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Thursday, March 16, 2006 04:50 pm

Take the last train home

LTH rolls into the UCT this Friday

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As I speak with Eric Brace, founding member and driving force behind alt-country standard-bearers Last Train Home, he is celebrating his 46th birthday by relaxing in the St. Thomas Islands. The guitar-playing singer and former music journalist is on a working vacation: He and the rest of the band are making their annual February tour of the Virgin Islands, enjoying the weather but still playing every evening for the next two weeks. “It’s harder than most people think,” says Brace of staying alive in the music business. Yeah, right — it just sounds awful, hanging out on tropical islands, getting paid to soak up the sun and play music. But it hasn’t always been like this for the critically acclaimed group. Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Last Train Home moved their base to Nashville, Tenn., a few years back to be close to the music business and like-minded musicians. Since then, they’ve steadily and consistently worked small tours, released several good-sounding records, appeared on several tribute albums (Michael Nesmith, Gene Clark, the Blasters, Peter Case), and learned that keeping a band afloat is harder than most people think. “We want to keep cycling through towns we’ve been playing,” says Brace, “but it’s hard to know what to do next.” Gigging in Springfield, though, is easy. “I just love playing the Underground City Tavern,” Brace says. “It’s pretty great here.” The group’s last CD (Bound Away, 2005) was released by Blue Buffalo, a German record label that, says Brace, does a great job but is subject to the limitations of a small operation. “I don’t think there is anything inherently good about being on a label unless they are going to pour money into promotion,” he says. “We may distribute the next record on our own and see how we do selling from the stage and online.”
Plans are in the works for the September release of yet another LTH CD, after which the band will be off to Europe for an October-November tour. Here we go again, living that tough life of a traveling musician. “Yeah, we want to keep this going for a while, see where it will take us,” he says. “We are better musically than we’ve ever been, and I want to take advantage of that.”
Last Train Home rolls into the Underground City Tavern (700 E. Adams, 217-789-1530) on Friday, March 17. Opening act Stephen Simmons starts playing at 10 p.m.

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, so you’ll have to pace yourself if you expect to party on the big day but keep going through the weekend. Bagpipers from the St. Andrews Society (God bless ’em) are known to frequent Springfield taverns before, during, and after the downtown parade. Keep an eye out (or an ear, as the case may be) at the Brewhaus, Sammy’s, Floyd’s, and the Alamo bars for the kilt-wearing laddies.
The bagpipers are actually scheduled to perform at Lime Street Café (951 S. Durkin Dr., 217-793-1905) at noon and 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, then again at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 18. The Emerald Underground (the reformed Stone Ring Circle), our community’s one and only Celtic-rock band, holds the nighttime slot at Lime Street on Friday and Saturday. The best bet, in my book, for some daytime Irish tunes is a stop at American Legion Post 32 (410 S. Fifth St., 217-523-3415) between noon and 9 (but keep in mind that there’ll be a pause in the action around 5 p.m.) I’m betting my pot ’o gold that pianist Chuck Fredrickson knows more Irish ballads and Celtic standards than all other Springfield musicians combined.
F5 (a local tornado-tribute band, now contemplating a name change to F2) and KISS (99.7 FM) have banded together with Karma Nightclub (625 N. First St., 217-522-1907) for what is being called the “St. Patty’s Day BASH” (please note the emphasis on the word “bash”), The party starts at 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, in whatever you want to call the place in the Vinegar Hill Mall that’s previously been known as the Spot, the Atrium, and, I think, long ago, Annie’s BBQ. Other participants include Mike Tolley of Liquid Promos, a world-champion flair bartender from Tampa, Fla.; and Simone Tolley, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader. “Flair bartending” is the flashy technique of twirling bottles and drink shakers way up in the air for the entertainment of patrons, made famous by a long-ago movie starring the dashing Tom Cruise. I’m not sure what NFL cheerleaders actually do. In a move of magnanimous proportions, F5 and KISS have agreed to donate some (please note the emphasis on the word “some”) proceeds from the show to the American Red Cross.
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