37th Annual American Music Festival at Fitzgerald’s Nightclub

I spent my 4th of July eve in Berwyn, where I was checking out Fitzgerald’s American Music Festival for the first time. Tuesday was the last of four nights of music covering three spaces at the club-an outdoor tent that holds 1,000 or so but felt like 5,000, the sidebar, which was packed every time I tried to enter, and the main club which is large and maintained a fairly comfortable level of people. The event ran from 5pm until 1am, and I stayed for a big chunk of it.

First up was outlaw country singer Jaime Wyatt. I recognized her name from a song she did years ago called “Light Switch.” It was written and produced with one of my favorite songwriters, Pete Droge. She’s come a long way since then, and switched her focus from pop to country with great results. She writes songs in the vein of Haggard and Jennings, with lyrics about heartbreak and time served. She and her band covered both of those famous Highwaymen and played a handful of songs both old and new.

After that I dipped into the Sidebar for a quick check-in with the air conditioner. It was about 95 degrees outside and the tent had fans blowing as much as they could, but the a/c was much more inviting. I stood there for a few minutes listening to Fox Crossing String Band (since I couldn’t really see them) before making my way to the main club for Luke Winslow-King.

I didn’t get to stay long since it took me a while to get over to this stage, but I found Luke Winslow-King to be a strong performer. He’s charismatic and talented enough to draw you in even if you don’t think you’d like his music. This was my first time seeing him and now I regret not going every time I got an invite.

I headed back out to the tent and made my way up front for Tributosaurus. Now, these guys have been playing around the Chicago area for years and I’ve never seen them. They play all different kinds of music and seem to have a pretty good following. A while back they played a show as Talking Heads I wanted to see but couldn’t, so this was a good opportunity for me to check them out. For this evening they were becoming one of the greatest groups of all-time, The Band.

They did a really great job of mixing it up between singers and changing instruments so it really felt like a show by The Band. They did a lot of Music From Big Pink songs, they had a horn section, they brought out Grammy nominee Robbie Fulks; everything but the kitchen sink was up there on stage. If I counted right they had 15 people up there at one point.

I stopped back at the main club to see Charlie Parr for just a moment. I ran into a woman with my backpack as I was trying to get through the crowd and I said “Sorry,” but I guess she didn’t hear me because I made it a few steps before I felt a big push at my back. I turned around and she was glaring at me. Charlie sounded great, though. One heck of a guitar player.

Back in the tent I found a little surprise-Jerry Lee Lewis’s sister Linda Gail Lewis was joining Robbie Fulks for his set (I must not have read the schedule closely). They’ve been working together for a while now, and after he played some of his songs, she came out and they did a whole bunch of songs together. They appear to have a strong working relationship with the ability to tease one another like siblings. A little way into the set the woman standing next to me made her way up to the stage and was introduced as Linda Gail’s daughter Annie Marie. She sang a couple songs with them and then came back to where I was standing-I think she applauded and shouted louder than anyone else in the venue after each song.

They did a couple of Jerry Lee’s songs, which really got the crowd going. I saw him play at a festival about 15 years ago, and the energy he always displayed runs in the family for sure. Linda Gail is a lot of fun, and Robbie said they’ll be back at Fitzgerald’s in October.

The last act I stayed for was Nick Lowe with Los Straightjackets. After delays held up the 10:30 start time until almost 11:00, I could only stay for a song or two. He opened with “So It Goes,” the song that kickstarted his independent label career with Stiff Records. Originally recorded with just guitar, vocal, and drums, Nick had the full force of his band behind him and sounded fantastic.

I made my way through the crowd to the exit and watched a little more while I was waiting for my ride. A great plus for people in Berwyn is you can watch some of the tent bands play without buying a ticket. On this night you could listen to the music and watch the fireworks display, as I did, while standing on Roosevelt Road.

I would recommend checking out the festival next year to anyone in the greater Chicago area who digs music. The lineup is fairly eclectic and they always bring in some heavy hitters to headline. For more info, including past lineups, check out Fitzgerald’s website.