The longest-running, all-American music blowout in Chicago is returning for a four-day Fourth of July weekend.
The 36th annual American Music Festival takes place June 30-July 3 at FitzGerld’s in Berwyn, which this year features more than 50 acts on three stages, including Southern Culture on the Skids, The Waco Brothers, Robbie Fulks & Redd Volkaert, Shemekia Copeland, The Pines, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, Marcia Ball Band and Ray Bonneville.
We caught up with FitzGerald’s owner and Oak Parker Bill FitzGerald who shared some of his favorite moments from past fests and named a few of this year’s acts he thinks “absolutely everyone should come and see.”
Q: So, the club’s been open 37 years, but this is the 36th American Music Festival?
A: Yeah, the first year we celebrated the Fourth of July weekend with some special programming — it’s kind of fun to remind people we had Stevie Ray Vaughan playing here July 3. It was his second time at the club. Of course, we were just blown away by him. And then on the Fourth we put together an eight-piece, Chicago-all-star jazz band. And we ate corn on the cob and hot dogs and hamburgers and that was it. Then it just kept growing every year from that point. Now, it’s been a four-day event pretty consistently for the last 15 or 20 years.
Q: Do you try to catch bands when they’re at a certain stage in their career?
A: Oh yeah. Every year, we try to find an up-and-coming band that’s never played here. Agents come to us to showcase acts like that, so it works out great for everyone. As a matter of fact, there are a few acts I think absolutely everyone should come and see.
A: Definitely. David Luning (June 30), for example. I think before too long he’ll be playing much bigger venues. The Western Centuries (June 30) also look very promising. Also a gospel/soul and R&B singer named Liz Vice (July 1). She’s a great performer and she’s going to be a discovery for a lot of people.
Q: Any other especially notable groups?
A: They’re all good, of course, but, yeah, there’s this one group called the Shiny Ribs playing two days — the first and the second. They’re just so much fun and they fit this place like a glove. It’s roots music, but they’re funky, they’re danceable, their musicianship is unbelievable.
Q: Are there any nights, any performances, that stand out in your memory as something particularly special after all these fests?
A: I do have an especially great memory of a Marcia Ball performance at the festival. It was probably 20 years ago. She was playing in our old tent and it was just pouring down rain. I mean, straight-down pouring. But she kept on playing and the crowd was digging it and people were dancing in the puddles…. And, of course, she got to play ‘It’s Raining’ by Irma Thomas. (Laughing.) Those are the moments where, you know, the place is packed, everybody’s wet, it’s freezing, nobody cares — and you’re standing there watching it all happen with a bottle of beer in your hand. And everything feels right.
The 36th annual American Music Festival
When: June 30 to July 3
Where: FitzGerald’s Nightclub, 6615 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn
Tickets: Advance tickets are $30 daily until June 30. $40 daily thereafter. $120 four-day passes are available only at www.ticketweb.com. Children 12 and under with parents are $5 until 10 p.m.
Contact: 708-788-2188; www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com