Piano, Pageants & Politics

I'm Getting Older Too: Summer, Chicago and Songwriting

Two things recently happened that made me feel incredibly old; I attended the wedding of a highschool friend and I stopped getting carded at bars. Am I complaining about being old in my early twenties? Not quite. However, these occurrences were a friendly reminder that time is not stopping (or even slowing down) for me. Or anyone else, for that matter. I’m not in college anymore. “Someday” is becoming less and less of a valid excuse. If not now, when? If not me, who?

It is also startling that we are already in September. The majority of 2017 has passed and what do I have to show for it? Scrolling through social media and seeing all of the 2018 Miss America contestants is also a friendly reminder that already a year ago, I was representing my home on the national stage as Miss Massachusetts. A year ago...Already? How?

This year has been instrumental, especially for my personal growth. I said goodbye to a lot of “constants” in my life because I knew the stability was holding me back. While the comfort zone is a pretty place, not a hell of a lot grows there. Luckily for me, my comfort zone started cultivating restlessness, a small weed that eventually grew and invaded until I could no longer suppress it. And it was great. But everything is great in the summer (*background vocals* "in the summer"); work is a little less stressful, traffic is a little less hectic and the sunshine makes even the grumpiest people a little more pleasant.

While I love Fall like most Bostonians, I hate what it forecasts: long, cold New England winters, being cooped up inside, getting into a freezing car after the gig and a perennial called "seasonal depression". Somewhere in that whirlwind, we celebrate the New Year, the annual reminder that time is passing, by making unrealistic promises for the upcoming year to replace all of our shortcomings from the previous one.

Before bracing myself for September and its aftermath, I decided a mini-adventure was just what I needed to obtain closure with my eventful and emotional summer. On a quest to recenter, invigorate my creative juices, harvest as much inspiration as I possibly could before hibernation and just have some fun, I hopped on a plane to Chicago with my backpack, a sense of adventure and robust enthusiasm about exploring a new city (anything else and Spirit Airlines would’ve charged me extra).

Frank Sinatra and I agree on most things, and Chicago was no exception; it was my kind of town. My itinerary featured plenty of live music, donuts, architectural wonders and oddities to satisfy the soul (and Instagram grid). Highlights on the #DonutTrail include Glazed and Infused’s nationally ranked red velvet donut (who knew that there were official rankings for such things), Do-Rite’s addictive Blueberry Crumb (accurately described on the menu as “cake donut, game changer”) and of course, the fresh, warm, gooey “bombos” from BomboBar that will fulfill all of your donut fantasies.

Throughout the summer, Millennium Park hosts free outdoor concerts on Monday and Thursday nights. I was lucky enough to catch the last show of the season featuring the extremely talented (but stylistically diametric) Wild Belle and Sam Trump (“for trumpet”, he clarified). A soulful singer with some mean chops, Trump spread nothing but love and positivity with his jazzy mix of covers and originals. Wild Belle, a super-hip brother-sister duo, were simply groovy; the vibe was a cool mix of psychedelic sounds, reggae and energy from their hometown audience.

In a case of complete serendipity, Robby Celestin and I crossed paths on the internet (which sounds a lot more creepier than it actually is) while I was in Chicago. Robby is a professional singer, songwriter, actor and all-around great guy. He also runs a rad podcast called “A Chatter of Fact” featuring the movers and shakers of Chicago’s artistic community. On a whim, he graciously asked me if I’d be down for an interview while in town and less than 24 hours later, we recorded an LOL-worthy episode, fueled by one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had in my life. I can’t wait to share the link once it is released, but for now, you can check out Robby and his musical adventures here.

Somewhere in our conversation, Robby recommended that I stop by the Underground Wonderbar, a late-night jazz club that hosts a pro-jam on Tuesday nights. More likely to trust the opinion of a fellow professional musician over a Yelp! review, I had to check it out. Chicago’s top players, touring musicians and the occasional celebrity drop in to jam with other performers of their caliber and the result was magic. It was bittersweet; while I was glad I got to experience Chicago’s best kept secret, that Tuesday, I learned, was their last Tuesday. The Underground Wonderbar was closing after 28 years.

I couldn’t leave Chicago without stopping by the Redhead Piano Bar, the little piece of piano bar history that folks have been telling me about since I began performing on the circuit at 17. Honestly, it was like any other piano bar: small, dark and something out of a different time period. Customers sat around the piano, singing along (terribly) to the performer doing his very best to translate rock songs into piano arrangements. Because it was a weeknight, it was a “drunk businessman” sorta crowd. On the wall, a headshot of perhaps their most famous patron, Billy Joel, was proudly displayed, next to the roster of resident performers. Piano bars are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed the joint’s character and authenticity. Just don’t ask to hear “Sweet Caroline” in Chicago.

Other places I’d recommend to check out in Chicago include the Lincoln Park Zoo, where you can visit some of Harambe’s cousins (for free), Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities, a whimsical collection of specimens, collectibles and nightmares and Buckingham Fountain, which only makes $200 a year from coin-tossing, despite being one of the world’s biggest fountains. If you can get your hands on a helicopter, that view is pretty spectacular too. (Still not convinced to visit Chicago? Here’s $40 to put towards your stay on AirBnb.)

Landing in Boston, an hour before my next gig, I felt eager, inspired (and very full). I've only recently realized that taking time to recenter and explore is an important part of running efficiently. Despite the box of sweaters coming out of the closet, I wrote a lot of material that week, which I'm excited to lay down in the studio later this month. For the first time, the thought of releasing songs is making me anxious though. They're very honest, very revealing and make me feel very vulnerable (more vulnerable that wearing a bikini on live television). However, over the years in show business, I've learned that some people are going to love what I have to say and others are going to hate it. You can be the ripest, juiciest peach on the tree, but there are still going to be some partypoopers (like me) that just don't like peaches. I can't censor myself in fear of upsetting a few.

I guess some wisdom, like not giving a shi(cago) about what other people think, is one of the benefits that comes with age.