Sunday, September 17, 2017

Paramount Theatre produces electrifying version of "Million Dollar Quartet," show runs through Oct. 29

Photo by Liz Lauren

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener "Million Dollar Quartet" stars, from left, Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley and Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins. The show will run through Oct. 29 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora.


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

There aren't many musical moments bigger than the one that occurred on Dec. 4, 1956, when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley – who were all in their early 20s at the time – came together for a jam session at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Paramount Theatre, located at 23 East Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, recreates that night in electrifying fashion in its joyful version of "Million Dollar Quartet," which runs through Oct. 29. Thanks to an immensely talented cast, it doesn't take long for the audience to be pulled into the magic that is being made on stage. 

The audience is made to feel like they are part of that moment through the interaction the cast members have with the audience. Standout performances abound, including that of Gavin Rohrer, who is making his Paramount debut in the role of Lewis. He brought the energy early with a unrestrained version of "Wild One."

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Rohrer is dazzling behind the piano and and is just as impressive in imitating Lewis' frantic stage antics. Kavan Hashemian's dead-on performance as Presley shows he studied Presley's concert footage in order to give a performance as authentic as possible. Not surprisingly, he was named "The World's #1 Rock 'N Roll Elvis by the BBC in a television competition filmed in London.

But standing taller than even their performances is Bill Scott Sheets' take on Cash. He embodies the sound and spirit of Cash, right down to his rich bass-baritone voice.

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Apart from the music, it is the interaction between the characters that makes this production so entertaining. Because most of us have only seen these musicians perform on their own, it is interesting to see how they got along with each other (or didn't, in some cases.)

The Paramount Theatre produces another win with its version of "Million Dollar Quartet." Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website, www.paramountaurora.com.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chicago musician Chip Ratliff takes funk, soul to new heights on new album, "Resilient"


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Chip Ratliff is dedicated to taking funk and soul to new heights. He takes another step in that direction on his new album "Resilient," his first full-length album in more than 10 years. 

He will celebrate the release of the album by performing at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Shorefront Legacy Center, 2214 Ridge Ave., Evanston. There is a $20 donation.

I had the chance to talk to him about the new album:
 
Q – Great talking to you. "Resilient" is your first full-length album release in more than 10 years. Have you been writing these songs for a while? Was this just the right time to release a new CD?

Thank you for having me! A lot of the tunes on “Resilient” are songs that have been in the hopper for a while. A couple are brand new.


For instance, the dance tune “DirtyBlu” was actually the first song I wrote after Prince’s death. It was the first groove I played when I picked up my bass.



After going through a lot of challenges the past few years, I really felt that it was time to share my gifts and make sure I leave some kind of legacy. I really felt it was time to put something out that reflected my love of funk and my blues roots. 

Q – Do you see the album as a natural progression from your last album, "Electric Chittlin' Stew"?

Not so much a natural progression from the last album, but more of a natural progression for me personally and as an artist.  When I did “Electric Chittlin’ Stew” I felt the need to be everything to everybody, which is why it has such a broad range of material: funk, R&B, rock, Santana style Latin-rock… a little bit of everything, like a stew! “Resilient,” on the other hand, is more of me having a great time being me! I wanted to put together an album that if you came out to a Chip Ratliff show, this is what you would hear.




Q – What would you like people to get out of the album? I understand that the album's title refers to overcoming any obstacles and challenges in one's way. Have you had to do that in your own musical career?

I’m hoping that it not only entertains, but also inspires. [I hope that it] inspires people to keep moving forward, regardless of the obstacles that are in front of them.


The title “Resilient” actually comes from something one of my doctor’s said to me on a follow up visit. He said, “Mr. Ratliff, you are one of the most resilient patients I have ever seen!”

It is a testament to God and the strength that he gives me. As I say in the title track, “The Creator is brilliant…through Him, I am resilient!”

