#349: Dallas and the Banjo

July 21st, 2014

“You’re coming from Pitchfork, I assume,” he said as he leaned forward on his banjo.

“No,” I said. “I live here. I’m just walking around. I guess there would be a lot of people coming from there.”

“Yeah,” he said, flicking a thumb wrapped in a curved plastic pick toward the south. “Union Park’s just down there.”

He nodded and held up his wrist as if he had a watch on it.

“In about half an hour, there’s going to be hundreds of people coming this way,” he said.

His name was Dallas. He was young and hippie. Long sandy hair hanging parted down the middle. A beard circling a wide, gripping smile. By a doorway along Ashland, north of a glowing greasy spoon that still called dogs “Red Hots” and south of one selling pizza by the slice, he strummed a banjo and waited for the crowds.

His strumming was simple and pretty. Classic bluegrass, for all I know from banjo. Not quite songs or verses, but simple strumming, chord changes coming whenever he felt interested in one.

“I didn’t go this year,” he said. “But I like to watch people coming back from it.”

“Serenade them?” I joked.

“Serenade them,” he laughed.

A few early departures from the music fest had already started by. A few stumbly young women. A few older men in Neutral Milk Hotel T-shirts, toting bags of posters and other merchandise. A few young guys in full hip-hop regalia.

“’22 Jump Street’ funny as shit,” one of the young guys said.

Tucked in a small, dark slip of a neon-lit street, flanked by glowing signs for red hots and pizza, as cars raced by and more and more music fans wandered up the sidewalk, as the night darkened and the Sears Tower skyline glowed over a gas station, Dallas strummed his banjo, carving out a few moments of peace in simple bluegrass chords he changed up only when he wanted.

“I like to sit out here, drink a little and watch people come by,” he said.

“It’s a good night for it,” I replied.

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