Chris and Heather’s Country Calendar Show flips to 20th year

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Artist Heather McAdams holds a copy of the Country Calendar in her Chicago area home on November 29, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

In the midst of all the repeat music and scripted movies that inundate the holiday season, Chris and Heather’s Annual Country Calendar Show is a true gift. Every December artist Heather McAdams unveils her DIY Country Calendar for the new year — full of detailed portraits of some of her favorite musical artists — at an accompanying show. The night brings together 12 mostly local talents to interpret the works of the bands featured, along with screenings of rare 16mm films about the musical legends.

CHRIS AND HEATHER’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY COUNTRY CALENDAR SHOW When: 8 p.m. Dec. 9 Where: FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn Tickets: $20 Info: ticketweb.com

December 9 at FitzGerald’s marks the impressive 20th anniversary of the show. It has been held there for 17 years, after first getting started in 1997 at The Hideout when co-owner Katie Tuten and friend and musician Kelly Kessler suggested the idea of a show based on McAdams’ beloved annual work of art that had gotten around the local music circuit.

“The idea was to bring the calendar to life while also providing a platform to sell them,” says Chris Ligon, McAdams’ husband and partner in plotting the annual show. The two first met in December 1992 at former club Lower Links, ironically on a night when McAdams had been selling one of the first editions of her calendar.

“We started doing shows together and here we are so many years later,” continues Ligon who says the annual bash is so unique because, “it allows people to see musical legends that are no longer remembered by mainstream radio. …Country music is so different today. But here you can walk in and see June Carter and Johnny Cash performing on a big screen again. In a sense we are honoring those people that have been forgotten.”

Heather McAdams 2018 Country Calendars await assembly in her home on November 29, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Heather McAdams 2018 Country Calendars await assembly in her home on November 29, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

McAdams, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute and a former cartoonist for the Chicago Reader for two decades, also enjoys the fact that creating her yearly calendar (originally just a Christmas gift for family and friends) brings back a lost and forgotten art.

“Something that is handmade and drawn with a pen instead of a computer is just my kind of my thing. There’s something to be said about staying away from digital,” McAdams says. In addition to her careful portraits each month there’s also trivia and jokes she finds during shopping sprees at local bookstores and also a long list of daily birthdays for everyone from Cher to Jesus.

“There’s no room to actually write anything,” McAdams says, laughing. “But that was my goal, so people couldn’t use it as a daily log but rather something you could wake up to and learn something from.”

McAdams gets to work on the new edition every September 1, taking a couple months to draw and allotting some time at the end to collate and spiral the books with Ligon; together they hand-produce 300 every year. In addition to being sold at the show for $20, remaining copies are also for sale at Dave’s Records, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Old Town School of Folk Music and Squeezebox Books and Music in Evanston.

“We have the calendar in our kitchen and I check it daily to see whose birthday it is. Every single time I flip the calendar to the next month, it’s such a thrill,” says Nora O’Connor, an accomplished local musician who co-formed The Flat Five, who will be performing the music of The Turtles at the FitzGerald’s event. In addition, O’Connor, Kelly Hogan and Joel Patterson will also perform songs by Les Paul and Mary Ford. It will be O’Connor’s 11th time doing so, saying, “It’s the best show of the year, hands-down.”

A sample of Heather McAdams’ glitter art adorns her home. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times.

A sample of Heather McAdams’ glitter art adorns her home. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times.

Other music slated for this year’s edition includes that of Joan Baez, Burl Ives, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and even Mel Torme. While the calendar originally exclusively featured country music, over the last couple of years, it has evolved to incorporate folk, pop, rock and jazz. “That’s because the 16mm films are difficult to find and we didn’t want to switch to video, so whoever I can find films of lately is who I’m drawing to keep the show in the same format, but we always include some country to keep the name of the calendar consistent,” says McAdams, conceding, “I won’t draw someone I can’t stand or is boring.”

Over 20 years she has fond memories of the showcase, like the time Neko Case performed as Roger Miller, or last year’s 18-piece big band covering jazz legend Charlie Parker.

“It’s a labor of love putting it all together,” says McAdams, “but every year we come away with something new learned and more appreciation for artists.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

Artist Heather McAdams and her husband, singer-songwriter Chris Ligon, are hosting a 20th Anniversary Country Calendar Show at FitzGerald’s, are photographed at their home on November 29, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Artist Heather McAdams and her husband, singer-songwriter Chris Ligon, are hosting a 20th Anniversary Country Calendar Show at FitzGerald’s, are photographed at their home on November 29, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

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