Q - You come from a musically rich family, including being the cousin of Chicago blues singer and guitarist Lefty Dizz (I watched a YouTube video of one of his shows at the Checkerboard Lounge and he put on quite an energetic show), along with the fact that your grandfather, Herman Ratliff Sr., played guitar in Memphis clubs with legends B.B. King and Muddy Waters in the 1940s. Was it inevitable that you would become a musician? What kind of support did you get from your family?

Yeah, entertainment is definitely in my DNA! I’ve actually been entertaining all my life, in one way or another.


I was the kid who would get up at the drop of a dime and do my spot-on Michael Jackson or Elvis (yes…I was an Elvis fanatic!) impersonation for the entire family...or whoever wanted to watch! I actually call myself the first Michael Jackson impersonator!

But as for my family, yes, music and entertainers were all around me. My uncle Fernando (Jones) and I would play our instruments (me on bass, him on guitar) in his mom’s (my grandmother’s) living room all day on Sunday afternoons!

His brother, my other uncle Greg, would teach us songs that he liked. Then we would play them all afternoon!

The only reason that no one stopped us was because we sounded pretty good! So, yeah, it was pretty inevitable. 

Q - You shared the stage with Lefty, along with your uncle, Fernando Jones, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon and others. What did you learn from playing with musicians of this caliber? What advice did they give you?

Playing with those guys allowed me to sit at the feet of some of the greatest musicians and performers of all time and learn! I learned about showmanship, timing and, most of all, TO BE YOURSELF!



One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Fernando. He said, in so many words, that the way you make people remember you is to be yourself. Be genuine.

Q - I understand you wrote your first song when you were 5, a duet with Jones (who was 6 at the time) called "Get Out Of Here." Does writing songs come easy for you?

One thing I’ve found is that you constantly have to keep practicing and honing your craft. I always say that songwriters “tune in” to the gazillions of songs that are out there in the air.


Not everyone can hear them…but they’re there. Now…I don’t mean to be all deep, but the more you stay in tune, the less difficult it becomes to channel the songs.
  
Q – You are president of the board of directors for Shorefront. Is it an honor to be associated with such an organization?

It is an amazing honor to be the President of the Shorefront. Shorefront is a non-profit organization that collects, preserves, and educates about Black history on Chicago’s suburban Northshore.


I have learned so much about Black history in general, and the importance of preserving heritage and using it as a foundation to move our community into the future.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

The Chicago music scene is not as open to new, original music as I and others would like for it to be. Even with that said, it is a major city, and it affords opportunities to create your own opportunities.


That’s what I’m trying to do…not just sit and wait for things to happen. Make them happen! Create opportunities for myself and others!

Q – What is on your plate for the rest of the year?

Well, more live performances to celebrate the release of the new album. I’m looking to get my music heard by as many people, not only locally but nationally and internationally, [as possible].




I’m also looking to my move forward with the “Practice Your Purpose™” initiative. The mission is to inspire the global audience to find and practice their purpose on a daily basis. 

Leave your legacy!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Clinard Dance Theatre to present Flamenco Quartet Project


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Ever since forming Clinard Dance Theatre in 1999, Wendy Clinard has been pushing flamenco in a new and fresh direction.

Clinard Dance will present an afternoon of flamenco featuring the Flamenco Quartet Project at 3 p.m. Aug. 20 at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. Chicago. Tickets are $25 for general seating, available at www.brownpapertickets.com.

I had the chance to talk to Clinard about the upcoming show.

 
Q - Great talking to you again. So what is the concept behind the Flamenco Quartet Project and what should people expect from the show?
 
This project is dedicated to exploring new exponents of flamenco. Led by an open minded spirit, our ensemble seeks to engage with contemporary culture through vibrant performances that honor traditional flamenco and our shared passion for music and dance discovery.



People can expect to see/hear flamenco in the traditional sense but notice unique instrumentation and world-informed influences. What is important is to note that this is not a “fusion” project; the inventions are born from a deep understanding of how traditional flamenco functions.

Q - Violinist Steve Gibons, guitarist Marija Temo and percussionist Javier Saume also are part of the show. What do you think they bring to the show?
 
Steve and Marija have composed original pieces for the Quartet. Marija has an extensive background in Classical Spanish and Steve has an extensive background in Balkan forms as well as American jazz (including his amazing improvisation sensibility).


