Year in Music: Move me

Can a new cityscape change a life obsessed with music?
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It was during my early teens that the obsession struck. I oversaw the building of a stage, booked a bunch of bad garage bands, and charged $10 for admission to boondocks Maryland's first semiannual Punk Fest. During my high school years I snuck into the seediest venues that Baltimore and Washington DC had to offer — still the scariest I've seen to date. By my arrival in San Francisco, I was a full-fledged music scene devotee, immediately taking a job at the Great American Music Hall to pay the rent during college. My SoMa warehouse hosted concerts a few times a month — my bed was a futon unrolled over a segment of 58 Tehama's stage. For years my drinks were comped, my seats were great, and I was always on the guest list.

It wasn't until the final months of 2006 that I realized I've spent most of my postpubescent life inside concert venues. It was getting increasingly difficult to ignore my ringing ears, to justify the copious waves of shift-off cocktails, and to keep my love for music intact. Flag down any soundperson, bartender, or bouncer working anywhere in the city tonight, and they'll tell you the music industry breeds bitterness.

How to live in San Francisco without working in the music business? At least my job kept me firmly in the so-called creative class — a label that made me feel much better about my financial situation. Moving to a less expensive city could mean a better standard of living and a way to cut the industry apron strings for good. My husband, having spent more than a decade working in music stores, was game. His only stipulation was that he would not, under any condition, be taking a record store job ever again.

We caught a train to Chicago, where my husband promptly took a job at a record store. I managed to stay away from music for a month, instead focusing my energies on writing food reviews for local publications. But by the time the festival season rolled around, the prospect of seeing Patti Smith perform against the impressive skyline of my new hometown ruined everything. The University of Chicago recently published a study comparing the music scenes of American's top metropolises. Chicago kicked some serious ass. The study described Chi-town as "a music city in hiding."

I doubt I'll ever shake music totally, but living in Chicago has taught me it doesn't have to be a way of life anymore. When it comes to the scene these days, I'm nothing more than a music fan in hiding.

TOP 10

1. During my last night at the Great American Music Hall, I danced like crazy to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

2. Tyva Kyzy. Anyone who missed this all-female group of Tuvan throat singers is probably still kicking themselves.

3. Barbarasteele's 7-inch release party at Cafe du Nord blew some minds. Rest in peace, Mike J.

4. Patti Smith performing at Lollapalooza in the pouring rain.

5. No, I wasn't among the Milanese elite who got to see Ennio Morricone at La Scala opera house, but just knowing about this show makes me a better person.

6. Rediscovering Townes Van Zandt's Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (Snapper UK).

7. The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (Bloodshot).

8. Thanks, Sopranos, for making Journey relevant again.

9. Happy centennial to the glorious buildings that house the Great American Music Hall and the Cafe du Nord.

10. De la Soul closing out the Pitchfork Music Festival in style — with a little help from Prince Paul.

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