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Big Sadie giving back to Chicago with Hideout holiday show

Big Sadie | Provided Photo

Releasing a debut album can feel like a huge gamble for many bands. When Chicago’s Big Sadie released their debut, “Keep Me Waiting,” in May, singer and upright bass player Elise Bergman says it was an “exciting thing to support and put music out there for the first time” but also “intimidating.”

Big Sadie Country Christmas
When: 9 p.m. Dec. 21
Where: The Hideout 1354 W. Wabansia
Tickets: $12
Info: www.hideoutchicago.com

Seven months later, the Americana band’s hard work appears to be paying off. In fact, they were recently voted as Best Country Band in Chicago, in the “best of 2017” Chicago Reader reader’s poll.

This week they hope to repay some of that goodwill and then some through their Christmas-themed show at the Hideout. For the first time ever, the band, which frequently performs anywhere from a duo to four-piece, will perform as a big band with the help of musicians Erik Hall, Sam Wagster and Joe Adamik. They will add electric guitar, pedal steel, and drums to the band’s acoustic setup of guitar (Collin Moore), bass/fiddle (Matt Brown) and banjo (Andy Malloy).

“It’s exciting and overwhelming thinking of how the sound will emerge with this band we’re putting together,” says Bergman. “It seemed like a good time to try this when we have a holiday show, where we have the opportunity to play more cover songs and throw a few holiday tunes into the mix in a slightly country vibe that stays true to the music that we make. So, the show partly came up as an experiment.”

They’re also using the show as way to give back to the community. The show benefits Marwen, a local organization that has helps teach various life skills in the visual arts to middle- and high school-aged students from under-resourced communities and schools. All programs offered by Marwen are free thanks to fundraising efforts like the Hideout show.

“We have a lot of outreach efforts and efforts internally to make sure we’re reaching out to the kids who need us the most. And that’s kids who don’t have a good after school options in their neighborhoods or kids who don’t already have arts education in school,” says Kennon Reinard, senior manager of communications at Marwen. “We’ve had kids from 54 of 57 zip codes and graduated over 10 thousand kids.”

Proceeds from ticket sales and specially designed holiday cards will benefit the foundation.

“We wanted to create a night that felt like a holiday party and celebration but also had a giving component,” says Bergman. “We’ll donate a portion of ticket sales to the foundation and they’ll also be there selling student created holiday cards, which is a big fundraiser they do every year.”

The holiday cards feature artwork designed by students enrolled in a class called Design to Print. A Students are commissioned to create holiday prints, with the artwork later being used for the holiday cards. They present their work to a panel of adults who might be in advertising or visual arts. It provides students skills like job training, public speaking, and commission experience.

“When we can get out into the public and reach the audience, it’s such a cool entry point for people who don’t know much about Marwen,” says Reinard. “We’ll have people there that are not only selling cards but can answer questions about Marwen, if it’s a student interested in going, a Chicago artist that wants to be a teaching artist, or studio facilitator which is the entry step to become a teaching artist.”

Bergman is quite familiar with the teaching artist aspect. For the last six years, she’s been a teaching artist in fashion (in addition to her full-time job as a fashion designer).

“It’s an extremely fulfilling and rewarding environment where there’s a lot of room to grow as an artist and educator,” says Bergman. “The students are coming there after school on their own, so it ends up being a very ambitious group of kids who are so excited to be in the classroom. That’s hard to replicate in an education setting.”

The show is a chance for her to combine her two interests.

“In teaching I often focus on craft and the skills that are handed down for one generation to the next,” she says. “And in music, with your songs, even if they’re original, they’re really inspired by American tradition and oral traditions and playing music in a community, songs that you learned from your parents or neighbors. There’s a connection in traditional skills.”

Joshua Miller is a local freelance writer.