Catching up with Robbie Fulks

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published May 1, 2009


Robbie Fulks spent most of April in Sweden, playing clubs and bars with names no American could likely pronounce. But on Saturday he'll be back in Illinois (even though the longtime Chicagoan recently moved to Brooklyn), playing a semi-new spot in the suburbs that's very easy to say.

Evanston SPACE will play host to the singer-songwriter.

You can describe Fulks' music any way you want. Bluegrass with a bad attitude. Irreverently insurgent country. Fringe folk. Obscurely troubadourian traditionalism. But this man can pick his acoustic guitar, get any size crowd to laugh out loud and make you feel like two-stepping even though his lyrics have an anti-Nashville air.

Via e-mail from Sweden, Fulks said that his sound was very much influenced by the Doc Watson, Country Gentlemen and 1960s folk music his parents always played.

"I've gotten interested in some musical styles pretty distant from that in the years since, but I think my hard-wiring was irrevocably set by those early sounds," Fulks said. "And I'll never grow tired of pop and country and all the American folk styles."

He admits he doesn't necessarily feel at home standing in the dark, revealing his secret mental life to a silent group of anonymous onlookers. But he said "If I think I'm doing the job well, I feel basically content."

So that bitter tone you hear in some of his popular tunes, such as "[Expletive] This Town," isn't how he really feels. He has other songs that state his mind, such as "Countrier Than Thou," which calls out the Shania Twain haters.

"Even though I love Shania, I've done plenty of eye-rolling at big-brand country music, which I think is largely an uncreative, crudely manipulative, sinister pile of junk," he said. Ever the contrarian, though, Fulks wonders "What kind of world would it be if we let a small band of college-educated ... [ideologues] say what some blue-collar worker in Cedar Rapids should or shouldn't be enjoying?"

And just for this show, Fulks will be bringing together a one-time-only group of his musician friends. They'll be doing songs from the quieter half of his recent 50-song digital-only album. But if you want to hear Fulks' honky tonk vocals, know that SPACE only holds about 250. And the venue does welcomes all ages, but some of Fulks' lyrics may not be the kind of PG-rated family fun you're looking for.

Fulks will also be at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., at 7 p.m. Sunday with his full acoustic band.


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