American Mavericks Female Musicians Highlight FitzGerald's Festival
Guarino, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Mark Guarino Daily Herald Music Critic
When: 2 and 4:15 p.m. Sunday
When: Various sets throughout the day Saturday and Sunday plus 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: FitzGerald's 24th annual American Music Festival, 6615 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn
Tickets: $25 a day. $5 off before 6 p.m. today and before 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets available at the door.
Forget the flag. The real red, white and blue will wave this weekend at FitzGerald's in Berwyn.
There, at the club's 24th annual American Music Festival, the nation's truest stripes are on display, with a multiday bill representing its rich musical heritage, from blues to country, from Cajun to Tex-Mex.
Among the top-tier musicians are two women, both with early roots planted in Southern California: Del Rey, a guitarist specializing in jazz, country and blues from the pre-World War II era, and Grey DeLisle, a rising Los Angeles singer-songwriter who plays Gram Parsons-style country with an ear toward pop.
Last May at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, hundreds of festgoers, including myself, crammed inside the gospel tent to hear a set-long toast to the late Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the controversial gospel singer from the '30s who incorporated blues and jazz into spirituals. Organized by singer-songwriter Maria Muldaur, the show featured New Orleans soul music great Irma Thomas, blues singer Tracy Nelson and boogie-woogie piano queen Marcia Ball. But amid the roof-raising spirituals and downright jams was Del Rey, least known among the group but who won the most praise for her speeding, tasty guitar licks, steely voice and vintage look, complete with wide-bodied guitar that made her seem like she stepped out of the Texas Dustbowl. If the others respectfully presented the songs in Tharpe's honor, it was mainly Rey who made them her own.
Rey is a living testament to the live power of performing pre- World War II jazz, country, blues and gospel, music cherished by hardcore record collectors but known by most people as the Grammy- winning soundtrack from the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Rey was ahead of the curve by almost three decades. Growing up in a trailer near San Diego, her mother bought her a guitar when she was 4. In 1974, at age 15, she would meet her mentor at a hoot night at a local music store. By that time, Sam Chatmon had retired but suddenly found work thanks to the recent blues revival. He was a member of the popular family string band the Mississippi Sheiks in the late '20s and early '30s, then embarked on a career writing songs driven by their double entendres (he died in 1983). When Rey met him, he was playing the folk arts circuit and invited Rey to play with him on stage. Swiftly, over different periods of time when Chatmon was in town, she discovered through him musical traditions that ran deeper than current trends.
"I had never met anyone from Mississippi and Sam's accent was pretty thick," she said. "It was a great introduction for me to Southern culture. Everything my peers liked seemed really empty to me. In the '70s, it was all about disco and the Eagles. Those were corporate products. As soon as I heard music from the '20s, it seemed real."
From there, she never looked back.
"I've basically been working this my whole life," she said.
After dropping out of college, she hit the folk festival circuit and, although she has released nine albums independently, she makes her living on the road. She will be away from her Seattle home for two-thirds of this year.
The continual bookings are intrinsic to the music she plays, she said.
"When you see someone who can play, it's exciting," she said. "People don't play music for themselves anymore. In the '20s, everyone could play. Now we assume music is something you watch or pay for. …