Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chicago music scene in spotlight at Chicago Roots Collective Festival


The Chicago music scene is filled with adventurous bands making fresh, original music.

Lucky for us, many of those bands will share the same stage when they perform Nov. 18 and 19 as part of the third annual Chicago Roots Collective Festival at The Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

Music starts at 8 p.m. both nights, and tickets are $10 for a single-day pass, $15 for a weekend pass, available at Festival-goers will be pleased to know that 25 percent of all proceeds will benefit Old Town School of Folk Music.

A full schedule of bands is available at

I had the pleasure of talking to Danny Surico, president of Chicago Roots Collective and frontman of The Future Laureates, Trevor Jones, of the Chicago band Molehill, and Brian Wise, of Chicago band Jackpot Donnie, about this year's festival.

Q - This is the third year of the show. What have you learned from past shows and what were your goals for this year's show?

Danny - At a fundamental level we have learned all about logistics. Getting three bands to put on a show is tough enough let alone 10 + acoustic acts, so learning how to get everyone on the same page is something that has got better with each festival.

We are playing in the Elbo Room again this year because we realized after last year's festival that the Elbo Room is a great set up for something like this with the split levels that can accommodate full bands and acoustic acts.  

Incorporating acoustic acts was a great idea by Donnie Biggins from The Shams Band and it involves even more artists in the festival.  Also, the CRC has included artists from other disciplines which really helps give the Festival a community feel. 

Trevor - For this year's fest we have kept a similar model including full bands, acoustic acts and other artists, but we have also involved a great institution in Chicago - the Old Town School of Folk Music. The CRC is donating 25% of all proceeds to this organization. Our goal is to always have a great vibe at our shows and provide friends and fans with great music to listen to. Each year gets better and better.

Q - How did you go about choosing the lineup for this year's show? What are the standout bands in this year's festival?

Danny - The thought that went into booking this year’s festival, first and foremost, was finding bands that fit well together musically. If you listen to the acts playing this year’s fest, there’s enough diversity to keep fans interested from act to act, but there’s also enough continuity among acts that it doesn’t just seem random.  

Eight bands who are current (and founding) members of the Chicago Roots Collective are playing downstairs on both nights of the fest. In addition, we’ve gotten some new up and coming acts like Dan Tedesco and Tree in the mix on both nights downstairs.

These are bands that we’ve seen over the past year that are quite talented musically and hard workers. Those two qualities were important to the CRC bands when deciding which new bands to bring into the mix for downstairs.

As for upstairs, the acts are all acoustic, which will provide a nice change of pace to the bands playing downstairs. Some of the upstairs acts are solo artists and some are acoustic versions of full bands that play regularly in Chicago.

All the upstairs acts are excellent musicians that have been connected with the Chicago Roots Collective in some capacity over the past year. In some cases, the acoustic acts played on a monthly Chicago Roots Collective showcase; in other cases, they attended our recent networking event, or were referred to us by friends of the Chicago Roots Collective.  

We believe the fact that a lot of the bands know each other and have performed together previously is definitely a positive thing. That sense of support and community among bands is a vibe that we hope will carry over easily to our fans in the audience.  

If last year’s festival is any indication, the result should be a friendly, fun, and supportive environment for everyone attending and playing the fest.

Q - How does the show fit into the mission of the Chicago Roots Collective? What success stories have the Chicago Roots Collective had? What is the group planning to do in the future?

Brian - The CRC Festival is the product of our mission statement. We set out to be a group of musicians that work together to get our music heard. In this instance, we have upwards of 100 Chicago musicians playing together over two nights.  

Last year there was such a positive vibe at the festival. I anticipate more of the same this year. We had CRC bands covering each other's tunes which helped fans of bands come to appreciate some of the other acts. 

It's easy to say you want to create a music community, but it's rare to actually carry that out nowadays.

There is a real sense of community, and that's all that we've ever wanted. The bands in the collective support one another, and that carries over to the fans. We've been playing together for three years now, so each band has had opportunities for exposure they never would have.

The music industry can be very dog-eat-dog, but when you have people working together, everyone goes further. 

I think the future of the CRC will involve expansion to include even more Chicago musicians. Last summer, we had our first networking event that was open to the public, and we had a great turnout. 

Many of the musicians that showed up to the event are playing this year's fest. People see the great work we're doing and they want to be a part of it. The more the merrier!

Q - How does the Chicago music scene compare with other music scenes?

Danny - I’ve heard comments from a number of out-of-town bands who have come to play in Chicago, especially on a Chicago Roots Collective showcase, that there are two things that stand out to them when they play here. 

First, the bands on our showcases all seem to know each other and fit really well together musically. Secondly,  the bands here operate with a level of organization that is different than their home market.  

We do things like backline drums and amps for an entire show (which makes for quicker set changes), coordinate our promotion with one poster design and one Facebook event for all the bands playing that show, and display transparency and fairness with payout at the end of the night. 

These are things we’re doing in Chicago that are appreciated by out-of-town bands, quite simply because these practices are not the norm in their home city.

