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During His Musical Bike Tour, Al Scorch Discusses the Perks of Car-Free Gigs

Al Scorch rides a bike decorated to look like the heart-pierced-with-swords emblem from his album cover, while towing his banjo and guitar. Photo: John Greenfield

In a Chicago Reader cover story this week, rising banjo star Al Scorch credits the local bike advocacy community with helping to launch his music career:

I played this show at the Hideout when I was 18. It was a benefit for Bike Winter, which is a winter-biking education advocacy group. One of my first communities in Chicago, before the music community, was the bicycle-­activism community around Critical Mass—in 2000 to 2004 or 2005. That and Rat Patrol [freak bike gang]. My world was bicycles – and it was simultaneously music.

The bike procession passes by Horner Park at Irving Park and California. Photo: John Greenfield

On Saturday Scorch, who worked for years at West Town Bikes, gave a shout-out of sorts to the local bike scene. To celebrate the release of his new album of high-octane, five-string-fueled “country soul” music, entitled Circle Round the Signs, he led a bike tour of five local record shops. Scorch and his band hauled all their instruments – including banjo, fiddle, drums, and upright bass – by bike, and then did an in-store performance at each store.

Dozens of bike riders joined the group for a bike procession the size of a small Critical Mass ride. The turnout included double-decker tall bikes, chopper bikes with extra-long forks, a tricycle with a giant cooler box hauling beef and vegan tacos, and a pedicab blaring a house music remix of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Scorch's drummer loads his bike outside Laurie's Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Scorch hauled his banjo and guitar and a Fresh Air trailer while riding a bike decorated to look like one of the sword-pierced hearts from his album cover. During the leg of the tour I rode on, bystanders on foot and in vehicles gave a warm reception to the colorful parade.

As Scorch tuned his banjo before playing at Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Avondale, I buttonholed him for a quick interview about why he prefers to tour on two wheels.

How to safely transport a stand-up bass by bicycle. Photo: John Greenfield

John Greenfield: Where’d you get the idea to do your musical tour by bike?

Al Scorch: It’s just a natural extension of being a musician who gets around by bike, who bikes to gigs in the city, and spends time riding bikes with my friends. It just made sense.

JG: Do you guys normally transport all your stuff to gigs by bike?

AS: We used to do that all the time when we first started playing. Now we sometimes use a motor vehicle, but in the city we try to bike to as many gigs as possible.

Al Scorch and the Country Soul Ensemble perform at Bucket O' Blood. Photo: John Greenfield

JG: What are the advantages of that?

AS: You never have to look for parking, ever. You can enjoy a few beverages if you like. It’s low-cost and it doesn’t kill the world [laughs]. It helps the world keep living.

JG: What’s the most exciting thing about this day for you, in terms of touring the city’s record shops by bike?

AS: Just getting to share this thing that’s very much a part of our everyday lives with everybody, and getting to take people on tour. Thanks to everyone who came out to ride with us!

See more lots more photos from Saturday’s bike tour here.

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