Javier draws on classical and world-form, as well.

Q - You created Clinard Dance in 1999. How did you think your group has brought flamenco dancing in the spotlight? Where do you think flamenco dancing has to go from here?
 
Our work is rooted in flamenco and understanding the unique way the guitar, song and dance interplay (otherwise known as flamenco structure). We lift this structure to play with unique instrumentation and/or devise original departures from this structure.



We also extract the universal qualities –the rhythmic /percussive nature, call and response, isolations in the flamenco body so that the participants can join in with whatever the “theme or story” of a given project directs. Repurposing flamenco to find the live qualities of a particular time and place (i.e. 2017 in Chicago,) is what is fundamentally and historically “flamenco” and it holds the potential for growth in the form.

Sincerity to place, person and the moment are of upmost importance to how flamenco became an art form and how it will continue to grow.

Q - What projects are you most proud of? Where do you see Clinard Dance going from here?

I’m most connected to our original works like "From the Arctic to the Middle East" and "Chicago’s Watershed: A 156-Mile Choreography." The heart of these works are dedicated to people’s place and their sense of belonging and our artistic disciplines are used to serve that inquiry.



The story that emerges aims to rally the human spirit. Where do I see Clinard Dance going from here is rooted in a long term dedication to art and flamenco; we’re in it for the long haul, large and small projects alike.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chicago musician Ryan Joseph Anderson releases second album, will perform at The Hideout




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Ryan Joseph Anderson wears his heart on his sleeve.

That is evident on his sophomore album, the passion-filled "City of Vines," which was released on June 30. To celebrate the release of the album, Anderson will perform Aug. 4 at The Hideout, 1354 West Wabansia Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketfly.com. I had the chance to talk to Anderson about the new album:


Q - Great talking to you again. "City of Vines" is your sophomore album. Did you feel any pressure in following up your first album, "The Weaver's Broom"? What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

I didn't really feel any pressure, but it did take some time to get all of the songs together. "The Weaver's Broom" was made up of a lot of story songs...that's an element of this record too, but "City of Vines" is more personal than anything I've made before.




I spent a lot of time tweaking the lyrics. Other than that, I wanted a bigger sound: more layers, more electric guitar, horns, etc. I definitely think we accomplished that. 

Q - You released the album on three different formats – vinyl, CD and digital streaming. It seems like many artists are following that route these days. Which format do you like the best?

Definitely vinyl. I've been collecting since I was a kid and have a pretty big soft spot for records. I like everything about the format: how it looks, how it sounds, and how it demands attention.


I know that if somebody buys a vinyl they are going to sit with it. CDs are becoming more and more obsolete and digital doesn't seem as tangible.
 
Q - How did you go about choosing the musicians on the album?

I've been playing with the core band on this record since 2014. They're some of my favorite players in Chicago.


When I was writing for "City of Vines," I was writing with them in mind: Brian Morrissey (guitar), Dan Ingenthron (bass, keys), and Mike Holtz (drums). Dan and I have played in a ton of projects together (including my old band Go Long Mule) and he's easily one of  the best musician I know. He can play anything.

Brian Morrissey is an amazing guitar player and songwriter in his own right, and Mike Holtz seems to always play the perfect part on drums...he's super creative. Nick Broste put the horn section together and arranged the parts.

Chicago legend Gary Scheppers came in to play some tuba. Gabriel Stutz put down some beautiful pedal steel and my partner-in-crime Jen Donahue sang harmonies.

It was really just a great collection of friends working on this together. It was a ton of fun to make.

Q - You produced "City of Vines" with Brian Morrissey, who also plays on the album. What do you think he brings to the table?

Brian has a great ear for production and is a killer songwriter...he really knows how to make production serve the song. For me, it was really important to have somebody to bounce ideas off of and vice-versa.


I like hearing different ideas and trying different approaches. The song "Diamonds" is a really good example of what Brian brought to the table. The feel changes significantly from verse to verse, while the chords and melody stay the same. That was Brian's idea.

