Blue Mountain – FitzGerald’s (Berwyn, IL)
Fans at the 17th annual American Music Festival, held every Independence Day at this suburban Chicago haven for roots music, had plenty to celebrate on a long, hot evening. Not only were they toasting their country’s freedom, they were also gettin’ jiggy with the Hackberry Ramblers, Cheri Knight, Terrance Simien, Jimmy LaFave and Dave Alvin. As if that weren’t enough of a musical fireworks display, these lucky attendees also experienced the colorful explosions of Blue Mountain.
The band’s 16-song set was dominated by loud, crunchy guitars — a far fry from the notion of quaint, rural, front-porch music suggested by the cover photo of Homegrown, Blue Mountain’s most recent. Charismatic lead singer/guitarist Cary Hudson provided most of the sonic blasts, wrenching nasty solos out of his Les Paul. Drummer Frank Coutch created a solid groove with new bassist George Sheldon, whose inclusion in the band has allowed Laurie Stirratt to switch from electric bass to acoustic guitar.
The song selection was split about evenly between tunes from Homegrown and the band’s 1995 disc Dog Days. But there were also a couple of unrecorded numbers. Hudson introduced the rocker “Lakeside” as a song about “driving to New Orleans to raise hell when we were little.” Stirratt strapped on an electric guitar for a few tunes, including “Sleeping In My Shoes”. Hudson mentioned that this was the first song Stirratt ever wrote and that it would probably be on the group’s next album, tentatively scheduled for a spring release.
Hudson and Stirratt’s harmonizing was ragged but right throughout the set. Their intertwining vocals were especially effective on “Soul Sister”, which featured a harmonica solo and some guitar heroics from Hudson. Another highlight was Hudson’s fluid, rockabilly-influenced guitar solo on “Myrna Lee”.
Chicago’s alt-country fans had to smile when Hudson dedicated the last song of the regular set, “Blue Canoe”, to Anastasia Davies, the who spent five years booking bands at Schuba’s but now has taken over those duties at FitzGerald’s.
The encore was “Go Away Devil”, a traditional blues tune in which the narrator sees Satan hanging around his bed. This version dramatically juxtaposed moments of a cappella singing with noisy bursts of music. As the song ended, Hudson pulled a Youngian move, leaning his Gibson against an amplifier to create a rattling wave of feedback.
The mixture of perspiration, beer, screaming and reverb made this reviewer think: “Is this a great country, or what?”