By Punch Pep Correspondent Elizabeth Fischer
Another â€œrockâ€-solid plug for an up and coming performerâ€“ be able to say â€“ I saw her whenâ€¦ (same as me about Sheryl Crow who I first saw play on the Landing in Downtown St. Louis for a July 4th celebration).Â I first introduced this artist last month with my article â€œGift, Bonding Relationship, Tragedy, New Beginnings, & A Year Full of Promise â€“ Rachel Levitin.â€Â Now I reintroduce her, in her own words, with a Q & A about her tour.Â To hear Rachel play come to the Capital City Showcase (details below).
In her short 22+ years, Rachel has experienced loss on a level not familiar to most â€“ in 2009 she lost her dog, her father and both her grandmothers.Â Yet with her tragedy came her vision.Â And this year, specks of Rachelâ€™s vision proliferated to fruition as her sadness fog lifted.Â Rachel discovered (or in some cases rediscovered) her voice, her journey, a talent to be shared with others, a story to inspire, studio time, and, of course, her tour.
Rachelâ€™s winter tour began on Thursday, November 17, 2011 in the Washington DC area.Â Her first stop was Fireflies Delray in Alexandria, Va. She then hopped an Amtrak for a 17 hour trek to Chicago (nothing like simplicity).Â On November 20, 2011, she played 2 concerts: 1st at Michigan City Public Library in Michigan, IN; and 2nd at Uncommon Ground in Chicago, IL.Â She completed her tour with performances on November 21, 2011 in Champaign IL and November 25/26, 2011 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.
Elizabeth Fischer: Describe for me the cities & venues where you played – how each differed â€“ how they were the same; and did you have a favorite venue?
Rachel Levitin: Each stop had a unique vibe.Â Fireflies in Alexandria, Va. is a neighborhood type restaurant and bar that has live music every day of the week. The patrons come to expect it as part of their night out.Â Not too many folks are intensely paying attention but they tend to be a respectful audience who lets you do your thing on stage during their night out.Â A few fans who hadnâ€™t seen me live before made it out and my good friend Dan Wolff (Side Note: Heâ€™s another local artist whose starting to make quite a name for himself â€¦ look him up) opened up the night for me. Â Itâ€™s always fun to share the stage with Dan. Â Heâ€™s a talented guy and his songs are totally something youâ€™d hear on The CW or in a romantic comedy.
The Michigan City Public Library graciously invited me to be a part of their Sunday entertainment series.Â Theyâ€™ve hosted authors, musicians, and the like as part of the series. We packed the house.Â There wasnâ€™t an empty seat in the room. Â The audience was engaged since half the room had known me since I was born; and the other half had heard about me from the front page feature story that ran in the townâ€™s newspaper earlier that the week.Â Some of the fans even knew the songs! Â That meant a lot me.
Uncommon Ground in Chicago is a venue Iâ€™ve wanted to play since I first started writing songs. Â I went to grade school nearby and had lived close to the venue my entire life.Â Playing that room to a packed house just made the whole experience that much more special to me.Â Now I can say â€œYeah, I played my first encore at Uncommon Ground.â€Â There will always be a special place in my heart for that place and I canâ€™t wait to get back there in 2012 and pack it yet again.
EF: Did you play the same set at each venue?
RL: I did for the most part.Â I swapped the order of a few songs once I got to Indiana after Virginia.Â The Fireflies show was a great excuse to test out the set list and see what worked best where.Â The art of crafting a set list is knowing what works at one place might not work at another. Â Itâ€™s always going to be a work-in-progress that forces you to pay attention to the audience. Â Youâ€™ve got to engage them, play what they want to hear and keep them entertained. Â Writing the songs is for me, playing them is for the audience â€“ thatâ€™s what I try to keep in mind when making my song selections for a live show.
What was it like playing 2 venues the same day?