Then, along with the band and the wizard like skills of Nick Broste, we figured out how to make it work . Brian and Nick really helped me get the sound that was in my head out. I can hear their contributions in every song and feel really luck to have had them working on this. 
 
Q - You will be actively touring around the country in the fall, including playing several dates in Oregon. Are there any areas of the country you like playing the best? What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I'm pretty excited to get back to the northwest. We have some great friends out there and it's always a blast. Honestly, I really like touring around the Midwest.


There are a ton of surprising things happening around this region of the country - a lot of people are starting venues or festivals, and truly supportive musical communities are popping up where there used to be none.



As for Chicago, there's so much talent here it's mind-numbing. I think my favorite thing about this scene is how collaborative it is.

Also, Chicago musicians love taking risks. It's great to be surrounded by that kind of community.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Chicago singer-songwriter Sacha Mullin expands his musical vision with new album, "Duplex"



By ERIC SCHELKOPF 

Musically adventurous singer-songwriter Sacha Mullin will celebrate the release of his solo album "Duplex" with a show on July 15 at Cafe Mustache, 2313 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. 

I had the chance to talk to him about the new album.

Q: Great talking to you. Your solo release, "Duplex," is being released this month. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?



Thanks for having me, Eric. My only real goal was to make a record I was completely proud of, and that certainly happened!

Q: Did you set about to do something different than your past efforts?

Yeah, I’d say so. You never really want to admit during any promotional stuff that you were unhappy with what you’re schilling, but I had so many hang-ups doing the making of my debut record, "Whelm." Promoting that record felt like torture. 

First, let me say that one of my favorite things to do is be a backing singer. It’s a supportive, thoughtful art, and a real thrill when your voice resonates with someone else’s.

The music industry is essentially the opposite of those qualities, whether you take that literally or figuratively. "Whelm" was plagued with marketing, production, and general record label issues, and there I was, not really able to talk about that.




It’s so strange making such a thematically personal record, and feeling like you’re making it for the whims of other people. By the end of it, I bought the rights back, tried to salvage what I could, and ended up just wanting it over with. I felt isolated and fatigued.

I know fans get frustrated when they see artists dismiss their work. I want to clarify that I’m not dismissing my debut at all.

I really like "Whelm." I really love the songs, and I think there are a lot of good ideas — but maybe my ambitions got the best of me at points? I was stressed out, not realising that I was probably trying to do too much. I remember Todd [Rittmann] calling it “overwrought."

I made it my charge that if I was going to do the “solo thing” again, that I would do it with both a better head space, and on my own terms. I wouldn’t need to compromise my ideas, just learn to execute them better. So here we are with "Duplex," and I couldn’t be happier.

Q: The album was produced by Todd Rittmann. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

I’ve known Todd for a while, and I’m lucky to call him my friend. We first worked together when he was producing stuff for Lovely Little Girls and Cheer-Accident, and we built a good rapport.

Both of us have similarly adventurous tastes in music, and love the same kinds of jokes. But otherwise, we’re really different people. I mean, he’s really cool, whereas I’m pretentious (laughs). What I think really brings us together is a mutual respect for each others’ work, and a fearless honesty.


Todd and I have had a lot of really good conversations over the years, and when it came time to sort my songs out, he was the first person I thought of. He's like an ambassador with sounds: he understands how to blend various competing elements to sound like they belong together.

Moreover, it's hard to articulate, but Todd knows how to find the darkness hidden beneath something in the most stunning way. You can really hear what I mean his Dead Rider material, and on Evelyn Davis’s "The Wit of the Staircase." Those are polar opposite projects, and yet there's his unmistakable sensitivity.

Working on "Duplex" specifically, he brought that all of that usual, uh, Toddness, plus some much needed patience, cheerleading, and a janky coffee machine with some Folgers.

Q: You have been a talent scout/casting assistant for the television show "America's Got Talent." What did you learn from that experience? Were you surprised at all by any of the acts trying to make it on the show?

Oh, lord. That part of my life was so long ago that it almost feels like another life. I got into that world through a friend.

