Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Strong performances abound at The Venue's Americana Music Fest

Nora O'Connor, left, and Casey McDonough, right, perform Aug. 12 at the The Venue's Americana Music Fest in Aurora as part of the festival's first day. The festival continued though Aug. 14.



The first day of The Venue's Americana Music Fest – held last weekend in downtown Aurora – offered a little something for everyone.

From the soaring vocals and tight harmonies of Nora O'Connor and Casey McDonough to the soul rattling vocals and riveting guitar work of Nathan Graham to the Arlo Guthrie-inspired storytelling of Chicago Farmer and The Fieldnotes, the evening provided many lasting musical memories.

              Nora O'Connor and Casey McDonnough at The Venue's Americana Music Fest


                                        Nathan Graham at The Venue's Americana Music Fest


 Chicago Farmer and The Fieldnotes at The Venue's Americana Music Fest





Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Blues musician Sue Foley to bring award-winning sound to Evanston SPACE Friday

Photo by Danny Clinch



Blues singer guitarist Sue Foley and her signature pink paisley Fender Telecaster continue to command attention.

At the 43rd annual Blues Music Awards ceremony in May in Memphis, the Canadian musician won in the category of Best Traditional Blues Album for her latest album, "Pinky's Blues," along with the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist, repeating her 2020 win in the same category.

In June, Foley received additional honors when the Toronto Blues Society presented her with two Maple Blues Awards for Entertainer of the Year and Guitarist of the Year.

Foley will likely gain even more fans when she perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Also on the bill is Eric Lugosch. Tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Foley – who first took up the guitar at age 13 –  about the impact that she has made in the music world.

Q – First of all, congratulations on your recent awards. As far as winning the two Maple Blues Awards for Entertainer of the Year and Guitarist of the Year from the Toronto Blues Society, does that hold special meaning for you because you are from Canada?

Oh, yeah, definitely. Those are all really nice to receive and it’s nice to be acknowledged.

And we also got the ones in Memphis, which actually really meant a lot because for Canadian blues artists to get acknowledged down in Memphis really validates what we do.

Q – Do you feel like you’re accepted now?

Totally. Absolutely.

Q – And of course, you released “Pinky’s Blues” last year, which references the name of your guitar. Why did you decide to do that?

Because I’ve had the guitar for so long and we wanted to make a guitar album. I’ve had the same guitar my entire career.

I’ve had her for 33 years and she’s literally been with me at every gig and on every album. Mike Flanigan, our producer, was like, ‘Let’s make a guitar album and let’s just have fun.’

It’s kind of unusual for a guitar player to stick with one instrument for that long. Most guitar players are all about playing a lot of guitars.

Q – I understand you began playing guitar at age 13 and that you played your first gig when you were 16. Do you see yourself as an inspiration, especially to young girls who are looking to play guitar?

I might. Sometimes I see them at my shows. I would like to be, yeah, for sure.

Hopefully I can be an inspiration if they dig what I do.

Q – Growing up, were there any female guitarists that you looked up to, or any guitarists in general?

I was influenced by a lot of blues guitarists, from Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson to Memphis Minnie and T-Bone Walker.

I really went through listening and studying all those players, from Chicago to Texas. And I really settled on the Texas style, so that’s kind of where my guitar style comes from.

I kind of honed in on that regional sound and especially the sound that was coming out of Austin at the time. In the ‘80s and ’90s was kind of when I started to hone in on this area.

And that’s kind of what you’re hearing on “Pinky’s Blues.” It’s sort of a tribute to that style of blues and that style of guitar playing that we kind of came up listening to and learning about.

Q – I read an interview you did recently where you talked about making it in the Austin blues scene and that you were especially proud of that, especially given the fact that you are Canadian.

And the fact that I was a young girl, that kind of made it all the more unusual. But I was very welcomed here and nurtured here and respected.

I feel like I got a really good music education down here and that’s why I came back.

Q – Clifford Antone brought you to Austin and signed you to your first record deal, as I understand.

Antone’s was our school basically, our school of the blues, and there were a lot of other young players down here doing it too. It wasn’t just me.

I was really welcomed and nurtured and I was given a great education. As soon as Stevie Ray Vaughan broke out and this whole scene got on the radar, everybody in blues freaked out.

The Chicago people freaked out and the California people freaked out. Everybody wanted to emulate Texas blues.

The thing about it, it was new. It was some fresh energy. It was a really new sound coming out.

It was a really exciting time.

Q – As far as what you are trying to do with your music, what are you trying to inject into the music scene?

I’m not trying to inject anything into any scene, per se, I’m just trying to be myself. If somebody hears an album of mine and says, ‘Hey, that’s Sue Foley,’ that’s pretty good, because they know that I kind of got a sound.

All I want to do is be myself.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Accidentals teams up with student ensemble Kaboom Collective Studio Orchestra, will perform Friday at Gallagher Way at Wrigley Field


Sav Buist and Katie Larson – who co-founded the band The Accidentals – first met at age 16 in high school orchestra.

So it only makes sense that The Accidentals would want to collaborate with the Kaboom Collective Studio Orchestra, a Hollywood-style studio ensemble made of students between the ages of 15-25. The band gave the orchestra 11 of their most popular songs to score and arrange, resulting in the aptly named album "Reimagined."

The 40-student orchestra is currently on tour with The Accidentals. The tour kicked off Wednesday at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and will make a stop at Gallagher Way at Wrigley Field at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Accidentals will be back in the area when it plays at The Venue in Aurora on Sept. 9.

