Saturday, August 17, 2019

Spirit of Woodstock on display at The Venue as it celebrates festival's 50th anniversary

Channeling Joe Cocker, Chad Watson performed at The Venue in Aurora on Aug. 16 as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Joining him on stage is guitarist Scott Tipping.


Woodstock showed how the power of music could bring together almost half a million people.

The spirit of that festival was in full display during The Venue's celebration of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

The Venue is fast becoming a place where musicians and music lovers can come together and enjoy the bond they share. Those who attended the first day of the festival on Aug. 16 were able to experience that sense of community the festival created.

Here are some highlights from the first day of the two-day festival:

Scott Tipping provided much of the energy during the night.

Audience members added to the ambience of the night.

Channeling Joe Cocker, Chad Watson performs "With a Little Help from My Friends" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Lisa G & the Lucky Ones with special guest Mirabelle Skipworth perform Crosby, Still, Nash and Young's song "Long Time Gone" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. 

Emily Tipping performs "Me and Bobby McGee" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Mick Ducker performs Aug. 16, 2019, at the 50th anniversary celebration of Woodstock at The Venue in Aurora.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel coming to House of Blues in Chicago, on tour with The Alarm, Modern English


The strong songwriting that propelled Gene Loves Jezebel to the top of the charts in the '80s and '90s is is abundance on "Dance Underwater," the first studio album of new material by Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel in 14 years.

The band is currently touring the country with The Alarm and Modern English, which will make a stop on Aug. 16 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and general admission tickets are $30, available at

I had the chance to talk to Jay Aston about the tour and the band's latest activities.

Q – Of course you are on tour with The Alarm and Modern English. Your guitarist, James Stevenson, also plays with The Alarm. How does that work?

It just worked out that he gets to two sets, which is a little unusual.

Q – So he's actually playing with The Alarm on this tour as well?

Yes, you get the full spectrum of his abilities.

Q – He must be tired at the end of the night.

You would think so. But he's just loving it so much. It's a long night for him, yeah.

Q – Besides that, how has the tour been going? Do you think playing with The Alarm and Modern English is a good fit?

 It's worked out really well, actually. We all do our own kind of thing.

We're all from the U.K. and two of us are from Wales. It's been great fun. We're actually enjoying it.

Q – And I see that some of the shows were sold out, so obviously people want to see you guys.

It's a good bill. It's a great chance to see three bands that normally don't tour together. 

Q – And of course you're touring in support of 2017's album "Dance Underwater," the band's first studio album of new material in 14 years. In making this album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The goal was that if we were going to do an album, let's do it properly. We wanted to get a good producer, so we used Peter Walsh (who has worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Stevie Wonder).

It was just a wonderful album to make. It was special.

Q – Have you been doing audience requests on the tour?

A lot of songs pick themselves. Obviously we are going to play "Desire (Come and Get It)," and we're going to do "The Motion of Love" and "Twenty Killer Hurts." There are certain songs that we always loved.

And we also do an acoustic set with Mike Peters from The Alarm playing tambourine. It's like the Rolling Thunder Revue in 2019. It's great fun.

Q – And you and your bandmates have been playing together for so long? What makes you work so well together?

We all give something that is unique to the thing that is Gene Loves Jezebel. The reaction has been fantastic. 

You can just see it in people's faces. Their eyes are wide open and they can't believe we're actually on stage, which is great. 

Q – I suppose you see a lot of old fans, but do you see new fans as well?

Yeah, we do. It's quite weird. We were at one gig and there was an older gentleman and a young girl and I said to the girl, "Oh, I guess your dad made you come, did he? And she said, no, no, I made him come."

Q – When you originally formed the band, what was your goal?

Just to be different, not to sound like anyone else. I think we achieved that. We don't sound like anyone else.

 We really don't fit into any particular genre, do we? And we're not in any particular box. And lots of different kinds of people like us.

So I think we achieved that. That was the goal.

Q – Of course, your brother has his own version of Gene Loves Jezebel. Have your heard if people are seeing both bands or what have you heard?

Well, let me just say that I've never heard anything positive about my brother's version of the band and let's leave it at that.

None of the members of his band are actually featured on any of our music, so it's an odd little cash cow for him, really.

Q – So what's your next goal after this tour?

I'll be doing some acoustic stuff in the United States after this. 

