Davis, Phair top Taste's musical fare


June 30, 2006


While the musical component of Taste of Chicago still falls far short of its heyday a decade ago, when local promoters Jam Productions were relieved of booking duties and the city took over with help from local radio stations, the festival has been inching back toward respectability.

There is still an unconscionable amount of schlock on the bill -- Dennis DeYoung? Why? -- but there are also a number of highlights among this year's offerings. And, even during Chicago's extraordinary summer of festivals -- with Intonation, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, the International House Music Festival, the Hideout fest and more -- there's no denying that Taste remains the bargain to end all bargains.

Yes, folks: The music is still free.

The sounds kick off today and run through July 9 at the always remarkable venue of the Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park. Here is the complete rundown:

5:30 p.m. today: The powerhouse soul tag team of WGCI (107.5-FM) and V103 generally kick things off with a night of vintage R&B, and this year they're sponsoring the O'Jays, masters of the smooth Philly soul sound (though they formed in Canton, Ohio) and the group behind indelible hits such as "Love Train" and "For the Love of Money." Opening are two relatively unproven acts, 3PC, the trio some fans have called "the new and improved Jodeci," and Risque.

3 p.m. Saturday: The Chicago Country Music Festival, the mini-festival within a festival, starts with the promising pairing of the legendary rhinestone cowboy, Glen Campbell, and the Yonder Mountain String Band, the progressive bluegrass band based in Colorado (though its roots are at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana).

2 p.m. Sunday: The second night of the Country Music Fest features headliner Phil Vassar, the Lynchburg, Va., crooner and judge on "Nashville Star," plus SHeDAISY, the trio of sisters who could be considered a declawed, Mormon version of the Dixie Chicks, and Jo Dee Messina, a champion of the fiery country kiss-off song.

7:30 p.m. Monday: In keeping with tradition, Radiohead's nemesis the Grant Park Orchestra will provide the soundtrack for the annual Independence Eve fireworks display.

3 p.m. Tuesday: The coup of this year's Taste comes courtesy of WXRT (93.1-FM), who landed legendary Kinks bandleader Ray Davies to top its annual July 4 bash. Touring in support of his first solo album in a long and storied career, Davies delivered the goods a few months back at the Vic Theatre, with a thrilling mix of Kinks classics and strong new tunes. The openers are the Louisville, Ky., alternative-country quintet My Morning Jacket (as seen in Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown") and the entirely too smug and annoyingly eclectic Soul Coughing veteran Mike Doughty.

5:30 p.m. Wednesday: The second of WGCI and V103's Taste shows gives us neosoul chanteuse india.arie, who just released her new album "Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship," and Anthony Hamilton, whose 2005 album "Ain't Nobody Worryin'" marked him as one of the most inventive male R&B stars since D'Angelo.

5:30 p.m. Thursday: And now for a night of mainstream pap and blatant nepotism courtesy of the ever-pandering, Chicago-based Aware Records label: the bland jangle of Train, who've lately been wishing they were Maroon 5, and the thoroughly unimpressive Nashville singer-songwriter Mat Kearney.

5:30 p.m. July 7: My pick for the second best evening at Taste after July 4 is this show topped by the cheerfully gonzo neosoul/natural R&B diva Macy Gray, who is guaranteed to fly her freak flag high as she gears up for a new album called "Big" featuring collaborations with OutKast, Sleepy Brown and will.i.am. Opening are Chicagoans Liquid Soul, the jazz/funk/soul combo led by saxophonist Mars Williams.

5 p.m. July 8: There was a time when the idea of Winnetka native Liz Phair performing in Grant Park would have meant something, but that was long before indie-rock's former bad girl left her self-imposed exile in Guyville for the sun and fun of Hollywood in an effort to reinvent herself as Sheryl Crow lite. Preceding La Liz onstage: the gently Beatlesesque jangle of Fountains of Wayne and the recently reactivated World Party, which is, disappointingly, really just main man Karl Wallinger performing in stripped-down fashion without the orchestral pop charms of his old band during its late '80s heyday.

3 p.m. July 9: Taste of Chicago 2006 sputters to an underwhelming close and hits its nadir on a final night that offers co-headliners Dennis DeYoung and the young but rapidly aging blues wannabe Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Why the disses? Well, Shepherd is an obvious talent whose lack of taste results in stultifyingly generic music, while Chicagoan and former Styx leader DeYoung's sins are almost too plentiful to enumerate -- though "Babe" and "Mr. Roboto," his stage musical "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," his scenery-chewing stint in "Jesus Christ Superstar" and his tendency to up the bombast of his already overblown sounds with 50-piece orchestras and children's choirs are a pretty good start.


Often overshadowed amid the hubbub of Taste of Chicago and the July 4 weekend, the annual American Music Festival at FitzGerald's (6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn) is always one of the high points of the summer music scene, and this year it's celebrating its 25th edition.

The music starts today at 4:30 p.m. and includes Jeff & Vida, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Jimmy La Fave, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, CJ Chenier, the always scintillating Marcia Ball Band and Brave Combo.

Saturday's lineup kicks off at 1:30 p.m. with Anne Harris, the Victory Travelers/Gospel Show, Heartsfield, Nicholas Tremulis, Jon Langford's Ship & Pilot, Tributosaurus playing the music of the Byrds, Paul Cebar, Switchback, Kevin Gordon Band, an encore by Jimmy LaFave, Pat McLaughlin, the Blasters and the return of Marcia Ball.

Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and features Jim Bany's Men of Note, the John Burnett Orchestra, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Chatham County Line, Chevere, Webb Wilder, Jon Dee Graham, Sonny Landreth, Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience and the Blasters.

The festival concludes on Monday starting at 4 p.m. with the Terrance Simien Family Show, Devil in a Woodpile, Dale Watson, Eric Lindell, Bill Kirchen with Sarah Brown and Lisa Pankratz, Jon Dee Graham, a reunion of the Famous Potatoes with Michael McDermott, John Mooney and Bluesiana and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men.

Tickets are $25 at the door (no advance sales), and more information is available at (708) 788-2118; www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.