Each Saturday night – well, late afternoon in our case – and direct from Las Vegas, The Gino Fontine Strolling Trio makes its way from table to table at Marie’s Pizza & Liquors on Lawrence Avenue, serenading diners.
I guess they must fly in just for the weekend gig. Such is show business. Or maybe they relocated from Nevada. I didn’t think to ask.
One table away, the dapper-dressed elderly gentlemen played a lounge jazz version of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” – sans pretty much all the lyrics but for the title, with a lot of “la, la, las” throw into it – for a family of four tucked into a booth.
My two buddies were hoping we’d get the bill settled before the violin, upright bass and guitar ambled over to our table. No such luck.
I told the trio we were about to leave, but, me being me, suggested they play one number, which turned out to be the Cole Porter show tune “Anything Goes,” again, minus most of the lyrics but for the title and with the “la las” again. At least they didn’t play a love song. I don’t know who I would have hugged.
I enjoyed the Gino’s amiable act, which reminded me of musical cartoon frogs. And I mean that as a compliment.
I wanted to offer them work, maybe to keep me amused when my job gets boring, like when I’m covering a suburban city council meeting. But they probably had to get back to Vegas.
Which is a long way of saying, if you haven’t been to Marie’s, you owe it to yourself to go. It’s been open since 1940, and the decor looks it. It was retro before that was a thing.
You enter through the door for the liquor store. There are mirrors on the back wall and Italian-style statues perched on ledges. A door to the kitchen matches the table tops done up in a copper-like material that looks like sci-fi circuit boards.
It’s Chicago, and if you’re a Cubs fan it probably would be a place to go since it was open the last time the team went to the World Series. Or was in a World War.
All the above is an even longer way of getting to the point that best fest buddy Tom and I headed over to the Irish American Heritage Center after dining to catch the (Neil) Byrne and (Ryan) Kelly concert.
The show was all the way up in the Erin Room, which meant we were able to work off some of the pizza and toasted ravioli climbing the stairs.
We didn’t have the pre-concert meet and greet tickets, but Tom told me his went pee just a urinal or two away from Ryan Kelly before the show began. They didn’t talk. What would you say to a star at a urinal anyway?
I immediately texted the Make A Wish Foundation to let them know my friend had his dream come true getting that close to an Irish celebrity, and now he could die a happy man. Not right away, I hope, but one day way down the road.
The performance took place on a set made to look like a modest, old school living room, albeit one where one of the lamps had a ripped shade.
There were wooden blocks “B” and “K” on a coffee table, which made me hungry for a Whopper and made me want to buy a suit.
Before a note was sung, the two took questions from the audience. Byrne and Kelly, of course, are two of the guys from Celtic Thunder, so as you might guess, the room was filled with estrogen, but, judging by what was asked a mostly motherly version.
For a good many of the ladies’ questions were about Kelly’s dog, Larry, a pug Kelly outfits in pseudo human garb for a calendar. Despite it being April, on Kelly’s website the calendar costs more than Kelly’s solo albums.
In line for a beer later, I learned from a very chatty grandmother that Kelly also has a cat which he named Rory, after the character Damian McGinty played on “Glee.”
See, Kelly and McGinty auditioned for Celtic Thunder at the same time and became friends prior to McGinty going on “The Glee Project” and McGinty winding up on the Fox musical/comedy/drama “Glee,” which turned into one of the most cloying, annoying, smug TV shows not called “reality” to grace network TV in the last 10 years.
I was gonna ask Kelly about the canker sore you can notice on his lip on some of those “Celtic Thunder” PBS specials, but, since I was driving, I hadn’t had enough beer to follow through on that.
Besides, the night was affable enough. The men were in town to promote their new Byrne and Kelly album, “Echoes,” by telling stories behind each of its 10 songs before singing each.
It’s nice to know people still actually think about the music they write, since a good amount of pop right now sounds like a Scandinavian Abba-and-disco-loving computer wrote it with Kanye West.
Per the Byrne and Kelly set, I heard echoes of Fleetwood Mac, John Hiatt, 80s synth folk, James Taylor and other mellow influences tinged with an Irish touch.
Since every picture tells a story worth 1,000 words, the two brought along slides for good measure, too.
My favorite tale was Byne’s yarn about his late grandfather. Years and years after his death, the family found a love letter Byrne’s grandfather had written to Byrne’s grandmother, thinking she would one day find it upon his passing.
She didn’t. And that’s as good an Irish story as any.
Bringing this story full circle, one of the duo’s encores was a cover of Van Morrison’s classic, “Brown Eyed Girl.” With all it’s la las, that would be a perfect song for The Gino Fontine Trio.
And, since the Erin Room hosts many a wedding reception and Morrison’s song is a standard for such gatherings, it made me want to cling a glass to get newlyweds to smooch.
But nay, it was time to go. To the bathroom, in Tom’s case, and he got to pee at the same time as an Irish singer again!
If that weren’t enough, on the way to the car we chatted with a woman and her pal who drove all the way Minneapolis just to see Byrne and Kelly.
The farthest anyone who isn’t family has ever traveled just to see me has been from Oak Park to Dundee, which yet again made me question my career choice.
The two women also claimed they had met Prince. When doves cry, I said! Not. I asked if he made them pancakes (Google it). He hadn’t.
Neither did I, although I should have suggested Sallie’s just off the Kennedy on Harlem for that.
Instead, we drove home with plenty of stories dancing in our suburban craniums – and a bit of gas, still, from the onions on the pizza.