Q – So you are going to be going on your own tour?

Yeah, which I can't talk much about yet. There are many different sides of me.

I love the Gene Loves Jezebel shows. They're so high energy. My solo stuff is very introspective and it's very much in the moment. 

You never know if I'll make it to the next chord. It's much more living on the edge. And I enjoy that for very different reasons.

Q – Talking about high energy, I was watching some of your videos and people were commenting on the fact that you are still very animated on stage, you're still dancing around a lot. And so you enjoy doing that?

I get to express both sides of my personality with my music. You never know what may happen tomorrow. So we celebrate each gig.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Singer-songwriter Jeff Brown returning to Chicago area with new album in tow


With a new album in tow, former Chicago musician Jeff Brown will be returning to the area for a couple of shows in mid-August.

Brown will perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 9 at Ranger Recording Studio, 450 Dominic Court, Franklin Park. 94 Proof and Phil Circle also are part of the bill.

He will return to Ranger Recording Studio at 8 p.m. Aug. 10 to play with his band the New Black The Hannah Frank Trio also is on the bill.

I had the chance to talk to Brown about his latest musical endeavors.

Q – Great talking to you again. Your second album was called "Cutting Ties" and you did just that, moving from your longtime home of Chicago to the Shenandoah Valley area of Northern Virginia.

I saw what you did there.

Q – The title of your latest album, "1000 Ways,” is inspired by the saying that, ''when you are at your most lost, there are always at least 1,000 ways to come home again." Do you feel like you are at home these days?

It's certainly been an adjustment – I spent the last 22 years in Chicago, and to go from a metropolis to the country took some getting used to. I was a little reluctant to the change at first, but now after almost a year in Virginia, I feel like it's starting to feel more like home.

Chicago will always be the city that made me who I am, but it gets harder to call it home anymore.  I still miss a lot about it – mostly people, food, and ease of accessibility of basically everything.  

Virginia has been sneaking its way into my heart pretty steadily.

Q – How did you go about choosing the musicians on the album? I see you share vocals with Chicago musician Liz Chidester on three songs. What do you think she brings to the album? Is it just a coincidence that she is originally from Virginia and now lives in Chicago?

Ha, I'd like to think it was all part of my master plan, but the truth is, I wanted Liz on my album before I knew I would be moving, so it was more of a pleasant coincidence.

I was fortunate enough that of everyone I asked to join me on the album, only one person wasn't able to, and even that ask was a bit of a long shot.  The only thing I really knew was that I wanted a bit of separation between this project and my band, so none of them were a part of this particular recording. 

As the recording process began, I typically have pretty solid notions of arrangement and how I wanted the songs to sound – so from there, it's a matter of filling in the spaces and reaching out to people whose work I love and respect.

Liz is certainly one of those people that everything she touches becomes even more beautiful.  It's always a pleasure to work with her.  Her level of vocal control is maddening.

The lines she added to "Weather These Storms" were delicate and other worldly and completely perfect. And it's not just her: Laura Glyda's vocals are heart-wrenchingly emotional in all the right places.

I've been blessed to be surrounded by so much talent in my friends that it seems like a tremendous error to not try to include as many as I can in my own art.

Q – In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

I remember sitting at Schuba's with Rick Riggs (who recorded the album), and he asked me the same question as we were getting set to start work on the album.  Ultimately, I think that every musician sets out to make an album that they're proud to have their name on.

Something that they can hand to someone else and say, "I made this, and I love it."  I absolutely accomplished that. 

I'm proud of my first two albums, but this is definitely the best that I've done to date.  And I expect that I'll be able to say that about future albums.

I knew that at some point, I wanted to release music of mine on vinyl, and the more this album started to take shape, the more I felt that this would be the right project for that. A good album isn't just a collection of songs, but an experience that you can go on – and that's one of the things I love about vinyl. 

You start at the beginning, and then you see it through until the end.  I'm glad that these songs felt able to do that.

On a slightly more selfish note, I'd be lying if there wasn't the hope that this album could serve as "my break" – the album that gets people's attention and moves me up to the next level in this industry.  I remember as I was starting to record this, I went and saw Damien Rice at an outdoor amphitheater.

