For its Chicago-to-New Orleans service on restored Pullman rail cars, Pullman Rail Journeys has recruited Old Town School musicians to come along for the ride, providing entertainment on select trips.
The kicker: The Pullman train has been dubbed "The City of New Orleans," same as a folk song penned by the late Steve Goodman, an Old Town Alum.
The song — part of a "vast, vast repertoire" of folk music centered on riding the rails or working on the railroad — "gets performed at some class at Old Town a dozen times a week," said Bau Graves, Old Town School director.
"It's a huge part of this institution's background," he said.
Of the partnership, Graves added: "There is not a finer match that you could come up with."
"It really does put two things together that belong together," said Steve Torrico, assistant general manager of Pullman Rail Journeys, and a former locomotive engineer.
"Music and railroading go hand in hand," Torrico said.
The City of New Orleans departs from Union Station every Tuesday and Friday, covering the 934 miles from Chicago to the Big Easy in 19-and-a-half hours.
A lounge/club car is located at the end of every train and will serve as the musicians' performance venue.
"Bau asked us to partner up in twos and threes" when informing musicians of the Pullman deal, said Dvorak. "I called up Chris and said, 'I've got dibs on you.'"
The two have been working on their set list, including a plan to incorporate songs meaningful to regions the train passes through, like Memphis.
"We don't want to practice too much" and feel over-rehearsed, said Dvorak. He and Walz want to allow for improvisation and requests from riders.
"The intrigue of it is, if you're electing to go down to New Orleans by train, you've put yourself in the mindset where you're going to enjoy the ride," said Walz. "It's gonna be like hanging out at Old Town School."
Rail journeys featuring Old Town School performers have been scheduled so far through the end of the year, departing Chicago on Oct. 29, Nov. 17, Dec. 10 and Dec. 31.
The City of New Orleans departs from Union Station every Tuesday and Friday, covering the 934-miles from Chicago to the Big Easy in 19-and-a-half hours. Accommodations range from $2,850 for a master bedroom with private bath and shower to $500 for an upper berth in an open section.