Backstage at House of Blues: Five hours in the life of tomorrow’s rock stars
Loop North News


Backstage at House of Blues…
Five hours in the life of tomorrow’s rock stars

Photo by Steven Dahlman (Left) 9:02 p.m., Saturday, July 21. The Chicago band that named itself “Marina City” performs for the second time in less than four months at the original Marina City’s House of Blues.

At House of Blues in downtown Chicago on Saturday, we went looking for the glamorous lifestyle of pampered rockers. The roadies to unload and load their gear, the luxurious dressing rooms, the groupies, and the thousands of adoring fans. A few minutes of “work” on stage strumming a guitar and then back to the fancy tour bus and on to the next gig.

Wow, were we disappointed.

3:59 p.m.

Five hours and three minutes to show time. Back from a quick lunch break and stop at Jamba Juice, the Chicago band that named itself Marina City is in the bowels of the Marina City complex, walking down a private driveway off Kinzie Street to the humble marina-level loading dock of House of Blues. Dark and unpaved, it is the same loading area used for food deliveries.

Five bands will perform that night, starting with Satellites at 7:30, followed by The Rails, Marina City, Verona Red, and the headliner, King By Friday. The first three acts will have a half-hour; Verona Red will have 35 minutes and King By Friday, an hour. 15 minutes will separate each act.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

4:04 p.m.

A U-Haul trailer with the band’s gear backs up to the receiving area at House of Blues. The band, their manager, and a few friends help unload. Click on images to view larger versions.

(Below) The gear is going here first, a freight elevator that will take everyone up to an area backstage.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

Photo by Steven Dahlman

4:16 p.m. Lead singer Ryan Alan carries a Marshall amp to the freight elevator. At right is drummer Eric Somers-Urrea.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Above) Arriving backstage, gear first gets stowed in this narrow room directly behind the stage. It is filled to the rafters with electronic equipment, cables, reminders to performers, and concert set lists.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

4:32 p.m.

It is four hours and 30 minutes until Marina City takes the stage, three hours until the first band performs, and less than two and half hours until the doors open at House of Blues. Sound technicians are getting settled. A guitarist practices on stage. In the large empty space where hundreds of fans will soon stand, the band assembles things like the drum set and a large “Marina City” sign. At left are keyboardist Matt Gaudiano and lead guitarist Ricky Sutton. At right, Somers-Urrea.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

4:59 p.m.

As the band splits up, at least for the next couple hours, they keep in touch by mobile phone. Here, carrying wardrobe, Ryan checks in from the freight elevator. At left is a member of the opening band, Satellites.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

5:19 p.m.

There is now some time to relax. The bands share a large common area on the top floor of House of Blues, comfortable and eclectically decorated, each with a bathroom that includes a shower. They can watch the stage on a television monitor, plug a guitar into an amp to practice, or take an instrument into the hallway where concrete walls will add luxurious reverb. The refrigerator is well stocked with water, soda, and beer but an HOB employee comes through and reminds the under-21 band members they cannot drink.

Time slows down a little. The band will check messages, listen to tunes, clown around in their dressing room, and chat with the other bands.

Asked what is different this time from the band’s first appearance at House of Blues on March 31, lead singer Ryan Alan replies, “It’s a whole new world. Same place but different atmosphere.”

“This time, we were more familiar with what was going on,” says Ryan. “These bands that we’re playing with today, we’re all kind of the same. We don’t feel like we need to impress one another. We’re doing this together to impress a crowd.”

Though each member has played in other bands, such as American Riot, Another Perfect Getaway, A Fire In The Attic, and The Valley Jumpers, their first gig together was at House of Blues. Their second concert was a music competition at Columbia College in which they won second place out of 13 bands. Since then, they have played at Metropia Music & Arts Fest in Chicago, Rockapalooza in Michigan, in Indiana, and at other shows no more than two hours away. An album, In The Wake Of Dreaming, has been out for a few months.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Above) A tradition at House of Blues. The bathroom walls are covered with a layer of graffiti left by performers dating back to 1996 when HOB opened at Marina City. Here, directly below an autograph by Michael J. Fox, the band Marina City has tagged during its first HOB appearance on March 31, 2012. At upper left is the autograph of comedian Bob Saget.

Photo by Steven Dahlman Photo by Steven Dahlman
5:59 p.m. With four hours and three minutes to go, Ricky Sutton plugs in to warm up. 6:15 p.m. Back down on the stage, Matt Gaudiano assembles his keyboard.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

7:14 p.m.

A lighter moment as Eric amuses fellow band member Ryan, who has borrowed a guitar. Between them is a member of The Rails.

Photo by Steven Dahlman Photo by Steven Dahlman

8:20 p.m. The Rails have just gone on stage. Marina City is next and the mood is starting to get serious. An app on Ryan’s laptop takes the band’s vocalists through a series of increasingly complex voice exercises. Hot tea helps warm the voices. At right is rhythm guitarist Brian Johnson.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

8:37 p.m.

Dressing room, 25 minutes before show time. Left to right, Ricky Sutton, a member of the band Verona Red, bass guitarist Nick Mooneyham, and Brian Johnson.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

8:42 p.m.

It is off to work. Matt, Ryan, and Nick walk down three flights of stairs to the stage.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

8:44 p.m.

Their first stop is the narrow room behind the stage. Nervous and focused, the band waits a few more minutes for The Rails, a group they have been watching and admiring, to finish its set. During this time, they must transform themselves from nice suburban kids from Plainfield, Naperville, and Joliet to bad boys of rock and roll. Left to right, Matt, Nick, Eric, Ryan, and Ricky from Marina City. At far right, George from House of Blues.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

8:45 p.m.

Backstage, keyboardist Matt Gaudiano stretches. Brian Johnson does some last-minute guitar tuning. Ryan puts in earphones that will allow him to monitor the amplified sound.

8:49 p.m.

The Rails end their set. With the curtain down in front of the audience, a smaller curtain in back opens and Marina City takes the stage. Although few in the audience would ever know, the show did start a few minutes late and has stayed that way through the first two bands. Marina City, however, will need just 12 minutes to get ready.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

8:58 p.m.

“Drummer, play something!” Four minutes to show time and the area behind the curtain is in a controlled frenzy. As one band tears down, the next band sets up. Here, Ryan checks in with HOB sound engineers just off stage left. They will want to know which audio feed each band member wants to monitor in his earpiece.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

9:01 p.m.

With fog machines sprinkling atmosphere from above, there is just barely enough time for one last huddle.

Borrowing from a television show about a high school football team, Eric yells, “Clear eyes, full hearts!” The band then yells, “Can not lose!”

– 23-Jul-12

Listen to Marina City rehearse in their dressing room…

Duration: 1:02

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News |

Published 23-Jul-12 4:50 AM

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