We had such a blast at last year’s festival in Laporte, Indiana that we decided to go back for Hotel Blotto 2020. This time we booked our room far enough in advance that we were able to stay at the actual hotel instead of the one next door. Here’s a little run-down of our second time at Hotel Blotto.
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The festival kicked off with Mace Hathaway doing a solo acoustic set in the Atrium. We arrived a bit late because our son had two pieces in a student art show and we wanted to go to the reception. (Luckily, traffic going around Chicago was surprisingly light for a Friday evening, so we weren’t too late.) By the time we checked into the hotel and met up with our friends, Mace was already into his set. He was great, but we spent most of the set socializing.
Speaking of socializing, while hanging out in the Atrium, a guy tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to my astronomy shoes. Then he pointed to his shoes, which were also very colorful. I pointed to our friend Vivian, who was sporting her tie-dye shoes, and we noticed a young woman with another pair of interesting shoes. A photo-op ensued:
Next up was the headliner – Mr. Blotto. They opened with a bluesy number featuring keyboard player Steve Ball on the harp – sort of a warm-up for the following night’s theme. They broke into two amazing jams to close out the first set, both of which left me speechless. Their second set included a bunch of originals and covers, including The Beatles’ “She Said She Said” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and a version of “Stormy Monday” that made me think I was listening to the Allman Brothers.
Following three spectacular hours of Mr. Blotto, we headed over to the hotel bar to see Chester Brown‘s midnight show. It was late and we’re not as young as we used to be, so knowing that we’d see them again the next day, we only stayed for the first hour of their two-hour set. We also missed Fuzzlove, the 2 AM to 4 AM band who played in the Atrium. A music festival, like life in general, is full of trade-offs. We traded seeing the overnight bands in exchange for sleep so we’d be awake enough to enjoy the Saturday bands and have a safe drive home on Sunday.
Saturday got off to a rocking start with Lovers of the Sea, a very energetic and entertaining band who plays a lot of cruise ships.
Mid-afternoon we headed to the bar for the progressive bluegrass trio Miles Over Mountains. In addition to the great music, they entertained us with some funny anecdotes, like their arrival at the hotel late the previous night – they unlocked the door only to find that people were already in the room! After double-checking with the front desk, they discovered that they were supposed to be in room 249, not 239 – but the room key opened both rooms. (There were other issues with the hotel that I won’t go into. New owners took over last year and apparently they don’t have their act together just yet. But enough bad vibes – back to the music!)
Miles Over Mountains wrapped up their show with a bluegrass version of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which culminated with an all-out foot-stompin’ jam. It’s not the first bluegrass cover of that song I’ve heard, but it was one of the best. (I’m a big Who fan, by the way, so if I praise someone’s cover of a Who song, you know it’s great!)
Back to the Atrium at 4 PM, we saw a band called Alias Hillman, which made me wonder whether they perform under other names too ;-). They played a blend of originals and covers, with their rhythm section keeping a nice groove while the lead guitarist belted out some great riffs in various styles. e.g., at one point, I noticed shades of Jerry Garcia; other times he reminded me of David Gilmour. (Hey, he kind of looks like Gilmour, circa 1972.) The lead singer, Michelle Hallman, has a beautiful voice, which she highlighted with their cover of “White Rabbit” – coincidentally, a song that Mr. Blotto played at last year’s Hotel Blotto. More about Michelle later. Meanwhile, check out their set in this vid:
Later, as I was walking toward the bar to catch a full set of Chester Brown, I saw Mr. Blotto’s singer and rhythm guitarist, Paul Bolger, in the hallway. (He’s always checking out the other bands at the fest.) I don’t want to annoy celebrities, so I just said in passing, “You guys sounded great last night,” to which he replied, “Piss off you dirty peasant!” Just kidding, just kidding! Paul was very gracious – he smiled and humbly said, “Thank you.” It’s cool that he and the other members of Mr. Blotto go out and support the other bands and mingle with the crowd. Anyway, Chester Brown delivered another great performance, ending with a cool cover of Phish’s “Free.” And then came the main event: Mr. Blotto!
Like I said earlier, Mr. Blotto’s Friday performance was amazing – they were in the zone and they took me with them – so I wondered how they could possibly top that on Saturday. In short, they did! I don’t track setlists because I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of guy when it comes to concerts, so I’ll just say that the first set of the night started a little mellow and later evolved into a great jam that included Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” During the set break, we “slipped out the back” to grab a quick beer.
The Blues Brothers
Every year, Hotel Blotto has a special theme, and the band plays theme-related songs during their second set on Saturday. Remember the Blues Brothers scene in the bar that plays “both kinds of music – country AND western“? When Mr. Blotto played the opening to the “Rawhide” theme, the person next to me said, “I feel like we should be throwing beer bottles at the stage.” After a few other songs from the Blues Brothers soundtrack, they invited Michelle Hallman (from Alias Hillman) on stage for “Think” – the highlight of the set, in my opinion. She’d already knocked one out of the park with her Grace Slick impression on White Rabbit, and then she hit another home run covering Aretha Franklin. Check it out here:
We knew the 2 AM to 4 AM set was too late for us, but we did want to catch at least some of the midnight act, EGi, a very cool jam band out of Chicago. They were great and we managed to stay for about an hour before heading back to our room to crash for the night. Apologies to Alabaster for missing their 2 AM set. Maybe we’ll catch them when they play at Night at the Woodstock Opera, which isn’t too far from us.
Did You Miss It?
Miss the show? Well, it’s not the same as being there, but check out these videos of the entire weekend.
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