It was a whirlwind adventure. Â My mom got to play roadie for the day as we shuttled back and forth between Chicago to Indiana and back. Â Packed up the car and left pretty early that morning from downtown Chicago to jet about an hour east to Michigan City. Â Got to Indiana with enough time to grab lunch with my grandpa and change clothes. Â We even had the dog with us in the car which added to the whole road trip experience of the day. Â Made it back to Chicago with just enough time to freshen up and head to the next venue where I took some alone time to regroup. Â It was such a thrilling experience to be treated as a professional wherever I went that day. Â It was that day that I truly learned what they mean by patience being a virtue. Â I waited a long time to live out a day like that and now that I have â€¦ I only want to do it again and again and again.
EF: Describe your feelings before, during and after each performance; and when the mini tour ended?
RL: My excitement level was at an all time high before, during and after â€“ my closest friends can attest to that fact so, itâ€™s no exaggeration. Â I think the best moment, though, was right after my encore in Chicago when I was greeted by friends and family. Â It just felt right. Â Not only was I in my hometown of Chicago performing to a packed house but it truly felt like I was â€œhome.â€
EF: Did the tour inspire any new songs or material?
RL: I came up with a few new song ideas on the road but havenâ€™t finished anything yet. Â I had some time at the end of the tour over Thanksgiving while I was in Minnesota on the farm with my family where my younger cousins feverishly requested that I teach them guitar. Teaching them helped me work out a few ideas I had been working on.Â But you will just have to wait!
EF: Most exciting thing happened? most memorable experience?
RL: The tour generated a little bit of press that ended up landing my face on the front page of the same NW Indiana newspaper in less than a week. Â I had no clue when I did the initial phone interview with one of their staff reporters that Iâ€™d be front page news but when my grandpa called me up that morning to tell me thatâ€™s what happened I couldnâ€™t believe it. Â I was ecstatic and speechless all at once. There were no words to describe what it felt like to know that, if only for a day, I was front page news somewhere in this big world for playing music I had written.
There was also a funny moment while I was finishing up the sound check for the Michigan City show. Â A couple of nice elderly ladies approached as they were scoping out a good seat up front. Â One of them looked right at me and said, â€œYou look shorter than your newspaper photo.â€ Â My mom asked me about that later. Â We both had a nice giggle out of it. Â That was the first time I had ever been recognized like that.
EF: Most impressionable moment?
RL: I got to live out my first encore call. Â Never in my life as a solo performer had I ever been asked to play an encore. Â Lucky for me, my first encore came in my hometown of Chicago. Â It was a humbling moment. Â I was ready to pack it in because my time was already up but the fans wouldnâ€™t have it. Â All their hootinâ€™ and hollerinâ€™ caught the attention of the sound technician who went and gave me the go-ahead to play once last song. Â It was probably the most fun I had the entire tour.
EF: Describe the train ride.
RL: The ride consisted of a Glee Season Two marathon on my laptop and a few stops to the snack bar for some scotch and soda. Â It was really pretty relaxing to tell the truth. Â The only thing that truly sucks after sitting on a train for 18-hours is that you feel all gross. Â All I wanted when I stepped off that train was a hot meal and a shower â€¦ My favorite part of taking the Amtrak is that you get to see some pretty cool stuff from your seat. Â Passing through Pittsburgh, we got to see PNC Park where the Pirates play. Â Iâ€™ve never been to the park for a game, but as a huge Major League Baseball fan, that was pretty awesome to see it all lit up at night in the middle of the off season.
EF: Any thoughts of your father? What does this mean for you given your childhood moments, the last 2 years, his death, & your future?
RL: I canâ€™t lie. Â Itâ€™s still really weird going home and him not being there â€“ especially at my concerts.Â After his heart transplant he had a lot of recovering to do and wasnâ€™t working a day job for awhile. Â That was when he really became Super Dad. Â Mom had to work twice as hard at her job just so we could all keep living as usual which meant Dad was the one who chauffeured my sister and I to school while running errands during the day and tending to the household duties. Â Since he wasnâ€™t working, he became known as the one parent to attend every single sporting event my sister and I played in or every concert we ever performed. Â The man was at EVERYTHING and thatâ€™s no exaggeration.
