CHICAGO AT THE LINCOLN THEATER
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Celebrating Count The Dings
In some ways, little had changed. It was a lot of familiar faces - beyond just those we all came to see on stage. It was a lot of new faces too, expanding the universe of people that have shared this particular fascination in person after months/years/eons of doing so over audio. But in the ten weeks since the last Count the Dings Live Show, so much had changed as well.
Nothing more than the state of the podcast itself, this being the first show since they moved the basketball-focused half of their operation to The Athletic. But that half was not present. This was not about that. This was celebrating the half left separately, the half that we're all invested in, from a literal sense (Patreon and the like) to a communal one. This was a celebration of the past twenty months since they left ESPN's protective umbrella, and waded out into the ever expanding Podcast world alone. There is no better indication of how well that worked than hundreds of people coming to watch that independence in full display. Count the Dings is a community. In some ways, I've always known this, but while I got my first upfront view at their Boston live show, it was reinforced over and over again this past weekend in Chicago. From the meet-ups, to a booze cruise featuring us huddling under the duress of a 48-degree rainy night, to bar trips thereafter, to the show, and finally the aftershow late into the Chicago night. In name only was this a Live Show - it was a weekend-long Live Experience.
It was better the second time for myriad reasons. It was better because I was able to meet people I knew. The faces that slowly etch further in the mind, moving rapidly from online acquaintances shrouded behind a online name, to in person friends, joyously sharing in this shared love for something uniquely special. Selfishly, it was better because I was slightly known as well - it truly is great to catch up with people who share a deep interest, randomly in random cities at random times.
It was better because no matter how well the show has done and will continue to do under the Athletic umbrella, the focus of the weekend was on the still independent, more loose, hilarious and personal half - a true celebration of everything that makes this community great. Count the Dings is still alive, producing so much non-basketball content, with an ever-expanding set of podcasts that are all still as funny and inventive as they've ever been.
It was better, let's be honest, because May in Chicago (despite having to evade, at various points, hail, rain and lightning) is a better time of year and city to celebrate than March in Boston. It was better because the stories shared were potentially better, the secrets and laughs more enjoyable, more personal.
It was better because it felt more like a joyous coronation of this particular community - the show ending with an impromptu rap session with Black Tray and Mariano (every bit as cool in person as expected) holding the mic. The show ended with great stories (Amin's tale of the Chicago police inside a city Marriott a particular late highlight), and as it ended it exploded with an energy that wouldn't dampen for three or four more hours.
In front of the stage with a DJ still belting out bangers and MC Tray and Mari going at it, was Zach Harper with his parents, and an ebullient Jade Hoye hugging a series of fans. It says a lot about Jade that in these interactions, it is clear he loves each fan as much as they love him.
The show was more meaningful this time because I was also a bit more at ease - having run through this once before, having met most of these folks. Even if they don't remember me by name, they're open enough, cool enough, and interested in their fans enough for that to be a circumstance of time spent with them, not because they are closed off. There are no barriers with the Count The Dings crew. Hell, half the 'crew' at this point are fans that have become more and more ingrained and assisting in the rise of the show.
It is astonishing to see where this show, this community, has come - even from a fairly outside-in perspective. To think so much of its roots (both the people on the show, and the fans) still trace themselves back to ESPN. If not for how original, how different, how unvarnished it was under the most corporate of hosts, it probably doesn't survive on its own. That's a credit to Jade Hoye, the master, and so many others. From the long timers still plugging away like Amin Elhassan, 'Big Wos' Wosney Lambrey, Zach Harper, Tom Haberstroh, Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Mariano Bivins, to those like Kevin Pelton (who is game to show up and hang in both Boston and here), Brian Windhorst, Tim Bontempts, Tim McMahon who are still left behind at ESPN but played such pivotal roles into building it in the first places.
But to some degree, us listeners, who went from loudly cheering on an ESPN production, to moving through name changes and Patreon pledges, deserve some credit too because we want to support this little engine that could so damn much. I've been on the receiving end of countless hours of podcasts and dings, I'm still way in debt even after experiencing the fun first-hand twice.
The pace and frequency of these shows will potentially slow down - in part due to their relationship with The Athletic, in part because it's damn tough to put these together. That added to the riotous energy of the weekend - a last chance to enjoy and immerse in Count the Dings for a while. It was a true celebration of what was built, how great it still is more than six years in, how wide it has grown, how deep our love for this band of crazies (both the hosts and the fans) is and will always be.
It is hard to pick out my favorite moments of the weekend. So many blur together in a whirlwind, as so often happens when you experience wall to wall great times. But in the end, while the show itself is great, and gives us all a purpose for descending on that town for that weekend, it is the smaller moments that will stand out.
Maybe it was asking Amin a few questions about Ramadan. Or it was meeting Mariano for the first time and sharing my favorite past Monta Monday. Then again, It was every time I met a familiar face who prior to Boston I knew nothing about except we all like this podcast. It was about getting a few kudos for rocking my Blackhawks Hossa jersey, doing so because I know I can't stack up to the rest of the crew or fans on basketball gear. It was trading favorite craft stouts with Kevin Pelton. It was meeting Tray's cousin, or talking TV momentarily with Mayes. It was chatting with Eden, Nitz, Jane and the rest of the awesome women in the CTD crew. It was telling Tom, again, how much I loved Pack the Knives. But it all comes back to Jade.
One memory stands out. My first run-in with Jade was on the booze cruise, both fighting off shivers on the roof as we tried to pretend to not be cold (Northeast people hate admitting they're cold). After a quick hug and 'how are you', Jade asked me "what are you going to write this time?" Well, Jade, this is what I've written this time. Hope it is half as good for you as the show and weekend and the Count The Dings community and podcast is for me.