Chicago's a lot bit country

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

Published October 2, 2009


Lollapalooza never taught anyone how to line dance. Pitchfork didn't let anybody in for free. And Blues Fest didn't have a corral just for the kids. So as music parties go, this Chicago Country Music Festival already has a lot going for it.

And it makes sense that Chicago would host such a fest, because this is one of country music's biggest markets, with more than a million country radio listeners and some of the highest figures for country CD sales and downloads. Most major country acts come through town, and Joe's Bar is a thriving concert venue.

Starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, there will be all breeds of country music on three stages. If you wear comfortable shoes, you could run from stage to stage and hardly miss a thing. If you prefer to sit back and let the music come to you, however, that'll work too. Let us help you narrow down the choices so you know exactly where to park that lawn chair and pop open that cooler. (No outside alcohol is allowed. Also prohibited are bikes, pop-up tents and grills.)

Petrillo Music ShellA good place to be if you like what country radio plays, especially when it's a little more rough around the edges. The main performers here will take you back to a time when even pop country had an outlaw attitude. With Miranda Lambert's new album "Revolution" out this week, she's proven she's not another pretty blonde out of Nashville. She can cover Fred Eaglesmith and John Prine tunes, and then sing about living in Airstreams, white liars and kerosene. She headlines 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Get there early Saturday evening if you want to catch Jamey Johnson, who seems to pull a lot of influence from his old-school heroes such as Waylon Jennings, while keeping the topics relevant (such as the anti-drug message in "High Cost of Living," or the sweet taste of revenge in "Mowin' Down The Roses.") 6 p.m. Saturday

John Rich, half of the former duo Big & Rich, closes the fest on Sunday. He's also the songwriting mind behind most of the Big & Rich hits. Truth be told, the better vocalist of the two. 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Best Buy Honky Tonk StageThis is where you'll want to be if you're more about soaking up swingin' classic country, and all the instruments that go along with it. Expect plenty of cover songs you know -- some from decades ago with White Saddle Band at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and some newer ones from Coy Taylor Band at 5 p.m. on Saturday. From ballads and barn burners to drinkin' songs, this stage will have it all.

Americana StageIf you like to know where songs come from, there is one must-see event: It's the CMA Songwriters Series with Lee Ann Womack. Listen to the soulful sounds of Womack when she takes the stage with a handful of Nashville's biggest hit-makers, as they take turns playing tunes and telling the stories behind them. 4 p.m. Saturday

Dance StageThe place to learn how to line dance and/or square dance. So you won't get your heel splits and loop turns confused with your bows and promenades. 2 p.m. Saturday

Kids CorralDon't miss Little Nashville, performing twice each day. Even without kids, this band entertains enthusiastically with lead singer J Juliano at the helm. He is the spitting image of Brad Paisley, but has a vocal style that's more Garth Brooks. 5:15 p.m. Saturday

Note: Womack and Johnson will also be swinging by Joe's Bar (940 W. Weed St.) while they're in town. Check out Womack at 8:30 p.m. Friday, and Johnson at 11 p.m. on Saturday.


Chicago Country Music Festival

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