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.

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