Switchback: A Day in the Life

By Paul Schneider

Ah, the life of a musician. Getting paid to create, to entertain, to pursue a passion armed with talent.

Practically stealing money!

Yeah, right.

Want to know a day in the life of a musician? Let’s follow a fairly typical day in the life of Switchback, shall we? On this particular Thursday not too long ago, Marty McCormack and Brian FitzGerald set about on one of their outreach programs, playing to four schools in one day, followed by a private concert after that.

Now, to be fair, five gigs in one day is a bit excessive. Switchback is usually doing three or four, but when kids are involved, what’s another show, yeah?

And to put everything in proper context, we actually have to back up a couple of days. You see, after spending 11 days playing shows in Arizona, Marty and Brian arrived back at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at midnight Tuesday. The pair then dispersed to their respective lodgings for the night, Marty arriving in Rogers Park around 2 a.m., while Brian headed for Oak Park, a suburb west of the city where he has family.

Wednesday morning, Brian drove back to his home in Iowa for a doctor’s appointment – he’s still on the mend from a broken leg – then returned to Oak Park later in the day, where Marty picked him up and the pair drove to Macon, Illinois, some 3 ½ hours away, to play an evening show at a retirement home.

After staying overnight in Springfield, the pair were awake and on the road by 7 a.m. the next morning to grab a Starbucks and begin the five-show day, playing for kids between the ages of 3 and 15 during Catholic Schools Week, before ending the day in front of a more contemporary crowd.

First stop – St. Aloysius in Springfield. The pair arrived at 7:45 to set up for an 8:30 a.m. show for a group of grade-school kids, unloading their equipment, checking to see where they’re actually going to play, etc. A 50-minute program included songs and fun interaction with the kids, who asked myriad questions about being a musician.

One down, four to go.

Pack up the equipment and head down the road to St. Joseph the Worker Church in Chatham. An easy, non-stressful 25-minute drive down Route 4 – unless you’re stuck behind a Driver’s Ed vehicle.  At any rate, it gives the passenger some time to conduct the business of the band – making phone calls, trying to schedule other gigs because, after all, it’s music, but it’s show BUSINESS. And who knows, maybe another song gets written between shows.

Brian and Marty finally pull up at St. Joseph and find the classroom that will serve as today’s concert hall. Another 45 minutes, this time acoustically in front of a mix of enthusiastic younger kids who can’t wait to tell the band about some family member or imaginary friend who plays an instrument, as well as some older students who perhaps are a bit more sullen about all this, to say nothing of the teachers and administrators who have stopped in to listen and make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.

Then it’s on to Our Lady of the Lourdes Catholic Church, about an hour northeast in Decatur, Ill. Along the way, more calls and band business and trading about of song ideas, working out structures and finding new chords.  Once at Our Lady, it’s time to unload the van and set up again for another group of K-8th graders. Repetitious? Boring? Hardly. As every concert in an auditorium is different, so it is with different schools. Brian and Marty are constantly challenged with understanding the depth of a school’s music program – if the school even has one – as well as trying to strike a balance between educating and entertaining, connecting not only with the kids, but with the faculty.

The gig at Our Lady deemed a success, it’s three down and one last school to go. Pack up the van again and head for Holy Family, a mere 15 minutes south on SR 51. Here, Switchback does something different – leading a worship service, featuring original sacred music – for a group of students, teachers and whoever else from the community decides to wander in.

That task finished, the schools wrapped up, the pair get a well-earned break until they arrive at a private residence at 7 p.m. for a one-hour concert, followed by a meet-and-greet that finally finishes around 8:45 p.m. Then, it’s off to Marty’s brother’s house in Decatur, where he and Brian will sleep it all off until… well, the next morning, when they do it all over again for more schools during Catholic Schools Week.

Beats working, yeah? Maybe. Maybe not.

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