In 2017, I attended my first Progtoberfest at Reggie’s in Chicago, Illinois. It was three days of music featuring 39 bands on two stages. I’m proud to say I caught at least half the set of 38 performances.
Band sets were divided between those playing in Reggie’s Music Joint (a small room basically equivalent to playing in a bar) and the Rock Club (which is fairly self-explanatory). At one point I found myself backstage talking to Mike Keneally, whose band had just completed its set. Mike wrote the foreword for my book, and I always told him I owed him a beer when we finally connected. The time had come.
We came out and into the Rock Club just in time to catch the opening strains of the Chicago Zappa Ensemble, a group of young and immensely talented musicians with the bravery to take on the music of one of the most important (and complex) composers of the 20th century, Frank Zappa.
Mike played in Zappa’s band in 1988, so we were all but obligated to listen to this group as they took on the Joe’s Garage album. And they were nailing it! I was particularly taken by the efforts of the band’s lead guitarist, whom I would come to find out was a man named Chris Siebold. He was firing off solos with high intensity, even as his fingers seemed to move effortlessly. It was a sight to behold. Mike was equally impressed as we both fixated on Chris.
Like just about any musician these days, Chris is a member of more than one band. I wound up seeing him again — this time online — as a member of a fusion band called Kick the Cat. Their music was not only influenced by Zappa, but by Brand X, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and other fusion acts. There was a lot of talent on that stage, including drummer Kris Myers, who also plays for Umphrey’s McGee.
I vowed to myself that I would catch this band live as things slowly started to loosen up from the world’s locked down stage. Kick the Cat had just released a fabulous new album called Gurgle. I paid to see a live stream of the band, but I still wanted to catch them in person.
Before I could do that, Chris had assembled yet another band, this one taking on Zappa’s legendary Hot Rats album. Needless to say, this would be no small feat. But Chris found the right people for the job, and their performance was as close to flawless as you can get. Chris was clearly the band’s focal point, but his performance was that of a musician playing the role of component. He was in no way interested in dominating the proceedings. He was part of the whole, regardless of how brilliantly he went about it.
While Chris’s guitar playing burns with white-hot intensity, he is not even remotely like that in conversation. I’m fact, he is almost shy and gets a bit embarrassed when people compliment his skills. To me, that’s the mark of a true musician. And like so many of us, Chris loves to talk about music. Our first real chat was after the Hot Rats gig, where we leaned against the bar at Reggie’s and went on about the bands and albums we held most dear. There was nowhere else one would rather be.
A man playing difficult material in multiple bands can be hard to nail down for a chat. That fretboard magic doesn’t just happen. Practicing must be done, to say nothing of all the other less-tan-glamourous things that must be accomplished in the name of the music business. When it comes to coordinating talks, “sure thing” appointments must sometimes give way to “stuff happens.” In fact, we went through a couple of false starts before everything fell into place. Lucky for me — for all of us, really — Chris was kind enough to work me into his very busy schedule for an enjoyable CirdecSongs Interview.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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