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An Evening in Old Town

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AN EVENING IN OLD TOWN

at Centre East, Studio B

Jim Post did not gain his reputation as the longest-working musician in town by knuckling under to scenic or biological mishaps. So when 40 fans turned out on New Year's night--traditionally one of the slowest for show business--to see him at the bunkerlike studio at Centre East in An Evening in Old Town, what did it matter that the fixtures from the defunct, venerated Earl of Old Town club and the coffee from the Bean Counter Cafe that were to evoke the early-60s boho scene had failed to materialize? And what did it matter that the sole entertainer was battling stomach flu? After a brief apology in advance for any, um, sudden exits he might have to make, the 30-year veteran of folk-singing proceeded to welcome the new year with some memories of the old years.

Selections during the first act included standard 60s coffeehouse fare like "This Land Is Your Land," "Walk Right In," with its stairhopping bass line and its innocently subversive enjoinment to "sit right down, and baby let your mind roll on," "Rising Sun Blues"--or "House of the Rising Sun," depending on where you first heard it--and an a cappella rendition of the wistful American ballad "Shenandoah," a song Post claims sounds beautiful in every language but Chinese, and which he delivers in a delicate countertenor filled with yearning and conviction. He makes these familiar lyrics as fresh and new as the waters of another river he praises in his own "Live by a River" ("I'm going to talk with those people / Who live by the trees / I'm going to live by a river / Until my soul is free").

That song appears in the second act, which is largely devoted to Post's own compositions, ranging from the sweet "Three Soft Touches" to the playful "Hot Summer Night," which details the reactions of a train engineer who discovers an amorous couple--half of which Post claims to have been--canoodling by the railroad track they assume is no longer functional. Between songs Post reminisces about the early days, performing in Old Town clubs in the company of artists whose concert posters and album covers decorate the wall behind him--Steve Goodman, Fred Holstein, John Prine, Thom Bishop, Bryan Bowers, Tom Dundee, humble sideman Stephen Wade, and Bonnie Koloc. ("We only got three or four dollars apiece at the Earl," Post recalls. "But Bonnie got ten because she was good.") He also touches on the punishment preferences of Catholic and Baptist schoolteachers, the overabundance of food and octogenarians on riverboat cruises, why certain blue-talking television comedians are censored and others not, and how to embarrass audience members who arrive or leave in the middle of a set.

Post finishes with a rendering of the anthem of the Old Town scene, Goodman's "City of New Orleans"--not the wispy, nostalgic whine popularized by Arlo Guthrie but a vigorous hosanna featuring the kind of thick, chewy chording that makes it clear that this train is bound for glory and not just a voyeuristic peek at a pair of lovers. By that point this pioneer of Chicago's golden age of songwriting had indeed invoked the romantic spirit that was Old Town in the 60s, when even the virus-plagued walking wounded could heal and be healed by the enthusiasm of an audience and the power of the music.

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