I wish I had half, hell, five percent of the tenacity and drive that Donnie Biggins has. Under the moniker Harmonica Dunn, he has his hands in about a hundred pies at any one time. I can’t even lift my face out of the one in front of me. He’s managing bands, he’s booking shows, he plays guitar and sings in The Shams Band, and oh yeah, he’s throwing a big festival February 20th-22nd with a bunch of great bands playing all over Chicago.
This is the second installment of Dunn Dunn Fest, and I’m sure it’s only the beginning of what will soon be considered a Chicago tradition like Lollapalooza or “The Taste.” It could be the best festival of the year if you take it on a per artist quality level. I’ve seen a few of the artists Donnie’s brought in this year, and I can definitely vouch for the quality. I’ve spent the past couple hours familiarizing myself with the bands playing that I don’t know, and I’ve been treated to a nice mix of folk rock and bluegrass I would have never found on my own. Thank you Harmonica Dunn!
We have a little while still before the festival, so you have time to get to know all the players on your own before you head out to see them. Let me introduce you to everyone and let you know where you can find them:
The kickoff show is at Tonic Room on Thursday February 20th, and features perhaps the biggest star of the weekend, Tristen. Garnering a lot of buzz over the course of a couple records and tireless touring, Tristen is a fantastic young singer/songwriter I’ve had the pleasure of hearing live twice. The first time was an opening slot for The Elected (Blake Sennett) at Schubas. The second was when she played some dates with Ezra Furman and stopped at Space in Evanston. If you have Ezra’s vote of confidence as a songwriter, you for damn sure have mine. She’ll be joined by Chicago Farmer and Ryan Joseph Anderson (Go Long Mule, Rambos).
On Friday February 21st, there’s a choice you have to make between Martin Van Ruin with The Whiskey Gentry and Michele McGuire or the Soil and the Sun with Great Divide and Safe Haven. Both are good choices, but I definitely have one of them above the other in my head. I’ve seen Michele McGuire play twice and came away impressed both times. Martin Van Ruin is a new band fronted by Derek Nelson, and after seeing them play their debut record earlier this year at The Empty Bottle I can’t wait to catch them again this weekend during Dunn Dunn Fest. I’m actually listening to The Whiskey Gentry right now and I feel like I’m driving an old beat up pick up truck through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
If you’d like an evening with sounds a bit more eclectic than The Hideout will offer, you can head over to Beat Kitchen where the Soil & the Sun will deliver a set that touches most genres of music including a bit of dream-pop and psychedelia. The opener is Safe Haven, and I dig their sound. The first time I decided to check them out I was surprised by their blustery swagger and Third-Eye Blind, 90’s alternative rock sound. Then I realized I was listening to a different band also called Safe Haven. Chicago’s version is fronted by Pat Lyons of Falldown, formerly of Dastardly, and they don’t sound anything like Third-Eye Blind. There’s a bit of ragtime and jazz behind their alt-country foundation, and it makes for a fun listen. When Great Divide hits the stage you’ll be wondering if it’s 25 or 6 to 4 as the trumpet and piano blast and you wait for Peter Cetera to take the stage. The music is a bit more bluesy and soulful than the other two acts playing, which makes them a perfect choice to play in the middle.
If you dig slow, quiet, contemplative music that forces you to question your place in the world and how we’re all alone in the universe even with 7 billion people on Earth, you should probably skip the show on February 22nd at Subterranean. If, however, you like to go to a small club, hang out and dance and just have a really good time, then this lineup should provide just what you’re looking for.
Santah will kick things off with some warm indie-pop jams that can get a little freaky. Then Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes will come to the stage and throw down some rock and roll hits off their upcoming album Kid Tiger. I’ve seen The Great Lakes twice and had the honor of hosting them at Handwritten Recording Studio a couple years ago. Super nice guys that can really play. Timon Lance rips it on guitar and when Daniel gets going his voice is as good as anyones.
Moon Taxi are the official headliners of the festival, and deservedly so. The band is riding a wave of critical and web buzz following the release of their most recent ablum Mountains Beaches Cities. They’ve got to play on Conan back in January and have a slew of festival dates starting in the spring. When websites put out their annual “Bands To Watch in 20xx,” this is the kind of band they’re talking about. Catch them at Dunn Dunn Fest before you’re paying $75 to see them at the United Center.
As with most festivals these days, you get a deal if you buy a 3-day pass. For $30 you can get into all 4 shows. You can also buy tickets at the shows, but why throw your money away? If you’d like more info on the individual tickets, the bands, or Harmonica Dunn in general, you can find it all here.