It started as a small town festival — an opportunity to get folks from the neighborhood to the club to share their universal love of music. There was beer and there were brats and there were bands.
Well, only four bands.
“Those were the days when Stevie Ray Vaughn was taking showers downstairs in my basement apartment between gigs,” chuckles Bill FitzGerald, owner of FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. “I mean, that first show had just four acts and was merely a fourth of July celebration with hot dogs and brats and a PA system we probably borrowed [Laughs]. But there was music… tons of good music.”
35TH ANNUAL AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
When: June 30 – July 3
Where: Fitzgerald’s, 6615 W. Roosevelt, Berwyn
Tickets: $5 – $50
And in that way, the festival hasn’t changed much, except maybe for one thing.
This year, there will be more than 50 acts.
“Believe me when I tell you that there have been years that I have thought to myself that we should probably rein it in a little bit,” FitzGerald says during a recent interview about the festival, running June 30 through July 3 at his namesake venue in Berwyn. “I mean, there have been years where I haven’t even been able to get in my own club. But yes, this year is probably going to be one of our biggest yet, with acts coming from throughout Chicago and around the country.”
Indeed, the schedule of music for the four-day festival, which is now the longest-running festival of its kind in the Chicago area, is an impressive one. Covering the musical gamut from blues to rock to pop to zydeco, the lineup utilizes a landslide of club favorites including Willie Nile, James McMurtry, Eric Lindell, Reckless Kelly, Terrance Simiem, Donna the Buffalo, Robbie Fulks, Sarah Borges, Jon Dee Graham, John Fullbright and Toronzo Cannon. There are also up-and-comers worthy of a huge amount of attention from the festivalgoers, including Parker Millsap, The Cactus Blossoms, The Roosevelts, The Wild Reeds, Alanna Royale and Sam Lewis.
“It’s a big dose of live music, that’s for sure,” FitzGerald notes. “I have a ton of people that I know [who] are wondering to themselves if they can really hang out to see ten bands in one day. But I always tell them that you just have to get on the horse and ride it. I mean, it’s a night of musical fireworks.”
Also making a special appearance at this year’s festival is Dos Lobos featuring Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of famed band Los Lobos. “[Los Lobos] started playing here in the early ’80s,” Fitzgerald recalls. “In fact, I want to say we got one of their first shows. Now Cesar drops in every once in a while to catch a show here and there, so it was really a no-brainer that he wanted him and David to participate if they could. And as Dos Lobos, nothing is off-limits. They will be playing everything from blues to Latin to jazz backed by an amazing band made up of Chicagoans. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a special guest thrown in there somewhere. ”
There will also be a multitude of other special performances, including The Zimmermen joined by Robbie Fulks and John Fullbright, the R&B Cadets reunion with Paul Cebar, Robin Pluer, Mike Sieger and Juli Wood and the group Tributosaurus and their James Brown tributes.
The weekend is sure to bring with it its share of “pinch me” moments for Fitzgerald, who has had many of them in the last 35 years. But there is one thing that FitzGerald seems the most excited about.
“After 35 years, we have gotten a brand new top-of-the-line beer draft system,” he chuckles. “We will have plenty of good, cold beer.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.