Last week, I was in Chicago and went to see some shows. Mostly I was in town to see The Dead’s final three shows, but on Thursday, July 2, I went out to FitzGerald’s. They were having their 34th annual Fourth of July Americana fest, which ran from Wednesday night to Saturday night, and had some really great names this year — Honey Island Swamp Band, Marcia Ball, Joe Ely, and others.
FitzGerald’s is a really cool club. They have a restaurant inside, but for their festival they rented a giant tent for all the headliners. They set up a stage in the restaurant as well, where I started my evening. A really talented singer-songwriter by the name of Will Kimbrough kicked off the inside stage for the evening, playing songs from all areas of his career. He did a couple Daddy tunes, such as “Nobody From Nowhere,” “Wash and Fold,” and “Yo-Yo Ma.”
But, he started off with “Trouble,” from his band Willlie Sugarcapps. When I hear them do it, Kimbrough plays the banjo and not the guitar. While “Trouble” was different in terms of the fact that he performed it on guitar, it wasn’t as different as some of the solo material he performed. For instance, “Piece of Work” was written with a very up-tempo and serious beat behind it, but this night, he changed the tempo to being very slow. The melody stayed the same, but since the tempo chaged, the way he sang it also changed.
Kimbrough even did some newer material. “Side Show Love,” kind of a bluesy number, is the title track off his new solo album. For “Wash and Fold,” he played some slide guitar, which is always nice to hear because it changes the guitar’s intended sound and gives it a blues sound. It was a really great set because he didn’t just do solo material.
After Kimbrough, the resteraunt stage had another singer-songwriter named Andrew Combs. I really enjoyed Combs, but he certainly wasn’t for the dancing folks. This, of course is why he played on the inside stage. He even, at one point, along with the annoucer, told the audience that his was a listening set. I’m glad they both made a point of this. Combs was the most suprising artist of the eveing. I’d never seen him before and he had great songs.
He was backd by a three-piece band, who sounded really great. They even sang backup on a few tunes. Some of his songs you could dance to, like “Emily,” but most were for listening. It was great that he played “Emily,” because it had a sing-along chorus and he invited everyone to sing. This got the crowd to pay a bit more attention, which it seemed Combs was struggling to get throughout his set.
“Emily” was fun, but there was a tune that he did before it that really struck home for me. “Suwannee County” felt so much like home to me because I go up to Suwannee county every year. Being by the Suwannee River is home for me, more than real home at times. It’s weird how I can travel miles away from my home and have a man sing a song that can mentally bring me back to it.
Combs ended his set, but then came back for an encore — a new song he wrote, entitled “Silk Flowers.” He did this one solo and told the audience that this was also a listening song. It was a love song, but a really detailed love song. Combs describes this scene of forgotten flowers by a window pane, which symbolized his love for a girl. This was probably the most poetic song of his entire set. The detailed and long route he took within the song to tell his woman that he loves her was brilliant, because he didn’t just say “I love you” in every verse.
I listened to a little of JD McPherson after Combs was finished and he certainly had the tent rockin’. McPherson had this great swing and rockabilly style to his music. His bass player, Jimmy Sutton, was swinging his upright, while Ray Jacildo tore it up on the keys. These guys definitely warmed up the crowd for Ely and it was so nice to see them have such fun up onstage.
Then, it finally came time for the night’s headliner, Mr. Joe Ely. Ely. For this set, Ely had his old guitar player David Grissom with him, as well as a basist and drummer. The entire set was fantastic. Ely still sounds the same as he did ten years ago.
He reverted back to his Texas Southern rock roots and really gave the crowd quite a show. He did songs like “My Eyes Got Lucky” and “All Just to Get to You.”
The way Ely played with Grissom was like two friends who hadn’t seen each other in years. He focused on Grissom’s playing more than he did anyone else in the band.
Ely did two sets of encores. Before he did, however there had been a man in the front that was dying to hear “Me and Billy the Kid.” So, on his second set of encores, Ely ended the night with that song. He must have to do that song every night, because it seems to be the song everyone associates him with. If they don’t associate him with that song, than they associate him with being a member of The Flatlanders. Regardless, it was really worth seeing Ely and I’d go see him again any day.
The night ended with Sarah Borges, a southern rock girl from Boston. When I walked in, she was doing Daddy’s “Glory Be.” She played in the resteraunt and did not require a listening audience. Like Combs, though, she also had an audience participation part of her set. She pulled out a song of hers entitled, “Open up Your Back Dooor,” which has got a hint of naughtiness within it, which I quite enjoy. The way she deals with it is quite funny — she had the crowd sing along, but then proceeeded to tell them how awful they were and how they weren’t in the right key. Eventually, jokingly, she got off the stage, came down on the dance floor, and instructed everyone on how to sing the chorus. She even got down on the floor and started singing the song. To persuade the audience to sing better, she asked them to think of something they’d really want their spouse to do. One guy yelled out, “Could you please do the dishes honey?” Sarah nodded her head and told him that that was not what she was referring to. Eventually Borges was satisfied with the audience’s participation and ended the song, as well as the night of the festival.