BERWYN – The 35th annual FitzGerald’s American Music Festival in Berwyn will kick off four days of Americana and roots music later this month with performances from Dos Lobos, featuring Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and folk-rock singer and guitarist James McMurtry.
Kate FitzGerald, whose husband, Bill, started the annual music event in 1981, said she expects 5,000 to 6,000 people to attend this year's festival, which will run June 30 through July 3.
"The nice thing about this festival is that as most [other festivals] grow and get bigger and turn into other things, are sponsored by corporations, people lose track of the fact that there are musicians up there playing," she said. "We like to keep the focus on the musicians."
Performances at the festival run the gamut from blues and rock to soul, funk, jazz, bluegrass country and folk. Other musicians scheduled to play this year include Eric Lindell, Reckless Kelly, Terrance Simien, Donna the Buffalo, Robbie Fulks, Sarah Borges, Jon Dee Graham, John Fullbright, The Cactus Blossoms, and many more.
The festival is hosted annually on the property of FitzGerald's Nightclub at 6615 W. Roosevelt Road. Cajun and barbecue-style food will be provided by a longtime friend of the nightclub owners, Tom Cimms, who has catered the festival for about 25 years of its 35-year run, FitzGerald said. She said tents will be set up in the club's parking lot, and festivalgoers can use the club's restrooms and order drinks at their bar.
"We like to think it's a little more doable for a lot of people than those big festivals downtown," FitzGerald said.
When asked how many artists will be featured in total, FitzGerald said the event will include more than 50 acts.
The event is "an all-star roundup of our favorite bands who play here throughout the year," she said. FitzGerald said the club also books lesser known acts who have played at the establishment for the festival's smaller stage. She said many of them have performed at the club's Tuesday night open mic events. FitzGerald said she's particularly excited about Charlie Parr, who will perform in the club's side bar at 8 p.m. July 3.
"He's a really terrific singer-songwriter," FitzGerald said.
The biggest names this year are Dos Lobos, she said. She said they asked to play the fest, which was a thrill for her and her husband.
"We said, 'OK, we can afford such and such amount of money,' and they said, 'That's fine,'" FitzGerald said.
In previous years, she said the festival has drawn big-name acts such as Tito Jackson from the Jackson 5, American blues singer and pianist Marcia Ball and singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist Dr. John.
"It's always just like a big reunion. Everyone looks forward to it. The musicians do; our fans and our regulars look forward to it," she said.
FitzGerald said she and her husband try to keep the cost of attendance low.
Advance tickets total $25 for June 30, $30 for July 1, $35 for July 2 and $50 for July 3. A four-day pass costs $120.
The event began in 1981, a year after Bill opened the nightclub. It started with a handful of musicians, including singer and songwriter Stevie Ray Vaughan, and has since grown into the multi-day event it is currently, FitzGerald said.
She said her husband's relationships with performers and customers are the reason for the event's longevity.
"A lot of musicians say this feels like home, this feels like family, they want to come back and play. The same with the regulars. It's sort of like a big campus or something. People say they like the vibe; they say it's very casual," FitzGerald said. "We don't have corporate sponsors. We don't have any of those constraints. We've really been able to do it just the way we wanted it all these years."