A Night At The Ballroom: Chicago Indie Soul Rockers Whitney Come To Town To Get Down At Cannery Ballroom

I couldn’t help but notice how the sprinkling rain cast a beautiful glow around the Adventure Science Center’s multi-colored pyramid as we headed into the city. One might speculate that the foggy air was indicative of a spooky night, but I’ve learned to find the beauty in Nashville’s indecisive weather patterns.

With my cousin’s hand holding his girlfriend’s from the front seat of our Uber, we were on our way to the Cannery Ballroom to hear popular Chicago-based indie band, Whitney. For me, it would be the first time seeing the group play the soundtrack necessary to all my road trips. For my cousin, the night would mark his fifth. I’d been playing their most recent album, Forever Turned Around, throughout the day, just to brush-up on the lyrics and try to blend in with all the diehard fans.

A palpable energy of distressed Levi’s and mint Juul pods filled the air as we entered the venue. My cousin’s girlfriend maneuvered her way through the brick interior and instantly darted to the merch table. A line had formed, laden with Whitney long sleeves, vinyl records, and tour posters embodying the cream-colored floral designs signature to the group’s classic sound. Once I had my ticket, we strolled through the thickening crowd of fans coming down from hearing CHAI; a Japanese alt-pop group set to open for the Whitney tour.

I kicked myself for not getting to the venue sooner to hear the pink-eyeshadowed women amp up the crowd with their pop hooks; a nice palette cleanser before the headlining group would blow us away with their nostalgic vocals and bright trumpet solos.  

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Pushing my way past a grungy cluster of audience members, I managed to get fairly close to the stage. Within moments, the members of Whitney filled out the stage.

Leading the group through the smoky haze was drummer-vocalist, Julien Ehrlich, in a white T-shirt and teal flannel. The stage was setup like nothing I’d ever seen; with Ehrlich on the drum set and mic, front-and-center. Max Kakacek, who would soon prove to dominate on the slide-guitar, and the rest of the Whitney band mates make up an eight-piece band.

After exchanging smiles with one another and casually finding their places, the group wasted no time in opening with their original song, “Polly.” The muted downbeats of the synth-keyboard and Ehrlich’s sweet falsetto filled the room as a young couple began to sway to the Bon Iver-meets-Allen Toussaint sound.

Moving into “No Matter Where We Go,” (a personal favorite of mine), hexagonal stage lights pulsated gently with the anthem’s drum hits. Realizing how rare it was to witness a front man drummer-vocalist, I couldn’t help but stare as Ehrlich craned his neck toward the mic, tending to each chorus with ease, while also maintaining the rhythmic flow of the group. Following this was “Dave’s Song,” flowing into the lovely, simplistic instrumentals of “Rhododendron.”

Ehrlich raised a half-full beer to everyone, thanking us for our overwhelming support and for “coming out on a Friday night, and another week completed.” After cycling through the bulk of their discography, fans harmlessly pushed for their popular covers.

A Tennessee Vols fan to my right took advantage of the silent shift between songs. The orange-jersey-wearer hollers, “We want ‘Magnet’!” (a NRBQ song, re-popularized by Whitney) as he and his friends laughed with one another.

Print Choutea, tuning his guitar at stage left under the purple hue of lights, laughed under his curly brunette locks in response to the bro-esque persistence, and one of the men turns to me and jokes, “He listens!” incredulously, as the song begins to play. It felt like a scene from a movie.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I took in the endearing air-guitar playing from fans around me. It became clear to me at this moment, that Whitney has a humbling skill of garnering dedicated, inclusive fans.

Matching the starry-eyed expressions of my neighbors, I took in my surroundings. Young lovers kissed to the sound of “Forever Turned Around,” their title track, as it played in the background of the couple’s embrace. “We met at one of their shows!” The spunky brunette 20-something woman tells me; an encouraging reminder that the 21st Century isn’t entirely saturated with inorganic dating apps.

After a short break, Ehrlich invited the giddy members of CHAI back up on stage, and a trio of “some friends of ours.” It took me a moment to recognize one particular raven-haired woman strutting a long, witchy dress, until Vanessa Carlton’s biggest hit, “A Thousand Miles,” playing in the montage of every nineties flick came to mind (Legally Blonde, anyone?). Soon after, Carlton joined the band in singing “No Woman,” which gave me serious Stevie Nicks vibes. Chalk it up to her witchy, badass disposition, perhaps? It’s safe to say, every White Chicks fan in the room was ecstatic to see this songstress’s collaboration with Whitney.

And with that, the band closed out the set with their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (Just as Slow as I Can).” Being sure to shake the hands of as many fans on their walk off-stage, Choutea kneels down to grab the set list from his position on-stage, and hands it to a pleading fan.

Covering all the bases of a soul-indie band, each instrument played off one another’s vintage sound, creating an equally inventive collection of music. Leaving the Ballroom, I left with an encouraging reminder that authentic lyrics and comforting melodies tinged with strum-heavy guitar hooks reminiscent of the 1970’s are alive and well. 

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