Q&A With Len Kasper Part 1: Talking Hot Stove/Cool Music 2014

Q&A With Len Kasper Part 1: Talking Hot Stove/Cool Music 2014
Spiegel and Kapser rock out.

I had the chance recently to talk with Cubs play-by-play man, the one-and-only Len Kasper. Kasper and I chatted about a few things, but let's start with the upcoming Hot Stove/Cool Music event coming up at the Metro on Friday, June 20. This year's lineup will boast a heavy Chicago flavor after the event originated in the Boston area.

This years show will feature an "all-star" lineup including returning players Jimmy Chamberlin and Scott Lucas as well as Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Wilco/The Autumn Defense bassist John Stirratt, Urge Overkill guitarist/bassist Eddie "King" Roeser, Shoes singer/guitarist Gary Klebe, the Ponys frontman Jered Gummere, Tributosaurus singer (and The Score 670-AM sports-talk co-host) Matt Spiegel and other veteran local musicians.

This event is also very dear to Cubs President Theo Epstein, who told the Tribune;

"The original thought, and the thought that has sustained it from my perspective, was if there are people who have resources, who are that passionate about baseball and music, then you can put together an event in which you could transfer some of that wealth to nonprofits that really need it."

The Hot Stove events still take place each January in Boston, but since the Cubs hired Epstein in fall 2011, Chicago has hosted a summer version as well. It's a mix of music and baseball, which includes the show and, the following afternoon, the Urban Baseball Classic game between Boston and Chicago youth teams. I attended last year's event, where both Epstein and venerable baseball reporter Peter Gammons performed along with the musicians.

Undoubtedly, the highlight for me was when Kasper and Spiegel performed a Replacements cover. I learned during our conversation this past week that Kasper and Spiegel hadn't even rehearsed that one previously. It was a fun night for all and I'm looking forward to covering it again here coming up shortly.

TL: How did you originally get involved in this event?

LK: Matt (Spiegel) and I obviously know each other pretty well through the sports scene. Just to give you a background of how we got to where we are here, we did the "Len and Bob Bash." I think we did four of them -- '07, '08, '09 and 2010; those were always in January. Then Theo [Epstein] got the [Cubs President] job prior to 2012 and I know Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom and he's very involved in the Hot Stove show in Boston with Theo and [Peter] Gammons and that whole crew. When Theo got the job, Bill and I were joking we should bring "Hot Stove" to Chicago and then it just grew from there.

TL:​ So you actually pitched it to Theo?

LK: ​Well, I think it was just a group-think thing where it was, "Hey, the Red Sox actually played here that June and we thought well, let's do it when the Red Sox are in town." It really worked out well. We got Joe Shanahan involved from Metro. Just like all the stars aligned really quickly, I would say. ​It was like we were looking to do something like that and thought it would be a good way to continue the music thing that we'd always done but do it in-season. Since they do it in Boston in January we felt we'll do one in June. They'll do the Boston one there and then we'll do the Chicago one here. It started as a Boston comes to Chicago thing.

The first year Bill Janovitz, Mike Gent, all these Boston musicians came here and then Bob and I came up and did a couple of songs. We had Smashing Pumpkins headline. It was great, it was fun. Then the next year we had Poi Dog; that was last year. We had a little more of a Chicago flavor. We had Jimmy Chamberlin, Scott Lucas, a few more Chicago musicians show up. Still, it was basically a Boston group and as time has gone on I think the idea was to hand it off to a Chicago group a little more and more as we go while maintaining Gammons and some of the Boston people.

TL: You told me you really wanted to do this up big this year. How did this year's line up come about?

LK: I called Spiegel and I said "let's grab drinks and let's brainstorm a little bit." His Tributosaurus concerts...always do a theme or a particular band. Matt said "I think instead of just having an all-star band and a bunch of people play random songs and then just have it be generally a concert, if you pick a theme that gives it a little more of a hook." We batted around some ideas and maybe three or four days later I just thought: why don’t we just do something that's about Chicago? Let's just play all night. There's a million great bands, a million great songs. We could do blues and soul and power pop, '90s rock.

I mean, there's just a million different things we could do. 70s rock with with Chicago and Styx and REO; every decade had its Chicago influence. I came up with a set list basically. I started with songs and bands and then I just started calling people and e-mailing people and texting people I knew..

TL: Who were must-haves?

LK: ​I wanted Jimmy. Everybody wanted Jimmy (Chamberlin) involved again and he was immediately on board. Scott Lucas was immediately on board. They'll want to do some Pumpkins, want to do some Local H. I wanted to do some Shoes. They're a great power pop band from Zion. I've been a huge fan of theirs forever.

I love the Ponys and I e-mailed Jered Gummere, who's a friend of Scott Lucas and he's in. We tried to get John Stirratt from Wilco [and] we got him [through his management company. They basically know Eddie Roeser from Urge Overkill. We'll ask Eddie. Eddie said "I'm in." It just kept snowballing.

TL: Anyone surprise you with their involvement?

LK: We were getting more and more Chicago all-stars and then checked in with Tom Morello.

I know Tom fairly well and he happens to be in town this month. He says "I'm going to be in town but I got to leave on the 18th." I said "Would you want to stay two more day because the show is the 20th." He said "Let me check with my family," and, after checking, said "Yeah, I want to do it." ​It just all fell into place where we got a million well-known Chicago artists. At that point, instead of having a headlining band, we thought of making an all-stars band playing a bunch of cool Chicago songs.

It's not the first time these three guys have played together, but you're going to have a guy from Smashing Pumpkins, from Wilco and Local H playing on the same stage. I think that's pretty neat.

​Tom Morello is going to do a Blues Brothers song. ​It's just fun. Yeah. It's going to be really, really fun. I think everyone who comes will get something out of it. It'll be fun to guess what songs we're going to play. I think a lot of people will hear some tunes and they'll be like "wow, I didn't know that song was by a band from Chicago." Going way back too.

TL: Very cool how this whole thing came about. I think this will top last year's show. For people who want to come see it, we should also mention that the likes of baseball people like Gammons and Theo will be there once again.

LK: They'll be on stage playing. Absolutely. That's the other thing about Hot Stove/Cool Music: it's baseball and rock meet together. It's going to be fun. We'll have some surprises too. There's some stuff we haven't announced that I think by the end of the night, people will be like "wow, I'm really glad I didn't miss it." I hope it's something that people talk about after the fact and if you weren't there you'll never miss it again.

Hot Stove/Cool Music: 8 p.m. June 20, Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. Tickets ($50) go on sale Saturday at noon at the Metro box office, metrochicago.com and ftbnl.org.


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Filed under: Interviews, Pop Culture


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  • Nice article, but it Janovitz, not Janovich.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to bob123:

    Thanks for the catch.

    Love seeing Len's passion for music and this event come through in his words, even just the way he's describing the process of putting it all together.

  • fb_avatar

    Being in the music business - that is a tremendous lineup. I wish I could go. Love Tom Morello.

  • Wilco and I are going to cover. Tomorrow I'm posting part 2 with video from last years show.

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