I don’t make it two turns without needing to revert to google maps. After years of my complacent ‘I’m bad with directions’ I now make effort to be good with directions. Lock the shape of the route in mind and make up a nursery rhyme that includes the streets. In tandem, it works quite well, but I’m in Chicago and a touch scarred from an adolescent experience.

I take few minutes outside of The Friendly Tap A pull off my four gallon water jug and a couple bites from “The Three Pounder”. Re-wrap, stow n’ go. 

This ‘Friendly’ theme continues. I see a sign that reads “The Friendly School of Folk Music”, then “The Friendly Coffee Lounge” and finally enter the door to the bar that possesses the same adverb. It’s loud. A large group of millennials are at war over speaking levels. One moving in on the other and crushing them with decibels. Like a playground, this battle is boys versus girls. Girls are winning. It doesn’t seem to bother the old boys watching the Cubs game by the jukebox. Somehow I beat Ethan to his own load-in so I make a rare effort to follow the National League. This is a year for The Loveable Losers. Loveable yes, losers, no. Coming off a tough series with the Brewers, they tap into their condition that stomped the Pirates (and the Giants) a week prior. The fourth ends and nobody on either team has crossed home.

The flashy digital jukebox on the wall announces it “top country picks of the week”. This will give me a sense of the room. Blake Shelton’s “Bet You Still Think About Me” followed by Jon Pardi’s “Head Over Boots”. The latter is a sign of the turning tide.

I’m hard watering with an eye on the second and third televisions. Not really a Sox fan so I’m between the USA vs Canada World Cup match and Dexter Fowler stepping to the plate . With rumours earlier in the year that Fowler is headed to the Orioles, he continues to wear and Cubs jersey and gets on base. Baseball zen can block sound, so I tap into a meditative place of statistics and ignore the boys with their collar’s popped on the other side of the bar.

The back of the stage is open to the street and Kinsella appears with guitar in hand. Avoiding the door, he hops through the missing wall and into his workplace for the night. Kris Bryant steps to the plate. Kinsella is followed by a young wrangler-wearing fiddle player. Bryant ignores a slider and a fastball for a 2-0 count. A big ol’ bass fiddle is heaved up on stage. Bryant should have swung, 2-1 count. Instruments are out. Bryant pops an easy slider into left field, high and over the wall. Two runs in. Line check.

Kinsella’s youthful appearance looks aged in comparison to his fiddle player and upright bassist. As a trio they must have an accumulative age of under 60 but with the first chord I question if their birth-years are that within The Great Depression. A percussive chunk from Kinsella’s Taylor has the low-end rolled off. Stage left is sawing hard, cutting over the “oh my Gods” and “as ifs” coming from the valley-girls flirting with the buff studs. Bull-fiddle slaps and plunks. I feel a fool for not recognizing the opening song. It’s gotta be a standard.

“Honey let me call you babe, Babe let me call you Hon, Honey Babe, Baby Honey, I don’t know what else to call you, alls I really wanna say is…”

A chord progression and instrumentation that throws to Hank. Wow, a voice that sounds like Senior himself gave tips and pointers to. Kinsella jumps through vocal breaks in and out of a falsetto. He ends phrases coming up from underneath in a modern-classic way.

My love of country music started with The Highwaymen, not the band but the line-up. First Willie, then Kris. I know Hank Williams folklore and standards but have never allowed it in to my writing process. If I’m looking to manipulate a style I’ll ask the Spirit for Waylon before Hiram King.

“…Honey let me call you babe, Babe let me call you Hon, Honey Babe, Baby Honey, I just wanna hold and love ya, I don’t even know your name, but Honey, I just wanna Honey to call Babe.”

The gaggle at the front missed it. The old boys and I all clap. Tough room. I would have found myself reminding the crowd to at least attempt to give a shit. I don’t mind talking but there’s a difference between conversing at a show and corrupting a show. Shit, guys, give the boy a chance.

Boom. “Hey, Good Lookin”. Young Ethan knows better than I do. He takes his nonexistence and commands presence. The boys are singing, the girls are singing and my sensibilities are correct; he’s a Hank fan – it oozes from him. Intelligently placing originals amid Lefty and Hank shapes a tone to the show. He has the room. I’m watching an embodiment, slightly tripping out at the eerie sense of having seen or felt this guy before.

“Where are you from?” pipes a girl with poorly placed hair extensions.

“I’m on vacation from Neverland,” answers Kinsella.

I fully trip out.

He recognizes my existence following the first set and we give each other Dio’s devil horns with our second and final fingers.

The Cubs continue to hold their lead, Single’s Night continues their bar-hop elsewhere and Kinsella starts set two. I leave the ball game at the back of the room and sit along the wall closer to the stage.

“I saw the light, I saw the light, no more darkness, no more night, now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight. Praise the lord, I saw the light.”

Ethan Kinsella