We would scout various clubs at all times of the night. It was so surreal. It’s funny, actually, I was just going through a box and found my old “staff” shirt. 

I loved that job and the people I worked with very much. But I’d always been a bit cynical on talent competitions. I mean, you see the same swooping, sparkly crane shots, the contestant’s struggles that are milked for ratings, and then just a general appraisal for the mediocre.

All the while you see supernaturally talented people that you scouted get turned away. I have a lot of conjecture about why that was a common thing, but that aside, I got so drained from seeing so many broken hearts.

That’s probably why I turned my focus towards education, so I could directly develop what it is that I saw in certain people. 

What I learned most from that job was how to handle professional crises in a calm, timely manner. Oh, and that Sharon Osborne only likes “non-chain Italian food”. That’s important, right? (laughs)

Q - You are also a voice and talent instructor. What are some of the things that you try to convey to your students?

How to be a critical thinker. How to figure out the emotional rationale between theory and technique. 

How to be kind to yourself. How to respect others time.

How to actually listen. A lot of general life skills that seem to get amplified when it comes to performing, really.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I fit in? When did this happen? This is a thing that has happened? (laughs)

Honestly, it’s really interesting, and I have to think about this a lot. I grew up in the Minneapolis scene, where shows are basically a kamikaze Whitman’s Sampler of genres, and I barely fit in there!

As an observation, I’ve found that I'm either too much or not enough of one thing for a lot of people. 

I swear I’m not consciously aiming to be outside the box or whatever, I just have a lot of really disparate influences.


My former voice teacher Judi [Donaghy-Vinar] introduced one of my recitals by saying that I “liked the box OK." I still find pretty amusing. 

After many years, I still don't really have a clear grasp on the scene here. Like, I get the politics of it, and the attitudes, but there's still a lot of mystery for me to uncover.

That said, moving to Chicago was really important for me. It’s here that I was able to grow into my own, work diligently, and collaborate with others who also liked just doing their thing.

The camaraderie I've found here has been inspiring.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Second annual Localpalooza to raise money for ALS research




By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 

After raising more than $4,000 last year for The Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation for ALS Research, Localpalooza will return for a second year later this month.

Headliners The Ivorys, independent hip-hop artist Rich Jones, indie soul band Honey & the 45s, Americana/punk group Bad Bad Meow, indie rock band Namorado, garage/rockabilly trio The Dyes and opener Elle Casazza are set to perform July 22 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. 

More information is available by going to www.eventbrite.com. I had the chance to talk to Burnside & Hooker guitarist Michael Vogus, who once again is organizing the event.


Q - Great talking to you again. This is the second year of Localpalooza. How successful was it last year? Did it achieve all your goals? 

Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me. You have always been super supportive of us and the local music scene as well, and we appreciate that.


I think last year was a great success - we raised more than $4,000 for the charity and had a great turnout. What I found really cool about this event is that it provided a platform for all parties involved to reach a new audience.

We had a great turnout from people associated with the charity, who may not have known many of the local bands in the scene today and it allowed the charity to reach a new audience of people who weren't familiar with them. I think that is a huge accomplishment and we look to build on that again this year.

Q - Are you glad to be moving to a bigger venue - Lincoln Hall - for this year's event? Was it cramped for space at last year's event at Schuba's Tavern?

 Lincoln Hall is definitely one of my absolute favorite venues in the city, so we are thrilled to be there. I don't think last year was necessarily cramped, but Lincoln Hall is better suited logistically to handle an event with seven bands on the lineup.

We also have several bands on the bill that have sold out Lincoln Hall on their own, so we are expecting a full house and can use all the space we could get!

Q - How did this year's lineup come together? None of the bands played at last year's event. Do you want to feature new bands every year? 

This year's lineup came together extremely quickly; I was surprised at how many bands were interested in the event! We had over 60+ bands reach out to us, so landing on a lineup of only seven was really difficult.



I have known most of the bands on the lineup for quite some time - either playing shows with them, having our paths cross at festivals, or just being a fan of their music. This lineup is stacked from top to bottom, so come out early and plan to stay late.

