Day of the Dowd

L99A0029Gerald Dowd has drummed for with a lot of different Chicago musicians over the years, rarely taking the spotlight himself. Saturday was his day, and what a remarkable feat it was. FitzGerald’s hosted daylong festival called “Day of the Dowd,” featuring 17 bands playing over the course of 13 1/2 hours. Dowd played drums for the first 16 of these bands, barely taking any breaks longer than a few minutes. And then for the finale, Dowd stepped up to the microphone with an acoustic guitar, singing and playing tuneful alt-country songs from his first album as a solo artist, Home Now.

I showed up halfway through the day, arriving in time to catch a rare performance by the great Chicago power-pop band Frisbie — which was so good that it made me hope Frisbie starts playing more shows and recording music again. The rest of an evening was a who’s who of Chicago’s alt-country and related genres. Here’s the full list of bands that played starting at 11 a.m.: Justin Roberts and the Not Ready For Naptime Players, Dave Sills, Brian Ohern’s Model Citizens Big Band, Electric Dirt, Samba Bamba, the Regulators, Nora O’Connor, the Hoyle Brothers, EXO, Dave Ramont, Frisbie, Jive Council, Kelly Hogan, Lush Budgett, Chris Mills, Robbie Fulks and Gerald Dowd and his Moral Minority.

All of these musicians gave their time to play at this event, celebrating the release of Dowd’s new album and all that he’s done for them over the years. The event also raised money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Some singers and musicians kept turning up on the stage, performing with various groups over the course of the marathon.

Dowd started his own set with his 14-year-old son standing next to him and playing guitar. Various other musicians joined Dowd over the course of that final hour, but then it was just him standing alone on the stage for the encore, playing a beautiful acoustic ballad from Home Now. I sensed something especially heartfelt in the applause. It was astounding to think what this man had just put himself through. He was still standing as the show ended around 12:40 a.m., remarking that he was looking forward to a day without any drumming on Sunday.

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Dave Ramont and Gerald Dowd
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Frisbie
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Frisbie

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Frisbie
Frisbie
Frisbie
Frisbie

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Kelly Hogan
Kelly Hogan
Kelly Hogan
Kelly Hogan
Scott Ligon (playing with Kelly Hogan)
Scott Ligon (playing with Kelly Hogan)
Lush Budgett
Lush Budgett
Chris Mills
Chris Mills
Chris Mills
Chris Mills
Chris Mills
Chris Mills
Kelly Hogan gives Dowd a back rub.
Kelly Hogan gives Dowd a back rub.
Robbie Fulks
Robbie Fulks
Grant Tye, Kelly Hogan and Robbie Fulks
Grant Tye, Kelly Hogan and Robbie Fulks
Gerald Dowd with his son.
Gerald Dowd with his son.

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Grant Tye, Dave Sills and Gerald Dowd

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Shoes and Green

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The Shoes have been making great power pop since 1975, though the band has largely gone unnoticed by the public at large. They’ve kept at it, however, even if their recording and concert pace has been pretty sporadic for the past couple of decades. The group, which originally formed in Zion, Ill., re-emerged last year with a fine record of new songs called Ignition, while the Numero Group reissued some of the band’s early records and the Real Gone label released 35 Years: The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012.

Amid this resurgence of activity, Shoes finally got around to playing a local concert last night (May 4), performing at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.

It was the first time Shoes had played a Chicago-area concert since a 2007 gig in Millennium Park. (I was there for that show, too.) When they played six years ago, I wrote that “they did not sound the least bit rusty,” and that was just as true last night. Shoes sounded quite sharp as they delivered shiny guitar riffs, catchy vocal melodies and harmonies, and the new songs from <i>Ignition</i> stood up quite well alongside great oldies like “Tomorrow Night.” An enthusiastic bunch of Shoes fans filled the room, clearly delighted when the Shoes came back for two encores.

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The opening act was another excellent Chicago-area band that seldom performs, Green, who made the superb 1987 album <i>Elaine MacKenzie</i>, among other fine recordings. I’m not sure when their last gig was, but I had managed to see Green only once before — at Phyllis’ Musical Inn, something like 24 years ago. The band was in top form on Saturday at FitzGerald’s, and  the Green fans clustered near the front of the stage seemed ecstatic to be seeing this band on a stage again after all these years. In additional to old Green songs, the band played covers of two Buzzcocks tunes and one by Nick Drake — a somewhat odd choice, but a good indication of the band’s range of influences.

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The last (?) Country Calendar show

Heather McAdams and Chris Ligon
Heather McAdams
Heather McAdams

For the past 15 years, cartoonist Heather McAdams and her husband, musician Chris Ligon, have presented a delightful event each December at FitzGerald’s: Chris and Heather’s Country Calendar Show. McAdams sells her calendars, which feature her drawings of old-time country music stars and tons of factoids and humorous observations packed into practically every square. And each year, a dozen or so musical acts take the stage, paying tribute to one of the artists featured in the calendar by playing a couple of cover tunes. And in between all of those musical performances, a movie screen gets pulled down so that Chris and Heather can project 16mm films from their collection of classic country music.

