JC Brooks Band kicks off NASCAR Chicago concert series on day 1 of street racing extravaganza

In addition to the street races, the event has a short lineup of music performances planned for both days, kicking off Saturday with the only local Chicago act of the weekend, the dynamic indie-soul troupe The JC Brooks Band.

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JC Brooks performs in concert at the NASCAR Chicago festival on Saturday afternoon. 

JC Brooks performs in concert at the NASCAR Chicago festival on Saturday afternoon.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

UPDATE 6:50 p.m.: The 8:30 p.m. concert by the Chainsmokers at the Lakeside Green in Grant Park has been canceled. NASCAR postponed Saturday’s already-in-progress Loop 121 Series Race “due to the potential for continued lightning strikes and in the interest of public safety and caution.”

A year after it was first announced, NASCAR’s inaugural Chicago street race event is off to the races. It’s a first-of-its-kind affair in the 75-year history of the racing organization, bringing in a reported 100,000 people over the course of the two-day weekend.

In addition to the street races, the event has a short lineup of music performances planned for both days, kicking off Saturday with the only local Chicago act of the weekend, the dynamic indie-soul troupe The JC Brooks Band.

JC Brooks performs in concert at the NASCAR Chicago festival on Saturday afternoon.

JC Brooks performs in concert at the NASCAR Chicago festival on Saturday afternoon.

The nine-piece ensemble christened the Mobil 1 Stage, located in the Lakefront Green area of Grant Park, the southern-most part of the festival’s pedestrian-accessible area surrounded by the 2.5-mile racing track. It’s so close, in fact, that the roar of NASCAR’s ongoing practice races became an unexpected part of the sonic ensemble as JC Brooks and crew soundchecked at length, cutting into their noon set time.

In many ways, the stage setup is similar to Lollapalooza’s traditional layout, with the Mobil 1 Stage parked in the same spot as the Lolla’s T-Mobile Stage. Though, the Ferris Wheel in the center of the grass here and a large, elevated pedestrian walkway that crosses over the race track along Balbo are definitely new components.

As was the slow-to-rise crowd. By noon at Lolla, the softball fields are normally swarming with music fans; today, there were just a few hundred people taking in the soul grooves of the JC Brooks Band.

One of the earliest car crashes Saturday took place during practice rounds just as The JC Brooks Band was about to take the stage. Video feed of the Whelen Team car hitting a wall elicited a round of shocked guffaws in the small crowd that had gathered by the Mobil 1 Stage, followed by Brooks’ own James Brown squeal to get things started.

The JC Brooks Band appearance was a rebirth of sorts for the group. Formerly known to many as JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, the soul-blues-R&B revivalists have been rather dormant since releasing their last album, 2017’s “Neon Jungle.” They first formed in 2007 and enjoyed a short and quick rise to the top, sharing stages with Robert Plant and Buddy Guy, playing Lollapalooza and personally invited to take the stage at former mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration in 2011.

The group recently re-emerged to take the stage at Andersonville Midsommarfest on June 9, though their appearance at the NASCAR Street Race weekend could have angled them for some good national appeal — if only more people had shown up.

It didn’t stop frontman Brooks from welcoming those who did, introducing them to the Chicago humidity that a couple times made him take pause, and reminding the crowd that weed is legal in Chicago, while introducing the Otis Redding-style song “River.” Brooks also gave a little tale about “great storyteller” Jeff Tweedy as the band launched into their famous cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”

A NASCAR fan gets into the spirit of things at the JC Brooks concert in Grant Park on Saturday afternoon. 

A NASCAR fan gets into the spirit of things at the JC Brooks concert in Grant Park on Saturday afternoon.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Though, it was the addition of “Everything Will Be Fine” in the short-and-sweet six-song set that showed Brooks and company are amped for their second coming. With the song’s boogie woogie keys, an electric horn section, and the animated frontman just begging for the crowd to give him an “Amen” in the refrain (“Y’all weren’t raised in a Black Church? Get the f*** out,” he joked, a quip lost on the predominantly white crowd), the song proved one of Chicago’s best bands of the new millennium is back.

Saturday’s music sets continue with more bluesy roots rock from The Black Crowes and a finale from EDM duo The Chainsmokers, while Sunday will bring in the more traditional country music of NASCAR events with concerts by Charley Crockett and Miranda Lambert.

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