The truth is that in many cities across the country, there is an amazing array of talented, independent bands grinding it out on “the journey.” However, what makes Chicago, (and specifically the Chicago Roots Collective) unique is our ability to recognize that it’s really not a competition or race among bands to be successful.  

Instead, we take a community-minded approach, believing that shared success, at the end of the day, is still success. Our interaction and perception of other bands isn’t so cutthroat, and when you see a bunch of bands actually giving a damn about and rooting for the success of their peers, it creates a win-win environment for bands, venues, and fans.

Our fans especially notice when the band they came to see openly supports the other bands playing that same night. For more than three years, the Chicago Roots Collective has been trying to cultivate that type of scene here in Chicago, and the community that has formed is a result of that intentionality.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"American Idol" finalist James Durbin continues musical journey with upcoming release of debut album


James Durbin's hard rock swagger on this season's "American Idol" landed the California native in fourth place on the show.

Durbin will continue his musical journey this year with the Nov. 21 release of his debut album, "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster."

I had the chance to talk to Durbin about the album and his "American Idol" experience.

Q - I understand that you wanted "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster" to really represent you and the experiences you have gone through.

Some of the songs deal with being picked on and bullied. One of the songs, "Screaming," talks about just wanting to scream at the world. I was picked on and bullied from elementary school all the way through high school. I know fans of mine have gone through similar experiences.

Q - Howard Benson produced "Memories Of A Beautiful Disaster." Why did you want him to produce your album?

When I was getting bullied, one of my favorite bands I listened to for hope was My Chemical Romance. He produced their major label debut, "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge," and he really helped them to find their sound.

I loved the sound he put to "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster." I am completely happy he produced it.

Q - You placed fourth on "American Idol." Were you happy with how you did?

I was thrilled. I didn't have any aspirations. My whole goal is doing what I love to do. I just wanted to be a working musician. I got a lot more than I bargained for.

Q - Simon Cowell left the show right before season 10. Are you glad you didn't have to face him?

I don't think he would have liked me. I auditioned for season 8, and didn't make it. I knew in my heart I had a better chance with someone like Steven Tyler.

It was a real eye-opener. The producers gave me a lot of time to shine, and let me go crazy on the stage.

Q - What was it like performing in the season 10 finale with Judas Priest?

I was way into Judas Priest, especially in high school. It was unbelievable. It was a dream come true.

Q - Besides your album coming out, you're getting married this year. It's going to be a small wedding, I understand.

My fiancee, Heidi, she ordered a dress online, and I'm going to wear a suit from my closet. I didn't see the point of going huge and all out.

Q - The two of you have a son. Does he like your music?

Hunter is 2 1/2. He loves it. He knows all the words to all the songs I sang on "American Idol." He's a human jukebox.

He's already showing a major interest in music. He can't pick up the guitar unless he has a pick in his hands.

Q - You want to tour next year, right?

We're looking to do a nationwide tour in January and early February.

Q - Hopefully you'll get to Chicago.

Chicago is a big rock 'n' roll city. I was at Lollapalooza this summer. It was a blast.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Morrissey's show in Chicago postponed

Because of a visa administration error, Morrissey’s lead guitarist is unable to perform in the U.S. this week, which has forced the postponement of Thursday’s sold out concert at the Congress Theatre in Chicago. The show has been rescheduled for Dec. 17.

Tickets for the Nov. 10 show will be honored at the Dec. 17 show.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus Comments on Passing of GWAR Guitarist Cory Smoot AKA Flattus Maximus and the Status of GWAR

Shocking, especially in light of the fact GWAR performed Halloween night at the House of Blues in Chicago:

After a restless night spent hurtling through the desolate Canadian wilderness, I crawled from my bunk on the tour bus to face reality, grudgingly aware that the the dark dream that gripped us would not fade with the day. We have lost a brother, a husband, a son, and one of the most talented musicians that ever slung an ax. Cory Smoot, longtime lead guitar player for the band GWAR, has passed at the age of 34.

As the singer of GWAR and one of his best friends, I feel it is my duty to try and answer some of the questions that surround his tragic and untimely death. I know the sense of loss and pain is far greater in scope than in the insulated environment of a band on tour, and I will do my best to provide what clarity and comfort I can.

The most glaring question is how? And unfortunately that is the hardest question to answer. The truth will not be known until the medical officials have finished their work. All I can do is relate what we saw with our own eyes.

The last time I saw Cory was after our show in Minneapolis on Wednesday night. It was a great show at First Avenue in Minneapolis, one of our favorite places to play. Cory was happy. He was excited about the band and especially the new studio he was building in the Slave Pit back in Richmond. He was deeply in love with his wife, Jamie, and was busily planning their family and future in the beautiful home they had. As usual, after some autographs and banter, I was probably the first person in their bunk as we got ready for a big drive into Canada, and Cory and the rest of the guys were not far behind. As I fell into the slumber that only playing GWAR shows can induce, everything seemed right in the world.

We found Cory the next morning as we collected passports for a border crossing. He was in his bunk, unresponsive, and it quickly was clear that he was dead. It was without a doubt the most horrible moment of my life. That's all I can say about it.

