Entertainment » Music

Scott Free At Last

by Gregg Shapiro
Tuesday May 11, 2010

Chicago-based gay singer/songwriter Scott Free has a lot to celebrate. He continues to rack up awards and honors, most recently as 2009 Outmusician of the Year at the Outmusic Awards and having his Happy Again video in the Top 10 Videos of 2009 on Logo's The Click List.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Free has been busy preparing for the 10th anniversary performance of his ALT Q festival, May 15 at The Old Town School of Folk Music - Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln in Chicago (Call 773-728-6000). Since its inception, he has brought in a diverse array of performers, including Jill Sobule, Grant Hart (ex-Husker Du), Ferron, Tyson Meade (ex-Chainsaw Kittens), Cris Williamson, Dudley Saunders, Brady Earnhart, Tret Fure, Dylan Rice with Styx's Chuck Panozzo and even yours truly (in 2009 as a spoken-word performer), among others. Free is also gearing up for a return to the stage at the Milwaukee Pridefest in June.

GREGG SHAPIRO: 2010 marks the 10th anniversary of your musical variety show, the ALT Q Festival. For the first few years of its existence, it was known as the Queer Is Folk Festival. Why did you change the name?

SCOTT FREE: The original name was an obvious play on words of the very popular Showtime series Queer As Folk. When the TV series ended, it seemed a good time to make a change. I guess I was also thinking that ALT (as in Alternative) seemed a better musical reference term than Folk. We're already at the Old Town School of Folk Music, so that seemed redundant. The Q keeps it all queer, although I like to think of the ALT as meaning an alternative to your average gay night out [laughs].

GS: Ten years after the first show, what do you think it is that gives the festival its longevity?

SF: I know the show has gained a reputation for high-quality performances, and that's probably what brings in the crowds every year. I've been able to tap into the excitement of knowing you're going to hear someone you've never heard of before, and love them. That's the fun part of the ALT Q festival - the joy of new musical discoveries [laughs]! I also think the meet-the-artists wine reception afterwards is a great way to cap off the evening - the energy there is wonderful!

GS: What is involved in your process for selecting performers for the festival?

SF: Many of the performers have played my Homolatte series - a place where I get to have my own musical discoveries. I also try to have a few music "coups" as it were, like bringing in Phranc, who had not played a Chicago gig in probably 15 years. Also, unique performers like Blackberri or Bitch and Animal have always made it a very interesting evening [laughs].

GS: What are a couple of your fondest memories of past QIFF/ALT Qs?

SF: Certainly the bringing on stage together of Ferron and Bitch was a beautiful moment. After that meeting, Bitch went on to produce Ferron's next CD. I also loved Chris Garneau's performance, with his duo of cellos - he pulled out the stops for that show!

GS: Who is on your wish list of artists that you would like to have perform at future Alt Q Festivals?

SF: My favorite part of doing both Homolatte and ALT Q is discovering new talent. I would love to see Nicole Reynolds at ALT Q. She is definitely an up-and-coming star, and was born to play at the Old Town School of Folk Music [laughs].

GS: The 10th anniversary ALT Q show is being billed as a "best of" show. How did you go about selecting those performing for such an auspicious occasion?

SF: That was a bit of being silly, too - after all, I was calling it "Best In Show" [laughs]! In my opinion, the only way to have a proper Best Of show would be to have a 10-night festival and bring everyone back [laughs]. So I kind of went with the artists that seemed to have become a part of our Chicago queer music world here, even though they may not live in Chicago. Wishing Chair, Coyote Grace and Namoli Brennet have all been a part of the Homolatte/Queer Is Folk Fest/ALT Q world for so long, that they all seemed a natural fit. The Heat Birds and Actor Slash Model, the two local bands, were a great way to round out the event.

GS: This year's show has a trans-heavy line-up, featuring Actor Slash Model, Namoli Brennet and Coyote Grace.

SF: You know, I didn't plan that at all. Other than the fact that I really wanted Coyote Grace, and since Actor Slash Model (who are really genderqueer/gender variant performers) had just finished making their wonderful documentary film "Riot Acts," which featured Coyote Grace, it seemed perfect for them to perform together. I also think I'm just tapping into the energy of the live, acoustic music scene in the community right now. I have had more trans or genderqueer performers at Homolatte in the past year than I have in the 10 years I have run the series. But of course, in the end, it's the talent of the performers that counts, and this year we have an amazing line-up.

