by Marty McCormack
Back in 1993, I was still wearing a suit and tie everyday as I headed off to work at St. Therese Medical Center in Waukegan, Illinois. My hair was cut short and I was part of the marketing department of a healthcare corporation that had a vast empire stretching from the Wisconsin border to central Illinois. My newsletter, Goodlife, had a circulation of over 100,000 readers and I had won an award for the most outstanding publication in healthcare marketing. Things were looking good, except for one little secret. While everyone knew me as a marketing geek by day, secretly I was a musician by night.
I would head to Oak Park from Waukegan and join Fitz for songwriting and playing clubs. About 1 a.m., I would crash on the couch, with a pressed shirt hanging nearby, waiting for my 6 a.m. commute. I would wake up, throw myself in the shower, put on the clean shirt, another tie, grab a Burger King coffee (there was no Starbucks in 1993) and head north to my day job. Something had to give. I knew my heart's true desire was to be a musician. I asked God for a sign to tell me: “Take the leap!”
And one day in late July of 1993, that sign appeared. I was driving along Route 173 heading from my folks' house in Woodstock, Illinois, to my job. My Civic was chugging along the road east of Alden when a huge red-tailed hawk lumbered in front of my windshield. There in its talons was clutched a fat gopher. Seemingly oblivious to my car, it appeared we were to collide. At the last moment before what looked to be certain impact, the hawk flapped hard for some air and dropped the gopher. With a “shu-tunk” the discarded prey bounced off my windshield. Letting go of the gopher saved the hawk from becoming a hood ornament. I drove on and realized “that must be the sign! In order to soar, I too would have to let go of that which provided me security.” In my case, not a fat gopher, but my day job. So that same day, I walked in to my vice president's office and tendered my resignation.
In the months following, I was always asking for “a sign." I wanted to know I was on the right path. I had just quit a lucrative career. Brian and I were playing prisons, nursing homes and pubs. Most of my friends and some of my family thought I was a bit crazy. I prayed for another sign to know that Switchback was on the right path.
And I got one. A big one. This time it was playing at the Irish Times Pub in Brookfield, Illinois. In those days, fans like Phil and Maureen Huber would be on hand to see us as we struggled to get our sound defined and Switchback off the ground. One Sunday evening, we arrived at the Irish Times to play, and there, sitting at a stage-side table was a Yaqui Indian. Now, any American Indian in Brookfield, Illinois would be something to make one sit up and take notice but here was a Yaqui Indian in his native dress, waiting for us to play in an Irish pub on a Sunday night. I couldn't believe my eyes.
He listened to a set and on the break he told us how he was an artist and visiting Chicago as part of a cultural exchange. He talked about our music and admired that we were following our passion, like he was. Finally, it was time for him to leave. “Here," he said, taking an earring in the shape of an Indian warrior from his ear and putting it into my hand, “this is for you.” I held onto that earring for years until a visit to Bear Butte out in western South Dakota. I thought such a powerful sign should go to a powerful place, the very mountain where Crazy Horse received his visions. I am sure it is still there sitting high up on the mountain.
These days, I feel pretty certain that I am following the right path. And I still get signs that I am. The best sign that I am on the right path now comes from you, our fans. Your appreciation of our music, traveling to shows all over the country and comments coming in through Facebook remind me how blessed I am to be able to do what I love and connect with so many people throughout the world.
This coming September 21, we will have an opportunity to come together and celebrate 20 years of Switchback at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago -- a celebration of us all traveling the same road together. Brian and I encourage you to bring as many friends as you can to rekindle the fire of friendship that has been burning now for over 20 years. You’ve been asked to submit your all-time favorite Switchback songs for the night. If you haven’t, you can visit our Facebook page and submit your favorite Switchback songs. Some selections will be performed by special guests. And yes, Maggie FitzGerald will get up and sing “In My Glory!" Part of the ticket proceeds will help restore the Athenaeum. That, of course, is in keeping with WayGood's mission to help make the world just a little bit better. The Athenaeum is a large theater with over 1,000 seats; we have a challenge to sell at least 700, so your attendance is very much needed and appreciated.
Happily and hopefully, all of us coming together will be all the sign we need, that indeed, 20 years on, the WayGood World is still going strong.