It’s quite a festive evening, and I’ve attended a few times. Alas, the 2012 edition is apparently the last one Chris and Heather will ever do. At least, that’s what they’re saying now. I’m hoping they come back. To quote the reaction of Neko Case (who has performed at past calendar shows) when she heard the tradition was ending:

Chris and Heather’s final calendar show was filled with all of the hilarity, affection, great music and cool old films that regulars had come to expect. It was a bittersweet occasion, but they went out in style.

Heather’s L’il 2012 Country Calendar is for sale here.

Heather McAdams and Chris Ligon
Heather McAdams and Chris Ligon

Chris Ligon
Chris Ligon reads Heather's list of other guys she'd like as co-hosts.

Scott Ligon
Scott Ligon plays the music of Skeeter Davis.

Lawrence Peters Outfit
The Lawrence Peters Outfit sings Randy Travis.

Paulina Hollers
The Paulina Hollers play Bill Monroe.

Paulina Hollers
The Paulina Hollers play Bill Monroe.

Matt Miller
Matt Miller sings the songs of Conway Twitty.

Jon Langford
Jon Langford is Johnny Cash.

Devil in a Woodpile
Devil in a Woodpile do Billy Joe Shaver.

Vernon Tonges
Vernon Tonges

Robbie Fulks and Vernon Tonges
Robbie Fulks joins Vernon Tonges onstage as Tonges sings Fulks' song "Push Right Over."

Heather McAdams and Chris Ligon
Heather McAdams hypnotizes Chris Ligon into performing impersonations.

The Modern Sounds
The Modern Sounds perform George Jones.

The Modern Sounds
The Modern Sounds perform George Jones.

Robbie and Donna Fulks
Robbie and Donna Fulks perform the music of the Johnson Mountain Boys.

Possum Hollow Boys
The Possum Hollow Boys are Wanda Jackson.

Charlie King
Charlie King

Jane Baxter Miller and Kent Kessler
Jane Baxter Miller and Kent Kessler do Freddy Fender.

The Polkaholics
The Polkaholics "cook" as the Collins Kids.

The Polkaholics
The Polkaholics "cook" as the Collins Kids.

The Fat Babies
The Fat Babies play Bob Wills.

Waco Brothers + Paul Burch

During their first decade together (1995-2005), the Waco Brothers cranked out seven studio albums. But then, seven years went by without a new record of original Wacos material. That’s not the say the band disappeared. They’ve kept on playing lots of gigs (in Chicago, anyway). Jon Langford and other members of the band have continued making music under other guises. But no new Wacos songs. Until now.

The new record on the Bloodshot label is not just by the Waco Brothers — it’s by the Waco Brothers and Paul Burch. And the Wacos aren’t merely serving as the backup band for Paul Burch, an alt-country crooner. It’s more like Burch has been recruited as an auxiliary Waco, singing and writing most but not all of the new songs. And a fine bunch of new songs it is, kicking off with the title track, “Great Chicago Fire,” co-written by Burch and Langford. The song’s opening line turns a famous quote by Johnny Rotten — “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” — into a memorable melodic hook.

The Wacos and Burch celebrated their new album with a gig Thursday (April 26) at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, and the new songs survived the ultimate test, fitting right in with the old tunes that are longtime audience favorites. Burch fit right in, too, standing in the middle of that long line of microphone stands. The Wacos already had an abundance of lead singers (Langford, Dean Schlabowske and Tracy Dear, not to mention bassist Alan Doughty, who often jumps into the fray with backup vocals). But why not add another? The Wacos’ attitude seems to be, “the more, the merrier.”











The Chicago bluegrass band Tanglewood opened for the Waco Brothers with a set highlighted by their cool cover of the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.” Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s a song that Paul Burch covered back in 2007, when he opened for the Mekons at the Mutiny.


NRBQ at FitzGerald’s

NRBQ played a stupendously fun gig Saturday night (Aug. 27) at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, but some folks are bound to wonder: Was this really, truly NRBQ? The legendary band was together for a good, long stretch of time, from 1967 until 2004. And now it’s back, but only one of the old-time NRBQ members, Terry Adams, is in the lineup. When Adams formed this newer band in 2007, at first he called it the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet. Now, he’s decided just to call it NRBQ.

It’s essentially a new generation of NRBQ — a key member of the classic band making great music with three talented younger musicians, who are just about a perfect match with the old NRBQ vibe. And they’re not just playing the old NRBQ songs — they have an excellent new album, Keep This Love Goin’. (Order it at www.nrbq.com — and I received a copy straight from NRBQ headquarters in a brown envelope covered with about a dozen postage stamps.)

