Hanging Out in Rockford: The last stage before enlightenment

I have heard it said that the last stage before enlightenment is total disgust with the world as it exists. Well, I must be getting close. This world constantly amazes me lately. I can’t believe how people lie to themselves. We have an incident relating to the annual Block 5 party that exemplifies and amplifies this feeling.

This year, Sandy and Bunj no longer want to do the party. They have done it several years in a row. I decide to pick up where they had left off, with the exception that I don’t want the big, puffed-up type of thing that it has become. I want it to be smaller and more intimate, and I want the music to be more reflective of the overall business climate in the block. I pass this idea by Paul and Damien, and we all agree to work on the event together. Actually, I wind up working with Damien, and it turns out to be a pleasure.

We start by having a number of meetings. LaMonica Beverage agrees to be one of our sponsors. We search about looking for a wine sponsor. We want to have wine tasting as well as beer tasting. A wine sponsor comes to the fore. The general manager is a person from my high school days. We both graduated from Harlem in the ’60s. Actually, Damien brings him to the party. As soon as we line up our sponsors, and we feel stable financially, we order the stage and the sound.

Damien proves to be really easy to work with. He has some really good ideas, and I let him have his head. It is such a pleasure to work with someone who runs on his own steam. This is the easiest event of this nature in which I have ever been involved. Dorothy Galloway of ACN was a pleasure, too. In spite of her mother being hospitalized in Wisconsin, she proved once again that she is a remarkable organizer. All of the preparation went off pretty much without a hitch. Dorothy wound up not being able to attend the event, but her staff took over.

We plan for the party to be in the parking lot next to the Irish Rose. We are not going to close down the street as in past years. This provides a really good place for the event. It can be more intimate. If we get a good crowd, it can really fill up the space and make it feel vibrant.

Friday, the morning of the event arrives, and the weather is beautiful. I am feeling on top of the world, until I get a phone call from Damien. Our wine sponsor has fired their general manager (he had worked there 17 years) and backed out. I talk with one of their upper-level people and try to reason with him, but to no avail. They are going to stiff us. I cannot believe a company that sells to businesses can be so short-sighted. Judge & Dolph steps up to the plate and provides us with some product to sell. This takes a little of the sting out of it.

We continue with our preparations, and everything goes pretty well Friday night, except for the fact we don’t generate as much business as we had anticipated. Perhaps the weekend following the Waterfront is too soon. Perhaps we needed more advertising. Rick LaMonica works the whole night. He is a real trooper. Dave Calvagna plays a wonderful set. Dan Voll and J.F. Gaziano set the stage on fire. John Bishof and Holland Zander finish up with a fantastic set. All in all, it is a wonderful night. The audience makes up in quality what it lacks in numbers, and we make some strategic decisions for next year. We are going to place the stage differently, and we are going to provide tables and chairs to make more of a cabaret feeling. We implement one of these Saturday by moving my sidewalk café tables and chairs in front of the stage. It improves the ambience.

The second night is plagued by colder weather, but we still manage to bring out a respectable little crowd. We open with Omega Battalion, then The Moment and finish off with Damien’s band, 3PA. Except for the sponsor who left us in the lurch, we would have broken even. The following Friday, I ride my motorcycle up to the North End to see how the Oktoberfest is doing. The place is packed. The female security person tells me they had more than 1,500 admissions Friday (more than 7,000 were reported to attend throughout the three days). Mike from Der Rathskeller is a really great promoter. It’s not over after the Waterfront. Maybe if we had just waited a week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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