Alt-country on Taylor Street

The Taylor Street Festa Italiana seemed like a strange place to spend a day watching alt-country bands, but the street fair had a pretty stellar lineup yesterday (Aug. 11), so it was definitely the place to be me for me.

Nora O’Connor played at 3:30 p.m., facing into a bright sun and working up a sweat (maybe a sunburn, too)… She’s one of the Chicago alt-country scene’s unsung heroines, as far as I’m concerned. I sure wish she’d do another record, but from what I gather, parenthood has kept from spending too much time on her music. With the always-reliable Scott Ligon playing some fab guitar licks, O’Connor played songs from her one solo album as well as some interesting covers. “Vanishing Girl” by the Dukes of Stratosphear?!? That was unexpected – one of my favorite obscure tunes ever. O’Connor’s kid danced in front of the stage at one point. She apparently has another on the way. She joked, “You made a pregnant woman jump twice.” See my photos of Nora O’Connor.

Another artist who deserves more success, Chris Mills, played next. His solo show at Schubas last summer was decent enough, but he’s better when he has a full quasi-orchestral rock band playing behind him, which he had yesterday, including the ubiquitous keyboardist/trumpet player Dave Max Crawford and the just-as-ubiquitous cellist Fred Lonberg Holms. See my photos of Chris Mills.

I missed Blue Mountain recently when they played at Schubas the same night I saw the Wrens, so I was glad to make up for that missed opportunity with yesterday’s show. I never saw Blue Mountain back in the day. They put on a pretty solid show this time, rocking more than I expected from their records. They played a couple of new songs and promised a new album by next year.See my photos of Blue Mountain.

The Old 97’s were the headliner, but frankly, they were the group that interested me least yesterday. I’m a fan of many likeminded bands, but I’ve never really gotten into the Old 97’s or Rhett Miller. I’m sure they’ve got some good songs that I’m missing out on, but from what I’ve heard, they lack a certain grit that I usually need in my alt-country. They attracted a big audience, in sharp contrast to the sparsely attended shows earlier in the day (well, Blue Mountain got a decent-sized turnout), but I just couldn’t get into it. I stuck around long enough to get some photos, but I didn’t stay until the end. See my photos of the Old 97’s.

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