I had second row seats, and at one point, I turned around and saw a sea of thousands of faces, and thought to myself, "Every one of them would probably like my music." That moment has constantly been at the back of my head, and I would have loved for this album to be the one that would show all of them why.

Q – How are you settling into the music scene in Northern Virginia? How would you say the music scene there compares to the Chicago music scene?

It's taken a while, but I think I'm starting to figure out the music scene here. When I started in Chicago, I really didn't feel like I knew what I was doing, and didn't know who I really was. 

Now, I have all of that experience and history that I can hit the ground running in a new place.  The big thing with everything here is that Chicago is more compact.

There's opportunity everywhere because it's a major city and everything is everywhere. Things are much more spread out over here. Washington, D.C. is an hour and a half away, and it's the closest big city to where I'm at, so I have to work a little harder to find things out here.

There are a lot of places to make music close to where I'm at, but a lot of them are wineries that are looking for three or four hours of music on a Sunday afternoon, which can get exhausting alone. 

I think the biggest difference between the music scene in Chicago and the scene out here is that everything in Chicago was centralized because it's a city. Out here, I'm basically dealing with the music scene of an entire region, which gets tricky and requires a lot of driving. 

The town I'm living in doesn't have a music scene.  It doesn't even have enough people to fit in the Metro.

I have started working with another Virginia singer-songwriter, though. I'm super excited to see where that goes, and it's been nice to start making friends out here and creating the network of musicians that I felt like I was missing since I left Chicago.

Q – You reached your goal in your crowdfunding campaign to fund "1000 Ways." Does it make you feel good that so many people contributed to the campaign to ensure the album's release?

It's one thing to make a Facebook post and get a bunch of likes and whatever, but quite another to have people make an effort to support me and what I love. Every time somebody ordered a copy of my album felt like them saying, "Dude. I believe in you."

There are days when I barely believe in myself, so having someone tell you that they do is basically magic.  There isn't a way to fully express how good a feeling that is.

That said, I have to give it to my fans, friends, and family – they sure know how to make a guy sweat. The campaign wasn't fully funded until the evening of the last day.

I'll be honest, my self-esteem can be woefully inadequate on good days, so I spent at least 90% of that month trying to figure out how I was going to make everything work without the funding.  All of that made reaching the goal that much sweeter when it did happen.  

Q – Along with your new solo album, I understand your band The New Black is working on a new album. Has a release date been set? What should people expect from the new album?

It's true!  Although it's a bit of a more disjointed process since I don't live in Chicago anymore. 

As it stands, the drum tracking is completed, so it'll be a little while yet. I'm looking forward to more work on the band project.

Being in a rock band is a blast, and it'll be nice to work on a full on rock project after two albums of acoustic folk.  Expect a lot of big guitars, and more uptempo songs.

This will be the album to play in your car on an awesome road trip somewhere for sure.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Chicago blues legends come together to celebrate the power of music

Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks, left, and Chicago blues harmonica player Billy Branch, right, perform together Aug. 1 as part of the Chicago Plays the Stones show at McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

It's rare to have so many Chicago blues legends performing together on the same stage. But that indeed happened when John Primer, Jimmy Burns, Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Omar Coleman came together on Aug. 1 at McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion in Glen Ellyn as part of Chicago Plays the Stones. The show put the force of these musicians on display along with the power of the blues.

Chicago blues musician John Primer performs The Rolling Stones' song "Let It Bleed" on Aug. 1, 2019, at the McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Joining him are Chicago blues harmonica player Billy Branch and Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks.

 Chicago blues musician Jimmy Burns performs The Rolling Stones' song "Dead Flowers" on Aug. 1, 2019, at the McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch performs The Rolling Stones' song "Out of Control" on Aug. 1, 2019, at the McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. 

Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks performs The Rolling Stones song "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" on Aug. 1, 2019, at the McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Joining him is Chicago blues harmonica player Billy Branch.

Chicago blues harmonica player Omar Coleman performs The Rolling Stones' song "I Go Wild" on Aug. 1, 2019, at the McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Joining him are Chicago blues harmonica player Billy Branch and Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks.

Chicago blues musician Jimmy Burns performs with fellow musicians John Primer, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks as part of the Chicago Plays the Stones show on Aug. 1, 2019, at the McAninch Arts Center's Lakeside Pavilion at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.