The old wooden-building complex that houses FitzGerald's Nightclub will add another chapter to its already extensive history over four days, July 3-6, as they prepare to host their American Music Festival for the 33rd time.
This year's fest, which doubles as the club's Fourth of July celebration, will feature a 40-band lineup spanning a range of musical genres on three stages.
FitzGerald's is located in Berwyn just across Roosevelt Road from Oak Park (between East and Clarence avenues) and has built a reputation for welcoming nationally-recognized acts to its small stages since the family-owned club opened in 1980.
The American Music Festival, which owner Bill FitzGerald said draws regulars from out of state, began in the club's first year of operation with a Friday night Fourth of July performance by Stevie Ray Vaughn, who was just starting his career at the time.
The festival grew relatively quickly after its first celebration, gradually adding days and acts until reaching its current four-day, 40-act form. Over the festival's 33-year existence, it has welcomed big names such as Mavis Staples, Drive By Truckers, Dr. John, and the Neville Brothers.
FitzGerald, a longtime Oak Park resident, said this year's lineup will feature acts that cover a variety of musical tastes. In fact, he compared the festival's schedule to "fireworks" because it is "jammed together and chock full of cool stuff."
Among the festival's acts, which range from blues to rock 'n' roll, will be a number of Southern artists, a few with ties to Louisiana. FitzGerald said the nightclub embraced Southern and Cajun music nearly from the start after he was exposed to them on a trip to the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. He also said the multiple Cajun acts complement the Cajun-American barbeque food theme at the festival.
Among the Southern acts will be several returning artists, some of whom play the festival every year, according to FitzGerald. Marcia Ball, a Texas-born blues singer and festival regular, refers to the festival as her "favorite big festival in a smaller place," according to FitzGerald.
Dave Alvin, a California artist who spans genres from alternative country to blues, is also a regular at the festival.
Many acts, such as John Fullbright from Oklahoma and The Fleshtones, a band from New York, were booked after making a good impression at a previous performance in the nightclub, FitzGerald said.
The festival differs from other Fourth of July events in the area, he said, because it relies on a small venue and only two sponsors.
"It's a very intense little music festival with a lot of variety and a lot of back and forth," FitzGerald said. "We really just set this up out of what we have in this small lot and make it work. It's pretty amazing the transformation from this little parking lot to the place rocking."
FitzGerald said the festival is a "music fan-sponsored event," relying almost entirely on patron attendance. Patrons have the option of buying single-day passes, which go for $30 but can be purchased for $25 within the first hour, or a $100 four-day pass.
FitzGerald said he tries to draw in as many people as possible by organizing the artists' performances in a way that allows attendees to enjoy a full day of music and not just the one show that might have drawn them in the first place.
"You look at the flow, grouping the bands together so people will love the entire day," he said. "We try to create a nice thread where you could see somebody weaving in and out."
FitzGerald is grateful to the town of Berwyn and the nightclub's neighbors for allowing the event to continue without complaining about loud music being played until midnight. "I think the neighbors have actually gotten used to it," FitzGerald said. "It brings a little energy to the neighborhood."
The full lineup and schedule can be found at http://www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com/fest.
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