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American music comes alive on local stages

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 11:39 a.m. CST

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A great variety of musicians have called Chicago home – among them Buddy Guy, Benny Goodman, Smashing Pumpkins, Kanye West – and the city’s clubs and festival halls play host to the world’s best, month after month, across the city.

But as so many avid fans move into the suburbs, a few key locales have built a reputation outside the city limits for great live music not too far from home.

In order to have a vibrant music scene, there are several core requirements, according to Mo Levone, booking and entertainment manager for Ballydoyle Irish Pub in Downers Grove and Aurora.

“You need variety and a lot of talent. You also need to have bars and venues that will hire bands so that they have someplace to work. You can’t just have bands playing in garages,” said Levone.

Live entertainment is the “cornerstone of their business,” he added. “There aren’t very many other places in the area to see live music nightclub-style.”

Ballydoyle features an eclectic offering of music including classic rock, dance music, tribute acts, heavy metal, jazz, Celtic, acoustic and more. Open mics on Wednesday evenings are very popular and bring in a variety of styles.

Levone said that he alternates between booking local and national talent for both Ballydoyle locations. “We like to tap into our local community and support local musicians,” he said, adding that there’s an abundance of varied and talented musicians from which to choose. “We also have relationships with booking agents that handle national and touring acts. For instance, Rusted Root is coming in early November. It’s a touring band that started in New York and developed a powerful and committed fan base for about 20 years,” he said.

Bill Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald’s Night Club in Berwyn said that he has been booking top local, national and international talent for 33 years.

“Our music falls under the category of roots American music. It’s a wide variety like jazz blues, rock and roll, country, rockabilly, Cajun, Latin jazz and Latin forms of folk music,” he said. The typical mix is approximately 40 percent national, 60 percent local talent.

Bigger, national names associated with the club have included the Count Basie Orchestra, Los Lobos, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Neville Brothers. Koko Taylor recorded her live album on site; Naomi Ashley will be holding a CD release party there. Fitzgerald said that the club has helped to launch acts in the Chicago area, and has also helped promote first albums of groups that have gone on to prominence.

“We’re part of the early establishment of the Chicago market,” he says. “Some of our acts go on to bigger and better places. Often they’ll return here to perform. We’ve had some bands start playing here on their way up and others have come back through on their way back down.”

Fitzgerald said that many of the local acts that he books are through word of mouth.

“Local agents and other musicians will suggest performers. Sometimes performers are in two bands and after we’ve booked one, we will book the other,” he says. Sometimes we have bands come through the first time as an opener for someone else. If we like them we bring them back and they sometimes develop into a headliner.”

Fitzgerald said that major artists that perform at his club love the venue.

“People tell us that this is one of their favorite places to play in the country,” he says. There’s something about it that they find unique. They feel at home and like the way it works: the interactions, the way it sounds, the audience being right there. It’s nice to hear. We take it for granted, because it’s our club. But they’re telling us what it’s like out there.”

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