I had the chance to talk to Buist about the show.

Q – Great talking to you. I understand the tour will kick off on Aug. 3 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That seems like a great way to kick off the tour.

Katie and I have a very loving history with The Rock Hall, we’re part of the EDU program there. They have an online resource guide for teachers and parents, they offer free lesson plans, artifact images and materials, videos, playlists, and writing prompts.

Some of our videos and curriculum that we use to teach workshops in the schools are on the site and they have been incredibly supportive as we have grown as a band and as individual musicians.

Q – The both of you met in high school orchestra. Was working with the Kaboom Collective kind of a surreal experience?

Working with Kaboom has been inspirational. If there had been a program like this when Kate and I were in school, we would have moved mountains to be a part of it.

To be able to learn how to score and arrange for all types of projects in a safe, supported environment would have been incredible. Touring the project you created would have been the icing on the cake.

I mean, learning to tour healthy isn’t something anyone talks about but mental, physical, and emotional health is a big deal when you decide to do this full time.

Q – When you first heard that female string duo in high school, what struck you about their music and how did they inspire you?

We immediately felt empowered.  Sometimes you have to see something to know it's possible. They showed us that a cello and a violin make a band.

Katie and I had a "How many women do you see shredding a guitar?" moment. Not enough.

It’s not that we can’t, it’s that we don’t know we can. That’s the goal of Kaboom – and frankly, The Accidentals – to empower this and the next generation.

We want them to know they can play multiple instruments, collaborate in multiple ways, and develop multiple skill sets and multiple revenue streams within the music business (and without) that allow us to be sustainable and thrive.

Q – How do you hope to inspire the members of Kaboom Collective?

By showing them that they can inspire the world. Music gets in your blood. It’s an exchange of energy that you can’t get anywhere else.

It’s the ultimate collaboration. It’s that moment when you fit, you feel supported, there is camaraderie, family.

We want them to see what is possible and what is realistic. We want them to set realistic goals and expectations so that they always feel successful.

We want to change the idea that healthy touring isn't cool and share strategies for maintaining that grind.

Q – What made you want to work with the Kaboom Collective and did the group exceed your expectations?

Liza Grossman made us want to work with Kaboom. She is one of the founders of Kaboomco.

We had worked with orchestras before and had difficult experiences with conductors, or trying to score and arrange music on our own without much guidance, so we had decided that wasn't for us.

She changed those negative feelings into a really empowered, positive experience. She showed us that not only could we score and arrange and write music, but that we deserved to do so in an environment that would be collaborative rather than competitive. 

Truly, she changed the way we imagine the future.

Q – What did you think of the Kaboom Collective's arrangements of your songs? Are there any tracks on the album that especially stand out for you?

They are riveting. When we first ran through the score for “Crow’s Feet,” I couldn’t stop the tears.

It was just so beautiful, standing there, surrounded by this lush bed of emotion, all these talented players giving themselves to your song, your memory, your experience – changing something dark into shimmering ethereal emotive light with their whole selves.

It was life-changing. Music can be like that. It can be so giving and comforting.

This whole album is just the best of what music is. It’s people giving to one another and receiving one another.

You look around the room and everyone is in the feel of the song. That is what we envision an orchestra to be.

Not just reading from a page, but embodying the music because you were part of creating the music. You’re invested in the music – it's no longer my song, it’s ours.

Q – What would you like the members of Kaboom Collective to get out of this experience?

Hopefully, they come out of this experience inspired, empowered, and experienced, with realistic expectations and coping skills that will last their career. They will have new friends and see what it is to be a part of a community that supports what you do.

We cannot wait to introduce them to our FAMgrove, Patreon, our team of promoters, and agents – all the people that make it possible.

Q – What are you getting out of this experience?

It’s been such a gift to hear these songs reimagined. Some of the songs feel like they were meant to be recorded this way.

Most of these songs were written early on – when we were younger and there was a lot of healing in hearing them now, being able to sing them again with more mature voices, being able to let go.

It’s been an incredible project and we’re looking forward to the tour. We can’t wait for our fam to experience the full immersion of these songs.

We are purposely doing this show on the ground in a circle at several venues so people can experience it up close and personal and get the full surround sound of being a part of the concert. We wouldn’t miss this for the world.


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Laura Rain brings vocal power to The Venue in Aurora

Photo by Eric Schelkopf


Most people choose to seek shelter when it starts to rain.

But if you are listening to singer Laura Rain, you want to be out in the open so you can take in all of her vocal power.

Rain and her band The Caesars brought their inviting mix of soul and funk to The Venue in Aurora on July 29. Heading up the tight knit band is Rain’s husband, George Friend, on guitar.

The Detroit-based band took the audience on a musical adventure. She injected all the tenderness needed in the sweetly soulful song “Take My Hand.” The song was made even sweeter with vocal help from bandmates Jeff Powe and Joshua Powe.

The band funked things up on the song “The Deal,” adding to the musical diversity of the evening and bringing at least one couple out on the dance floor.

The energy level was turned way up on the song “I Am,” with Rain’s urgent vocals leading the way. 

And even after such a sweltering set, the band still managed to turn the heat up even higher on the closing song "Sunset" with Friend’s driving guitar work and Darryl Pierce’s thunderous drumming leaving the audience more than satisfied.


For those who weren’t able to attend the show at The Venue, the band does have some upcoming appearances in the area, including a show on Aug. 18 at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago and on Aug. 20 at the Little Bear Ribfest in Vernon Hills.