song at the morning services in hopes of luring folks out to the free concert that night. Though I didn’t completely scare everyone off, there were around 30-40 folks out on a damp, chilly evening.  And they were a quiet crowd. That threw me off, and I just got plain weird as the night wore on. I had a great time, but I’m sure my oddities left a few folks scratching their midwestern heads. Folks were gracious in their giving, and since these were the first shows I did as part of my new “I’ll play for any amount, including free” proposal, I’d say it was well worth my time away from home. Faith sometimes feels like murder, but these days it is good to wither to self. Duly noted.

Profile photo of Eric Peters

Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.


10 Comments

  1. Beth

    How fun for me when my hometown gets a shout-out from one of my favorite blogs 🙂 I’m in Seattle now, but I’m very jealous that you got to visit C-U in the springtime 🙂 Which church did you play at? I’m very curious about their quietness- that’s unusual for C-U. I will say that the shoegaziness at just about every show in Seattle I’ve been to makes Chambana look like a mosh pit in comparison.

  2. evie

    I love…..

    #1: LOVE this glimpse into the daily life of Eric Peters, especially because you ignored the directions and were magnetically drawn to the waterway. When in doubt, follow the river.

    #2: “Short people were born to be point guards.”

    #3: “Big Trouble in Little China” — Kurt Russell at his finest, man! I remember renting the VHS (along with the VCR needed in order to play said VHS) when my sister and I were planning our onslaught of wildness and debauchery (including but not limited to frozen pizzas and Capri Suns) when informed that a babysitter was on the way. I do believe that I recorded in my coloring book (which doubled as a diary) that night “Big Trouble in Little China” as my favorite movie of all time. I was nine years old. See? I was pop-culture-savvy even way back then.

    #4: Your last two sentences. Good, good words. Needed words.

  3. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Eric,

    Beautiful. I don’t know if you remember or not, but my hometown is about 20 minutes from Champaign, right in the middle of the corn. It’s such beautiful country to me.

    Also, like Evie, “Big Trouble” was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. I re-watched it with the gang on tour a few years ago and was terribly self-conscious at its hokeyness. I still quote that movie from time to time, Lo Pan.

    AP

  4. Tony Heringer

    Eric,

    Kankakee is one of my favorite Osenga songs and I too am a big fan of that album. Having it play as you travel beside that river is similar to what I did as we were driving toward the Grand Canyon. I had “Nothing To Say” playing. It’s fun to play a tune of this type in the locale that inspired it.

    I too am a fan of “Big Trouble…’ but unlike the young ‘uns I was fresh out of college working here in Atlanta. Kurt Russell was definitely over the top in this movie. I think he is spoofing some combination of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. I think that’s what I loved about it.

  5. Rob Dunbar

    Eric,
    So now you’ve seen some of the different sides of Illinois. You weren’t far from my hometown of Dixon, on the Rock River (70 miles down Interstate 88 from Naperville). And they say Illinois is just flatland!

    Gotta admit, I’ve had a hankering to re-watch “Big Trouble.” Hey, it beats “Howard the Duck”! (Hmm…maybe all 80s movies _were_ overacted!)

    A few years ago I saw one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to: Glenn Kaiser playing to a crowd of, maybe, 25 or 30 at a rained-out festival whose venue had been moved at the last minute. My wife, kids, and I had a great time talking to him after the concert (which he’d done for free). I’m betting those Champaign folks enjoyed the moment; we’re just kind of reserved at times here in downstate Illinois. Blessings!

  6. Tony Heringer

    Eric,

    Footnote (pun intended) I’m finishing up my run out on the Suwanee greenway today listening to some random playlist and Kankakee comes on. The last part of my run was next to Suwanee Creek which was flowing strong due to a nice rain last night. There is a line in that song that gets me every time its something like “I need to know what angels and demons are a part of me” which this morning brought to mind the pastor from Brazil I met last week. Over the course of our dinner we discovered that we are related. His grandmother’s maiden name is Heringer. She is a blond haired, blue eyed woman.

    Over the years I’ve come to find my family name (German) in his country right down to my namesake: a Brazilian Tony Heringer who contacted me a few years ago. This pastor related to me that our family comes from a small village in Germany. Our family there was mainly associated with Lutheran church. From one of my Kentucky relatives I’ve learned that my family also had ties to the Nazi party which likely explains the Heringer family’s presence in Brazil.

    So, I’m thinking about this as that line flows over my mind. To be connected with two great revolutions one for greater good lead by Luther and one for despicable evil led by Hitler brought that line out to me in a strong way as I huffed and puffed to the end of my run.

    Oh, and there were, as usual, rabbits all along the trail. How could not think of this place with all those furry reminders along the way. 🙂

  7. David Van Buskirk

    Big Trouble in Little China is one of my all-time favorite movies. I own the DVD. When I was a kid I thought Jack Burton was just about the coolest guy in town and I wanted to be like him. When he catches the dagger and throws it back. . . my young mind forever changed.

    It wasn’t until I revisited the movie in college that I realized that Mr. Burton is a bit of a chump. Perhaps my emulation explains the lingering touch of dorkiness on my life.

  8. Profile photo of Eric Peters

    Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    Beth, I played at Savoy UMC on the outskirts of Champaign/”Chambana”. They were a really nice group of folks.

    AP, I completely forgot you were born in the land of Lincoln between the rows of corn. What town??

    Rob, speaking of Glenn Kaiser, I’m playing a show with him tonight here in Baton Rouge, LA, home of the mighty Fighting Tigers (for you sports fans).

    Finally, speaking of five-page books… UPS just delivered my new (and first!) book, “Revenge of the Birds”. I’m hoping my RR post describing it will show up in the queue soon, but it’s an epic adventure space book that is a healthy five pages long. You can order your copy from my website: http://www.ericpeters.net. It will eventually be available here in the Rabbit Room. Cheers, and beware the venomous tarantulas.

  9. Beth

    Very cool 🙂 Savoy’s been growing like mad in the last decade (well, for a suburb of a Midwest college town). Neat. 🙂

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