The lineup includes Scott Ligon, one of Chicago’s most stellar musicians, known for his work with Kelly Hogan and the Flat Five, among many other bands. (He was the subject of a wonderful 2007 cover story by Anne Ford in the Chicago Reader, “The Opposite of Selling Out: How a month of ‘Margaritaville’ and a bald man with a hair dryer convinced Scott Ligon to get serious about music.”) Ligon sings and plays guitar with NRBQ, handling lead vocals on many of the old songs as well as the new ones — including some that he either wrote or co-wrote. NRBQ is a terrific vehicle for Ligon’s talents and his obvious appreciation of a wide range of musical genres.

The new NRBQ also includes Austin, Texas, drummer Conrad Choucroun and Philadelphia bassist-singer Pete Donnelly, who’s also a member of the Figgs, and he’s contributing new songs as well.

Enthusiastic fans danced all night in front of the stage as Terry Adams made goofy faces and bounced around his keyboards. At one point, he even reached over to the accordion mounted on the FitzGerald’s wall next to the stage and pretended to play that. (Sorry, I missed getting a photo of that, alas.) There was no denying Adams’ youthful spirit.

Thankfully, NRBQ did not neglect its new record during the concert, playing plenty of those new songs, which range from rollicking old-fashioned boogie-woogie to Pet Sounds-esque chamber pop. During two long encores, NRBQ dug deeper into its catalog, playing oldies such as “Me and the Boys” “Wacky Tobacky,” “Captain Lou” and “Get Rhythm.” The audience would’ve gladly stayed for a third encore.














The Sanctified Grumblers opened the show with their distinctive washboard-rhythm old-timey blues. It was cool to see bassist Tom Ray supplementing the duo’s spare sound.

Wanda Jackson at FitzGerald’s

She’s known as the Queen of Rockabilly, and she deserves the title. Wanda Jackson is one of the pioneers. She played with Elvis. She was even his girlfriend for a while. She may not have been as famous as the other folks (mostly guys) who blended together country, blues and folk to create the stuff known as rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly, but her songs — like “Mean Mean Man” — still sound great all these years later. And Ms. Jackson still sounds pretty great, too.

She’s in her 70s, but she’s still touring, and she made a stop Friday night at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackson in 2007 by phone, but this was the first time I’d ever seen her perform in concert. She was sassy, funny and spirited throughout a good long set, playing all of her oldies plus a couple of songs she just recorded for a seven-inch single with Jack White producing: Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over.” After the show, I bought the single at the merch table, where Jackson was up past 1:30 a.m. signing autographs. She told me the full album produced by White will be coming out in January.

Jackson spent some years playing Christian music before she went back to her early rockabilly tunes, so it wasn’t surprising that she included at least one song in her set with a gospel message — but what a song. She played one of my favorite classic country songs with a religious theme, Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.” Jackson’s backup band was the Lustre Kings, who played a fine opening set of their own, including some Elvis songs they were practicing for an Elvis festival the following night in Green Bay. Oh, and did I mention that Wanda Jackson threw some water at me during her set? She was saying, “Boy, it sure is hot in here, isn’t it?” and then she splashed some water from her bottle at a few people, including me. Fun times.


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American Music Festival

JULY 2, 2005
AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
at FitzGerald’s

I always try to make it to this fine festival for at least one day. As Robbie Fulks said during his set tonight, it’s like a little bit of Austin, Texas.

The discovery of the day was the Lee Boys, a Florida “sacred steel” group that plays a rousing blues-gospel-rock. The blazing star of this band is pedal-steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier. The minute I heard this kid playing, it was obvious he’s something special. And the crowd knew it, too. I’m guessing few people in the room knew anything about the Lee Boys before today, but they certainly have some new fans.

The Kinsey Report also impressed with their blues, and Tributosaurus pulled off a nice tribute to the music of the Band.

Robbie Fulks was as entertaining as always  — of course, there are those who are put off by his sarcasm and tomfoolery, but I just find it amusing. He’s one of those great showmen with multiple talents  — in his case, singing, songwriting, guitar playing and comical emceeing. “Georgia Hard,” the title track of his new CD, already sounds like a classic. The short set came to a rather abrupt end becase of the midnight curfew, as Fulks joked about not wanting to tick off the “Berwyn gendarmes.”

Just as Fulks finished up, the Gourds were getting ready to play inside the club. I’m woefully behind on my knowledge of this Austin band, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about them (despite the fact that President George W. Bush is apparently one of their fans … I guess you can’t blame the band for that). All I can say is they sounded good, but I didn’t know the songs and I was tired.

SEE PHOTOS FROM THE AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL.