Mention Scott Free's name to almost any queer musician or creative writer in Chicago and they will most likely say "Grinder." They aren't referring to a dance move that they might have seen Free do when he performs live at his Queer Is Folk Festival. They are talking about the live queer words and music series that the singer/songwriter and concert promoter created. Now entering its third year, Grinder's reach has become national, with Free booking out-of-town performers such as Y'All, Pistol Pete & Popgun Paul, Alix Olson and Alix Dobin together, and Nedra Johnson in 2002. Grinder continues to grind on at the No Exit and you can find a complete schedule of performers at www. scottfree. net.
Gregg Shapiro: October is the second anniversary of Grinder. How do you plan to commemorate this occasion?
Scott Free: My partner Gene and I are actually going to have a Grinder Anniversary party at our place, for both the artists who have performed at Grinder and the folks who come to the show. I'm burning some compilation CDs of songs by Grinder performers to play all evening...a fun task in itself! Because I'm so unorganized, I will probably miss contacting quite a few people, so this is a good chance to say 'E-mail me & I'll give you directions!'
GS: For the uninitiated, please give us a brief history of Grinder.
SF: Grinder started in response to long discussions I had with the illustrious Gregg Shapiro …
GS: Thanks for the mention, but you give me too much credit …
SF: … about a lack of performance venues for Chicago's LGBTQ community. I decided that the emphasis would be on making it an all-inclusive hangout. It's not a men's thing, it's not a women's thing...and it's all-ages. I also wanted it to include both music and spoken word. Finally, I wanted it to be weekly, so that people ( would ) know that any Thursday ( except Thanksgiving! ) , they can stop in and see high-quality queer performance. Grinder is also a "feature" gig...I have one poet/writer and one musician /band each week. There's no open mic. Grinder started over at the Willow Cafe on Thorndale, which turned into the Coffee & Tea Exchange, and then closed its doors. I moved Grinder over to the No Exit Cafe in Rogers Park...we've been there since March.
GS: What have been some of the most memorable Grinder performances?
SF: The thing that amazes me is how often I'm blown away by the performances. I think the setting and the audience has really helped to get the best performances out of the artists. So many artists have told me how they love performing at Grinder, because the audience is so intense about listening to every aspect of the performance.
GS: That's very diplomatic. Who would be your dream Grinder performer?
SF: I'm going to dodge that question, really, because what I love most about Grinder is the people who are doing a feature performance for the first time. Those are what make Grinder so exhilarating.
GS: Diplomacy rules! What do you foresee for the future of Grinder?
SF: My goals are twofold. First, I'm hoping I can reach more of Chicago's LGBTQ community, to increase interest in seeing live performance, and having the community recognize that there are alternatives to bars that are still fun places to hang out. Second, I'm really hoping to get the word out nationally, but I don't mean big names. I just want it to be known that if you're a queer performer heading for Chicago, Grinder is the place to be!
GS: Do you have any Scott Free news?
SF: You mean like our cat had babies? ( she didn't ... ) . Just that Gene and I purchased rings...don't have a ceremony planned yet, but we're working on it.
GS: Have you done recent local gigs?
SF: Gene & I just did a benefit for the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network at Annex III that was a lot of fun.
GS: What about recent or upcoming out-of-state gigs?
SF: Our biggest show recently has been Toronto Pride, which was amazing...imagine combining our Gay Pride with the Halsted Street Fair. They estimated a million people were there for the event. They close off the streets Friday evening and don't open them again until Monday.
GS: When can we expect a new Scott Free CD?
SF: I'm actually stopping the live performances for awhile so I can concentrate on recording the CD. I just purchased a Mac, so I'm kind of starting from scratch. I've written a ton of songs...unfortunately, they won't be on the CD! I'm saving most of them for future projects...you know, temperamental artist stuff!!! But I swear, I'll get my act together here soon.
Grinder, 6970 N. Glenwood, ( 773 ) 743-3355, www.scottfree.net .