Within moments everybody was off the bus, standing in a wind-swept parking lot in the middle of nowhere, trying to come to grips with the shock of it. First the ambulance arrived, and then the police, but there was nothing that could be done other than fully investigate the scene and remove Cory with care and respect.

We are completely devastated and shocked beyond belief. One night we had our friend and colleague, happy and healthy in the middle of our best tour in years- and the next morning, so suddenly, he was gone. Never have I seen starker proof of the fragility of life.

Cory will be transported home to Richmond over the next few days, and an announcement regarding services will be made soon. We ask everyone to respect the families wish for privacy, and especially to keep his wife, Jamie, in your thoughts and prayers.

As we work our way through these difficult days the question is -- what will GWAR do? After a lot of consideration, we have decided to carry on with the tour. Although the great temptation would be to return home, curl into a fetal position, and mourn, we can't do that. First off, Cory wouldn't want that. He would want us to go on and would be pissed if we didn't. Plus we know the fans don't want us to quit. They are going to want a chance to come to grips with their loss, and there is no better place to do that than at a GWAR show. Though it's hard to believe, I think we all would feel a lot worse if we stopped. For better or worse we have to see this through.

That doesn't mean that Cory will make his final journey without us. When the arrangements have been finalized, Cory's best friend and GWAR's music tech Dave "Gibby" Gibson, and myself will return home to attend the services and pay the proper respects to our comrade.

Out of respect to Cory, we have officially retired the character of Flattus Maximus. Flattus has decided to return to his beloved "Planet Home", and will never return to this mudball planet again. And this is a sadder place for that.

Just the other day I heard Cory tell a story about how some 20 years ago he was fourteen years old, at his first GWAR show, grabbing at the rubber feet of our then- current Flattus, and how blown away he was at the fact that now HE was the one getting his feet pulled by the same kid that he used to be. Cory was always in awe of the patterns of life and went through it with a wide-eyed amazement that translated through his playing. I've never known anyone who could pick up literally any instrument and rock it the first time he touched it, and more than that make it look easy. Behind that rubber monster outfit, and sometimes even obscured by it, was one of the most talented and beautiful people I have ever known. I know everyone who's life was touched by Cory truly loved him, as do we, his bandmates and brothers.

There should be some kind of announcement soon regarding services, etc. It would be great to have a memorial show at some point soon, where some of the bands that Cory worked with could come together and show their love for this truly amazing man who left us all too soon and will be sorely missed by many, many people.

Dave Brockie, Nov. 4, 2011

Chicago band The Bad Examples to celebrate 20th anniversary of pop masterpiece


Twenty years ago, Chicago band The Bad Examples released its power pop masterpiece, "Bad Is Beautiful." Chock full of catchy hooks, the album also captured a bigger audience for the band with the hit song "Not Dead Yet."

To celebrate, Ralph Covert and the band (Tom O'Brien, Steve Gerlach, Larry Beers, and Pickles Piekarski) will perform the entire album and other songs Nov. 26 at FitzGerald's, 6615 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. Founding drummer Terry Wathen will also sit in on a few songs. 

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, available at

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chicago label Alligator Records signs blues great Joe Louis Walker, album set for release in January

Chicago-based record label Alligator Records has signed Grammy and W.C. Handy award winner Joe Louis Walker. His Alligator debut will be released in January 2012.

"Joe Louis Walker is one of the most exciting and passionate bluesmen of his generation,"' Alligator president Bruce Iglauer said in a statement. "He's a major talent whose music speaks to both blues and rock fans. We're excited to help bring his music to a larger audience than ever."

The feeling is mutual.

"Alligator has clearly been one of the most important blues labels of our time and I am proud to say that I am an Alligator artist. I look forward to being part of the Alligator family," Walker added.

In his 27-year career, Walker has released 24 albums and toured worldwide. He won four Blues Music awards (formerly the W. C. Handy awards), including the 2010 "Album Of The Year" award for "Between A Rock And A Hard Place," and has been nominated for 43 more. 

He's also recorded as a guest with some of the blues world's best-known artists, including appearances on Grammy-winning records by B.B. King and James Cotton.

The Dirty Heads continue on tour; will play Nov. 2 in Chicago

Southern California reggae rock band The Dirty Heads will continue to headline the Nov. 2 show at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, after co-headliner Gym Class Heroes had to bow out of the remaining dates on the tour because frontman Travie McCoy is ill.

Wallpaper also is on the bill. The show starts at 6 p.m., and tickets are available at

The Dirty Heads will continue to play the rest of the dates as scheduled, and the band made the following statement in regards to Gym Class Heroes cancelling:

“While we hope Travie gets better soon (nothing worse than being sick on the road), the last thing we wanna do is cancel the whole tour.  So no matter what happens we wanna stay out and keep playing music and putting on the best shows we can for you guys. Whether it’s playing for 2 people, 20 people or 2000 people we are staying out. Thank you guys for your continued love and support. We love you peace!!!!  And it’s the first time we are playin’ some new songs!! Hope you enjoy.”