This was the first time since I left for college that anyone in my family had seen me perform live. Â My grandpa was there with my mom in Michigan City and then my younger sister, mother, aunt and uncle were all there in Chicago. Â The Chicago show was probably the first time I had seen so many of my close family friends, who might as well be blood, all in one place since the funeral. Â It was nice to get together for a happy reason. Â I like to think that even though he wasnâ€™t physically there, my dad was hiding somewhere in a corner smiling incessantly while having to take off his glasses every few minutes to wipe away tears of joy.
EF: Did you learn anything about yourself during the tour & the process leading up to the tour?
RL: I undertook the task of organizing and executing the tour to prove to myself that I could do it. Â Now thatâ€™s all said and done, I know that I can make pretty much any project related to my music happen as long as I put the time and effort into it. Â Itâ€™s an accomplishment that I am very proud of.Â Itâ€™s like Doctor Emmet Brown once told Marty McFly: â€œIf you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.â€ I truly believe that.
EF: What do you want others to know about you?
RL: Iâ€™m hard at work in the studio with the brilliant Dave Mallen of Innovation Station Music in Arlington, Va. Â Weâ€™re in the pre-production stage of my new record, which will be my first multi-instrumental affair. Â The songs have been picked and now weâ€™re tightening them up. Dave assures me that this record will be nothing short of awesome and I have every reason to believe that heâ€™s right. Â Iâ€™ve heard some of the tracks heâ€™s produced in the past. Â This guyâ€™s work has garnered honors and accolades. Â Heâ€™s a voting member of the Recording Academy. Â I can confidently say that I trust in Dave and that working with him has already taught me so much about making music.Â Thereâ€™s a huge difference between going into a studio, laying down tracks in a day, and then packaging an album (which is what Iâ€™ve done in the past). Â What weâ€™re doing at Innovation Station Music is what all the top 40 acts are doing â€¦ weâ€™re picking the best tracks, making them even better, and then adding all the layers and elements of multi-instrumentation and recording techniques to make this baby sing. Â I canâ€™t wait to share it with the world. Â I already foresee it becoming my greatest accomplishment to-date once itâ€™s released in late 2012/early 2013.
EF: Tell us about this last event?
RL: The Capital City Showcase is my favorite event to perform at in D.C. Â This will be my third time at the showcase which is now in its second season here the Nationâ€™s Capital. Â Comedian and D.C. native Christian Hunt hosts the event which is an actual showcase of local talent from around the D.C. area. Â The evening features several stand up comedians as well as a couple musical acts in kind of a SNL fashion only youâ€™re watching stand up instead of skit-based comedy.
The reason I love performing as part of the showcase is because of the space itâ€™s hosted in. Â The show is hosted by the DC Arts Center in Adams Morgan in their blackbox theater. Â Itâ€™s intimate and the folks who attend are always really into all the performers. Itâ€™s a nice space to feel appreciated in. Â As a musical act, the space is small enough that thereâ€™s no need for microphones or amplification. Â I just get to stand up in a warm room with great acoustics and belt my heart out. Â Itâ€™s quite therapeutic.
For more information visit: http://www.capitalcityshowcase.com/ – Showcase â€“ Saturday, December 17th in Adams Morgan.Â Tickets $10 on-line & $15 at door.
Attorney Elizabeth Fischer is Punch Pep Correspondent. She is working as an Entrepreneur, Lawyer and Student (environmental studies), covering events for Pamela’s Punch as a generalist correspondent. When she is not working, studying or playing soccer or tennis, she is walking her pups, traveling the globe, running marathons, and enjoying all DC has to offer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.