I haven't really thought about if we want to have new bands every year, the lineup just happened to work out that way. I think we won't have the same bands play back-to-back years so we keep it fresh, but I would absolutely welcome back any of our bands in the years to come.

Q - Does the fact that so many bands are willing to play at Localpalooza say something about the Chicago music scene?

Yeah, I think it speaks to the work ethic in this scene. There are a TON of great bands across all genres in Chicago and they work their tails off in creating and promoting their art.


It's an honor to be able to give them a platform, and more importantly PAY them for providing that art. I can't encourage people enough to get out and see local shows...every band at some point starts out as a local band playing small clubs.

You never know when you'll stumble upon "the next big thing." Plus everyone loves having that story of when "I saw that band at Schuba's when they only had 20 people in the crowd!"

You can only get those stories from getting out and going to shows like this!

Q - Unlike last year, your band, Burnside & Hooker, will not be playing at the event. It seems that the band is busy recording these days. When can we expect a new album from the band?

Yeah, while I haven't put much thought into having the same bands play the event each year, it was a bit intentional not having Burnside play it every year. I didn't want to be "that band" that makes the event about them.




I want this to be something much bigger than just a Burnside show. That's not to say we won't play it again, but it will not be something we headline every year.

We are in the studio now working on a new single that should be released at some point this summer, and we're working on having another release at some point in Spring 2018. We've had a pretty crazy year since we played Localpalooza in 2016 - three of our seven members had a kid, and we're expecting one more in September.


Once we all get back on normal schedules, we'll be back out playing shows again.
 

Q - Are you looking to make Localpalooza an annual event? How do you see it evolving in the future?

Yes, our goal is to have this continue every year. The idea is to continue to grow as much as we can and keep raising a ton of money to support the charity and fund ALS research and awareness.


Based on the interest we had this year, and depending on turnout this year, we are talking about doing a two-night event next year with more bands. We'd like to eventually get to the point where we could do this outside as a festival.

So please come out and support us and help us continue to grow as the show is only $10 and all funds go to the Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Day in the Country festival celebrating 10th anniversary, will take place June 25 at The Hideout in Chicago




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Now in its 10th year, the music festival A Day in the Country will feature two-time Grammy Award winner Jim Lauderdale along with an array of other artists, including Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, Lint Trappers (feat. Tony Magee), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, The Hoyle Brothers and The Family Gold.

The festival will take place at 2 p.m. June 25 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $12, available at www.ticketfly.com.

A full schedule is below:

Front porch:
 

2 to 2:30 p.m. - Jess McIntosh
2:40 to 3:10 p.m. - Northside Southpaws
3:20 to 4:05 p.m. - Lint Trappers
4:15 to 4:45 p.m. - The Family Gold
 

Backroom:

5 to 5:30 p.m. - Becky Levi & Mike Vanier
5:45- 6:15 p.m. - Hoyle Brothers
6:30 to 7:30 p.m. - Jim Lauderdale
7:45 to 8:15 p.m. - Lawrence Peters Outfit
8:30 to 9:30 p.m. - Rex Hobart And The Misery Boys
9:45 to 10:15 p.m. - Dirty Green
10:30 to 11 p.m. - Dan Whitaker & The Shinebenders


I had the chance to talk to organizer Lawrence Peters about the festival.


Q - Great talking to you again. Of course, this is the 10th year of A Day in the Country. What does it mean to you that the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year? Are you surprised the festival has made it to 10 years?

It’s cool, man! I’m excited and honored that this grassroots event has managed to come this far, mostly through word-of-mouth.

Q - What do you think of this year's lineup? How did you go about choosing the bands for this year's festival?

I’ve been proud of every year’s lineup, but I’m extra stoked about this one. Jim Lauderdale is a long-time favorite of mine, and it’s going to be incredible seeing him on the Hideout stage, as part of my festival.


He’s an ace songwriter and singer, and a helluva showman. I’m not always impressed by the Grammys, but that guy has earned both of his. 




