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FitzGerald's American Music Fest features 40 bands in four days

June 29th, 2015

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from the Chicago Tribune

"I like the way the dates lined up here," quipped Bill FitzGerald, owner of FitzGerald's in Berwyn, of the venue's annual American Music Festival.

In its 34th year, the American Music Festival has become an event to count on, and this year's festival takes place the first four days of July.

The festival is considered one of the premiere roots music festivals in the Midwest, and will present 40 bands on three stages July 1-4, with national and local acts, including Pokey LaFarge, Eric Lindell, Dustbowl Revival, Marcia Ball Band, Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, Joe Ely Band, Eilen Jewell, The Waco Brothers, Will Kimbrough, Paul Thorn, Mississippi Mudpuppies, Cannonball, Charlie Parr, Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience, Jimmy LaFave, Dead Horses, Paul Cebar, Dale Watson, Leadfoot Band, A Muscle Shoals Music Revue with Amy Black and Sarah Borges and School of Rock on Tour.

FitzGerald enthused about some of this year's first-timers to the fest: "Lindi Ortega is a good complement to the Pokey LaFarge show. She's got a kind of rockabilly, country, southern, Texas thing going on. And Alanna Royale, a Nashville R&B, blues artist. July 2 we have Andrew Combs; Rolling Stones included him in their list of songwriters to watch. Will Kimbrough in a solo show. Nora Jane Struthers. Amy Black and Sarah Borges on the Muscle Shoals show. Another new festival artist is Lera Lynn, kind of a moody singer-songwriter, really good." Lynn co-wrote and is the singer of the music appearing in "True Detective" Season 2.

Along with the music, food is an important part of the American Music Festival, with barbecue and Louisiana cuisine among the offerings.

"It's again the Cimms brothers, Tom and Jim, doing what they do every year — menu items like pork sandwiches, jambalaya, andouille crawfish, and a lot more," FitzGerald said. "And this year Capri (the Italian restaurant) next door will have a booth with Italian sausage and Italian beef."

The American Music Festival offers continuous music and sometimes overlapping in an indoor-outdoor format, with some acts playing inside the club on the main stage, others in the adjoining SideBar and yet more outside under the tent.

Among the SideBar artists is Oak Parker Robin Bienemann, an accomplished and creative guitarist and singer-songwriter, known for his quirky and inventive songs and playing.

"This is a special show for me, and I have put together a great little band featuring my wife Jenny, Jodi Walker and Naomi Ashley singing three-part harmony on my songs," Bienemann said of his 7:15 p.m. July 4 performance. "Bill and Kate Fitzgerald are enthusiastic champions of music they like and this festival is genuine a labor of love reflecting their personal sensibility and values. It really has the feeling of a big party for all their friends with their favorite bands."

For singer-songwriter and soulful vocalist Amy Black, performing at 2:15 p.m. July 4 in the club, celebrating the music that came out of Muscle Shoals, Ala. was more than just an appreciation of the music, but a re-connection to her native state.

"My family is from Muscle Shoals. My parents are from Sheffield. There are four towns there and they all blend into each other as one area. As a kid, and as an adult, I spent a lot of time in Muscle Shoals with both sets of grandparents. But I never knew the history, never knew Aretha (Franklin) or anyone else who recorded there (at Fame Recording Studios). So I watched the film ("Muscle Schoals") and educated myself more, and I decided to honor my family roots. I recorded four songs at FAME Recording Studios, deep cuts from the Muscle Shoals days, and did an EP. I started singing a Muscle Shoals revue show, and when it came time to do my next album, I decided to turn the EP into a full album, add horns, add the McCrary Sisters, really do something special."

Black's "The Muscle Shoals Sessions" album was released June 9, with a 35-city summer tour starting June 19, including her July 4 show with Sarah Borges at the American Music Festival.

Black, 43, cites broad music influences — from singing gospel and hymns with family and in church, to pop music, country, rock, blues and jazz.

"I think I've internalized all the music I've heard through the years, so when I wanted to write a soul song for the Muscle Shoals project that fit the era, kind of a '60s, Otis Redding-style song, I wrote 'Please Don't Give Up On Me' and I didn't have to think about it all, it was kind of a feel thing."