by Eric Fitzgerald
About two years ago, I moved to downtown Chicago – the move was exclusively for work, and coming from Upstate New York, I didn’t really know anyone in the area. Without anyone to ask where to find a guitar shop to pick up some new strings, I resorted to Google to see if I could find anything nearby. Only about four blocks away, this place called Altered Stage was one of a few results. There was a picture of people playing guitar, so I clicked into the website. After reading the About Us paragraph, completely distracted from my original objective, I ended up reading through every corner of the website with wide eyes. This sounded like the kind of place I had always wished existed.
Like many amateur musicians, I learned to play alone in a room. That’s what I did for years – watching YouTube guitar lessons, learning to solo over backing tacks, playing along to my favorite records, experimenting with a loop pedal – anything I could do to create a sound that was more profound than a single guitar. These were fun ways to play, but I found there to be a degree of isolation to these methods – the dynamics / energy fluctuations that we all love to experience in live music just wasn’t there. I wanted to play with other people – real humans.
I joined Altered Stage in August 2017, and quickly jumped into some of my first jam sessions. While I knew playing in a full-band setting would be different, I was blown away by just how fun it was. Two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer – we all simultaneously improvised over a four-chord progression. I had to think in the moment. We brought the energy and tempo down and back up – without any plans around what we were playing, everything just seemed to click. After the final resolving chord rang out, the room was full of laugher. That was sick!!
Those early experiences gave me a taste of the “high” I presume all musicians seek in live performance. The moments of improvisational perfection that could never be planned in advance, but create a new and interesting sound. I found a whole new motivation to get better. And the best part… there are amazing teachers at Altered Stage who are not only extremely knowledgeable, but all-around really nice people who are a joy to spend time with. Altered Stage has profoundly impacted my musical journey, made me a better musician, and has made playing guitar more fun than ever. I only wish I found it sooner!