I usually start the year with some new local favorites in mind, and a headliner wish list. I put the word out from there, and see which headliners are an actual possibility, when the smoke clears.

After I have my star attractions, I balance out the lineup to include what I think is the right mix of honky tonk, bluegrass, string bands, and so on.

Q - What was your idea for creating A Day in the Country in the first place and has it lived up to your expectations?

I started the festival with the intention of giving the Chicago country music scene an event that we could call our own. It seemed that we were being under-represented in the bigger festivals, so starting a country-centric event was my solution to that.



Folks are already asking to be part of next year’s line-up, and that is a good sign that the event is achieving the goal of supporting the local country scene.
 

Q - Your band is again part of the lineup. What is the band up to these days? Are you working on new songs?

Yes sir, I always include The Lawrence Peters Outfit in the lineup. As much as I enjoy watching my favorite bands playing my favorite kind of music, I like singing and playing, even more. It’s a highlight of my year.

The band has been busy! We recently won our second Chicago Music Award, in the Best Country And Western Entertainer category, and we are nominated for the Reader’s Best Of Chicago Poll, also in the country band division (please vote for us!).
 


We’ve also been getting some solid shows. We opened for Wanda Jackson (a career highpoint!), and we have a bunch of cool events on the calendar ( Summer Dance on July 9, Navy Pier on Aug. 6, the season's last Picnics On The Porch, on Aug. 25, at the Hideout, and a bunch of other rad stuff).

It’s being a good year for us. We also recently tracked eleven songs, and are in solid shape for a spring 2018 release. We’ll do vinyl, CD, song books… the whole shebang.

All of the songs are originals that I finished since our first record, and I’m very excited about the recording. Gonna be a good one!

Q - Where do you see A Day in the Country going in the future? What are your goals for the festival?
 
I’m hoping I can keep walking that fine line between a small, friendly event, and a festival that can afford to give the local musicians a great day, and a solid paycheck, while bringing the great touring acts I want. I have an ongoing list of folks who are making the kind of country music I like, and I’ll be contacting many of them for next year’s event. 


It feels real good to know that there is excitement and anticipation for this yearly event.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Blues on the Fox festival provides many musical gems

Chicago singer Shemekia Copeland provided many captivating moments at Blues on the Fox festival.

Shemekia Copeland shows off her son at Blues on the Fox festival.

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Despite some weather hiccups, the 21st annual Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora on June 16 and 17 provided many lasting memories.

The weekend started off on a soaring note with two goddesses of the Chicago music scene - blues belter Shemekia Copeland and the legendary Mavis Staples.


Copeland is rightly called the Queen of the Blues these days, although she rejects the title, arguing that it should stay with the late Koko Taylor.

Although she took the stage with a cold, she shook it off in commanding fashion, tearing through songs such as "Pie in the Sky" along with delivering a passionate version of her father Johnny Copeland's signature song, "Ghetto Child."

The legendary Mavis Staples performed with a joyful exuberance that lifted the crowd at Blues on the Fox.
As fiery as her performance was, it couldn't match the one delivered by Staples, whose energy belies the fact that she is about to turn 78. She brought fresh energy to The Staples Singers' classics like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" along with conveying a joyful exuberance that lifted the crowd.


Chicago musicians again ruled the day during the second day of Blues on the Fox as Guy King brought his soulful blues to the stage, provided some electrifying guitar licks alongside his band's tight horn section.


Unfortunately, an approaching storm cut Elvin Bishop's set short, but Bishop and his band made the most of their abbreviated time on stage. Bishop also has a Chicago connection as he was schooled in the Chicago blues while attending the University of Chicago.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist/songwriter Elvin Bishop performed on the second day of Blues on the Fox.
Bishop and his band played with the looseness of a group of people just hanging out to jam together. Because of their limited time on stage, they could only choose a few crowd favorites, such as the song "Got To Be New Orleans" and his hit single "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," brought to new life by the uplifting vocals of Willy Jordan.


Blues on the Fox has become a cultural treasure in the Chicagoland area. And hopefully those who came out to this year's festival treasured the musical gifts that were provided.