Hanging Out In Rockford: It all happened on Madison Street

About 15 years ago, I went broke. Actually, I filed for protection under the bankruptcy laws, and everybody got paid sooner or later—some later. While I was moving my business from the State and Madison buildings, my ex-wife, Robin, ran the old Irish Rose to help provide cash while I remodeled our present location. To help raise money, we ran bands on Fridays and Saturdays. The biggest-drawing band was the Box Elders.

The Box Elders was the brainchild of Michael Whyte. The band got great reviews and sold a lot of records overseas. There was a strong Rockford following, but it never took off like it should have. Still, it was a really great band. As in all of Mike’s endeavors, lyrics were the strong point. Mike reminds me a lot of Dylan, a strong performer, but it is always about the lyrics, about the feeling. Mike still receives royalties from the overseas sales of their album.

Saturday night, I am at the Irish Rose. It is so cold that I don’t expect it to be busy. I walk next door and have a glass of wine at Bacchus. Then I walk down to Little Italy and visit with Marissa. By the time I get back to the Rose, the place is packed. I run around busing tables and talking to customers. Doug and Sally Mark are there; so is a beautiful lady who was right down the hall from me at Swede’s. When things settle down, I go back to Little Italy. They have had some business, too, but now it is settling down. I tell Marissa that I have no idea for a column. She suggests I look in The Rock River Times, duh!

I open The Rock River Times to the Vibe section, and there it is right below my article—an ad for the Blind Robins and their new album, The Origin of the Wasteland. There are reviews of the album from overseas that are just knockouts. How could I have been so retarded? (Some people would say that it wasn’t too hard.) They are playing tonight at Mary’s. But I need a buddy, a partner in crime. I scan my telephone and call Kelly. She is at The Office and says she will be right down.

We hang at Little Italy for one drink, visiting with Ritchie. I am hungry, and Ritchie goes into the kitchen to make us an individual pizza, just four slices—just right, we don’t want to be too loaded down. Then we drive down Madison Street to Mary’s. Mary’s, where all the Coca-Cola drivers used to hang out when I was on the RC Cola route down on Broadway—I used to go there with Don Johnson to have a drink once in a while; Mary’s, which is owned by my friend Becky, whose dad Lloyd was one of the owners of Rockford Nehi RC; Mary’s, which has become the No. 1 band hangout in Rockford; Mary’s, where Molly went last week when she was copying my style (but then that is quite a compliment).

Kelly and I slide up to the bar, next to one of the bartenders, Mike Vass. I say that it is nice to see the place so full, and I ask if it is working for them. He says it is about the music. Good answer. You’re never going to get rich doing something of artistic integrity in Rockford. If you’re lucky, you will survive. If you’re lucky, you will enjoy what you do, but don’t expect to get rich. Speaking of which, the Blind Robins now take the stage. Too talented for most of Rockford, they will never get rich here. But most of their good reviews are from somewhere else. They are going on tour. We can hope.

Mike is so talented, and he never gives up. The band is really tight tonight, and the crowd reception is wonderful. Mike’s wife, Kathy, is in the audience shaking her ass. (Yes, Kathy, I said shaking your ass, even Kelly said so.) I walk over to Kathy and buy an album. I also ask her to e-mail me the band’s Web site the following morning. It is http://www.theblindrobins.com/. It is a great site and easy to use.

Kelly and I are hanging out and listening to the music with Izzy, but then the old man is tired, and I say something about wanting to go. Kelly says my timing is perfect, and we go out to my van illegally parked on Madison Street. Really, this is a ridiculous situation and should be amended. How about it, council member Mark?

We are driving back on State Street when I have the bright idea of going Surfing. We always used to call it that in the old days when we went to the Surf Lounge. Kelly is up for the idea, so we park on State Street across from the Surf and wander in. There is no cover. I see Donna at the far bar, so naturally we walk down to where she is working. They have a new pricing policy, the drinks are very reasonable. I think this is really going to work for them. The place was pretty busy for a cold play-off night. The girls were cute, too.

Then it is back to the Rose. Kelly wants me to go to The Office with her. They are having male strippers, and she says that there will be a lot of straight women there, but I am too tired and beg off. I climb the stairs to my loft. The flag atop the Faust is blowing straight north. No temperature relief in sight until Tuesday. I walk over to the thermostat and turn it up a notch. I fall asleep in my lounge chair, and dream of living in California.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

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