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