BATAVIA – Chicago native Rob Anderlik had a musical change of heart after discovering bluegrass music and the dobro. He decided to give up the electric guitar and set out to be a slide guitarist.
Anderlik and his fellow bandmates in Anderlik, Otto & Church will perform June 9 at Water Street Studios, 160 S. Water St., Batavia, as part of the 2018 Blues & Roots on Water Street festival, presented by Water Street, the Fox Valley Music Foundation, Batavia MainStreet and Kiss The Sky record store.
Anderlik, Otto & Church is one of several bands that will perform at the festival.
Doors open at 6 p.m. Advance tickets cost $25 each, available at eventbrite.com.
Anderlik, Otto & Church is Anderlik on dobro, lap slide and acoustic guitars and vocals, Pat Otto on mandolin, mandola, guitar, banjo and vocals and Mike Church on guitar and vocals.
The trio formed in 2015.
The following is an edited version of Anderlik’s conversation with Shaw Media reporter Eric Schelkopf:
Eric Schelkopf: Is this the first time you’ve played at the festival?
Rob Anderlik: Well, we’ve played at Kiss The Sky many times in the past. But this is our first time playing the festival.
And we’re really excited about that. Kiss The Sky owner Steve Warrenfeltz from our perspective is one of the coolest cats in the Chicagoland area and the best friend that musicians, in these parts, have ever had. His influence on the music scene and his love for music is something that is really a gift to musicians and music lovers of all kinds in the Chicagoland area.
Schelkopf: How did you get together?
Anderlik: We met at a bluegrass festival, and we started playing together. It just kind of clicked, and then we kind of stayed in touch and started doing some gigs together and discovered that it was easy to play together.
I think one of the things that happens for musicians is that it’s one thing to be a good player, but it’s another thing to have good chemistry. Just because you’re a good player doesn’t mean you are going to have good chemistry with other players.
Both things are important. For the three of us, it was easy to play together, easy in the sense that I feel we have good chemistry together and the way we approached things.
Schelkopf: Why do you think you have good chemistry? Is it because you have similar backgrounds?
Anderlik: Yes and no. None of us grew up listening to bluegrass music. I got into it later on in life, after college.
I think it’s because we all bring something different to the table. We all play different instruments for one. Everybody brings sort of a little something different to the mix.
Part of it is the material we play, we have a way of sort of making it sound like our own arrangements. We’re not trying to copy anybody note for note and make it sound just like somebody else.
We have a pretty wide-ranging repertoire that ranges from rock music to blues to some swing tunes, certainly a lot of bluegrass stuff that’s in there. And it all winds up going through this filter, which is just your own personality.
Schelkopf: You were talking about your songs. You have original songs and then you do covers. I guess some people might wonder why you decided to cover Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” That doesn’t seem like a song for a bluegrass band.
Anderlik: Here you’re assuming that we’re a bluegrass band. We can be, we play those instruments, but none of us really aspire to be pigeonholed into one genre.
And let me tell you, that’s not the greatest marketing decision in the world, because it makes it harder for a booking agent to put a label on you, which is what they typically want to do. What’s the quickest, easiest label to put on us? We’re Chicago BluesGrass, I would say.
Doing “Another Brick in the Wall” came after playing all day long at a festival. And then we were like, “We’ve played a bunch of bluegrass music, what else do we got?”
Mike came up with that. He just threw it out there, and it just evolved.
We rarely rehearse and we rarely use a set list. We do orchestrate things, but we try to leave open space to where we have no more idea about what’s going to happen next than the audience does. We try to leave open sections for spontaneity to occur. There is a jam component to what we do.
Schelkopf: I know you studied with esteemed musicians like Jerry Douglas, Sally Van Meter and Andy Hall. What did you get studying and working with those people?
Anderlik: Well, I think the main thing that I learned is that when you watch a master musician play, you’re looking at the results, but you don’t see all of the work that went into getting to where they’re at. So what you learn, or at least what I learned, is that I could try for a million years, but I’m never, ever going to make my instrument sound like any of those people.
A lot of what happens when you play with good musicians is you play better. So for the three of us, myself, Mike and Pat, it’s easy to play together and I think we have a high degree of respect for each other. And what we are able to do as the three of us is not something that any of us could do on our own.
Schelkopf: What drew you to want to be a slide guitar player?
Anderlik: My first inspiration was Duane Allman. I didn’t even know he was playing slide. I just loved the way it sounded.
And then I saw Jerry Douglas play. Once I saw him and David Lindley, I was no longer interested in playing electric guitar.
There’s nothing wrong with electric guitar. It’s awesome. There’s a ton of great players around. Scott Tipping is certainly one of the better players around Chicago.
But it just didn’t speak to me. Slide guitar just spoke to me. It was what I wanted to do.
Schelkopf: I know that you taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago for 10 years. What made you want to do that and what were some of the things that you tried to get across to your students?
Anderlik: I was playing in the lobby and Jimmy Tomasello, who was the guitar program director, heard me playing and he said, “Hey, do you want to teach here?” And I said, “OK.”
And so I started teaching. I was there for 10 years, and I taught dozens and dozens of people to play.
I think the main thing that I tried to get across to people was that once you get a little bit of technique under your belt, you have to go out and play with other musicians. That’s the way you learn.
You don’t learn from reading a book. Learning to play an instrument is like learning to speak a foreign language.
And you don’t learn to speak a foreign language by reading a book. You learn to speak a foreign language by immersing yourself in that language, whether it is somebody you are talking to on a regular basis or spending a year or two in the country.
Eric Schelkopf writes about the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago at thetotalscene.blogspot.com. He also is an employee of Shaw Media.