GS: You mentioned Homolatte, the twice-monthly series you run featuring GLBTQI musicians and writers, currently at Big Chicks/Tweet in Chicago. Do you have plans to observe a significant Homolatte anniversary with a special show?

SF: This year is also the 10th anniversary of Homolatte, and I certainly need to celebrate that, but as of yet, I have not scheduled an event. I think because it's an ongoing twice-a-month series, I've just been letting it chug along! Note to self - get working on that [laughs].

GS: In addition to Chicago, there is currently a Homolatte in St. Louis. Do you foresee expanding the series to other cities, say Milwaukee or San Francisco or New York?

SF: That would be an incredible thing if it could happen. I think the strongest aspect of Homolatte is its mixture of music and spoken word - it brings two fairly separate artistic camps in the GLBTQI community together. It is going wonderfully in St. Louis. I think it is mostly about finding the right person or persons to run it in a particular city. Craig Rouskey and Sreeja Smith are doing a fabulous job - they have made a very successful Homolatte in St. Louis in a very short period of time.

GS: 2009 proved to be quite a year for you professionally. The video for your song "Happy Again" was in heavy rotation on LOGO's The Click List and even made it into the Top 10 Videos of 2009 on that channel. What did that mean to you?

SF: That was incredible! I charted on The Click List for about three months, which meant that lots and lots of folks saw the video. I got responses back from people all over the country about how much they either liked the song, or were moved by the emotional content of the video. Of course, making the Top 10 Videos of 2009 was beyond belief [laughs].

GS: You also received the 2009 Outmusician of theYear Award from Outmusic for your song Free. What does that mean to you?

SF: That award is especially gratifying for me, because of what it stands for. It is a combined award, for both artistic achievement, and for activism and community involvement. It is so satisfying to know that both what you do as an artist, and what you do for the community is truly appreciated. I think very early on I realized the importance of that. For us to be successful as artists in the GLBTQI community, we have to be in this together. We have to support each other. I see it so strikingly here in Chicago with Cake Chicago, the Flesh Hungry Dog Show, Sappho's Salon, T-OUT Mic - all of the wonderful live music events that go on here that help to maintain a vibrant queer music community.

GS: You will be playing on June 13 as part of the Milwaukee Pridefest line-up, an event at which you have become a regular performer.

SF: Milwaukee Pridefest always has an amazing line-up of queer musicians and bands. It is, without a doubt, one of the premier queer live music events in the country. For my performance this year, I have revived my Scott Free Trio, which, although it sounds very jazz-like, is actually a punk band [laughs]. Jenny Urban is on drums and Marvin Astorga is on bass. We're pulling out all those Scott Free classics like Garbage Man and The Muffin Song! I'm thrilled to be performing again in that setting, and the outdoor stage lends itself much more to getting all loud and raucous [laughs].

GS: Is there anyone you are looking forward to hearing at Pridefest in Milwaukee?

SF: I'm really looking forward to the this year's Milwaukee Pridefest - it's their best line-up ever! I will try to see all my faves from previous ALT Q/QIFF shows like Tret Fure and SONiA. Then there's the former Homolatte'ers Ellis and Mike Rickard, so I gotta catch them. I've never heard Christopher Dallman, The Shondes or Che Arthur Three live, so I can't miss them! Of course there's the Heat Birds and Nicole Reynolds, whom I mentioned earlier. And I know I'll be going over to say hi to my good friends Cyon Flare and Ralphie Rosario over at the Dance Pavillion.

GS: Have you begun working on your next album?

SF: I'm only in the beginning stages of writing, but I will say I'm writing two completely separate albums that I may be releasing simultaneously - but that's still a ways off. The next thing that you'll hear from me is a single (and hopefully video) that I'm working on with a gay rapper out of New York named Lester Greene. My last CD "The Pink Album (A Pop Opera)" was a very serious project, so it's time to have a little fun [laughs].

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SAT MAY 15, 2010 - ALT Q FESTIVAL @ OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC

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