Saturday, August 31, 2013

24 Aug 13 - I AM Fest

Dan Olvera

I AM Fest 2013 ...Chicago's one-day independent arts and music (and sometimes more) festival under one roof at House of Blues happened over the weekend, blogspot readers. Besides featuring live music performances by up and coming artists and bands like Pirates!!!, Eagle Trace, and Leah Druzinsky, there were vibrant colorful displays of modern to abstract and poster art as well as shiny pieces of jewelry by local artists and craftsmen for fest goers to purchase. This, in a nutshell, is what I AM Fest is all about -showcasing the best of who's making Chicago's local scene thrive in art and music. Previous I AM Fest showcases have featured live performances by the original Chicago Noise Machine alums (A Birdsong Valentine, Echo Son, 72 Hours, Lucid Ground), I Fight Dragons, Mason's Case, Workout Music, Bambi Raptor and many more. This year's lineup featured a wide variety of music genres from hip hop/rap to neo R&B/soul and pop/alternative rock by bands like Eagle Trace, RayIsDude, Social Focus, Leah Druzinsky and Kelsey Montanez. I AM Fest's headliner was Energy Commission with the winners of the Battle of the Bands opening. SouthSide highly recommends checking out all of the bands (and artists) listed in this review.

The Pirates!!!

Arrgh, mateys! Thar be Pirates ( plunderin' the legendary House of Blues stage! However these weren't any ordinary swashbucklin' pirates like Captain Bluebeard or Jack Sparrow appearing on stage. Nope, blogspot readers. These were a vessel-load of rockin' scallywags came for your smokes, alcohol, gold, pearls and the pretty girls! This wild and crazy fun band got I AM Fest 2013 off to an energetic start by performing with a groovilicious dance sound during their hot (and sometimes steamy) R& B set. Wowing the many wenches and buccaneers with songs like Pleasure, the Boogaloo song and their theme song, they truly got out of control on stage when their captain leader somehow was able to strip out of his jeans to reveal his leopard-print leggings. According to Elbo Room owner/manager Dave Cook, the Pirates' front man goes a little further than this with his stage and stripping antics (almost the full monty but I AM Fest is an all-ages show so no nudity here), blogspot readers. This reviewer enjoyed dancing to this band's hot saxophone rhythms amidst the lively upbeat swing felt throughout the set.
Rory Tyer Band
Even though having a bit of technical difficulties before their performance, Rory Tyer Band (http://www.rorytyerband), continued the I AM Fest fun with their acoustic pop/rock which featured an intense as well as ferocious sound and vibe, blogspot readers. Singer/songwriter Rory and his band were all about rockin' out the stage while keeping that momentum on a level high that was started by opening band Pirates. Also there was a moment when they cooled things down with a laidback tempo allowing his vocals to shine especially during a pseudo-gospel toned song though keeping that fiery energy in tact from the guitars. This reviewer enjoyed Rory's storytelling style prominently featured within his songs ...sometimes painting a vivid picturesque images in your head, blogspot readers, as his voice pumps expressive emotions into each word sung. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, chants of "Rory" from Pirates could be heard before he and the band performed their closing song.
Phil Jacobson Band
Closing out the opening acts featuring the winners of this year's I AM Fest Battle of the Bands, Phil Jacobson Band's ( set featured a rockin' smooth blend of pop/alternative sound with a bit of bluesy style music to compliment Phil's natural vocal tone. What SouthSide enjoyed the most about this band was the male back up singers. Yes, you heard correctly - male back-up singers whose vocal harmonies wonderfully matched this singer/songwriter's voice range during choruses to such songs like Don't Let Me Leave, Life With the Fool and As One. While on stage, Phil and the band also got this crowd on the main floor grooving to the beat when they added some funky R&B and smokin' hot guitar stax rhythms thus creating a cool upbeat tempo before closing out his set with the title track off his current release - Love Right Now.

Kelsey Montanez
Hanging out back stage for a moment, SouthSide met up with her good friend Kelsey Montanez ( and her band before they appeared on stage to which Matt had something witty to say in a form of a "knock knock" joke. Lately this dynamic singer/songwriter has been getting noticed by the local press for her music ...and rightly so because she's one of the few powerfully dynamic female vocalists rockin' Chicago's vibrant music scene. Kelsey's no stranger to I AM Fest either, blogspot readers. She rocked the stage back in 2010 and again she rocked it in 2013 with another show-stopping performance. Whether she's performing acoustically or amplified with her band, Kelsey packs a lot of intense emotions into each word sung in her songs to which you're meant to feel the same raw feelings as she does. There are moments when she's projecting like a woman deep in pain while in others she's the woman who will not be pushed aside. That's how real Kelsey can get during her performances, blogspot readers. The highlight of her set came when performing the lyrical version to the song Out Of Sight that she did with another rising local artist Chance the Rapper before ending with Sold My Soul.
Being the only hiphop/rap artist in the I AM Fest lineup is somewhat groundbreaking, blogspot readers. However when it comes to this Jefferson Park rapper RayIsDude (, he has attracted quite of a following in recent years. SouthSide has seen him around town (especially at Elbo Room) rockin' the stages with his upbeat rhythms and beats which match his realistic (and sometimes inspirational) lyrics about life in the city like Chicago. And even though this reviewer isn't hip hop's/rap's biggest fan, she does have some respect for Ray who drops a little knowledge here and there within the positive message he relates to the crowd. The highlight of his set happened when another rapper Main Event appeared on stage during Raise Hell to which had the main floor head banging to the heavy metal-sounding rap beats before dedicating the song Poor Johnny to all of the people who have been bullied. The song may have been little graphic but Ray spoke the truth, blogspot readers, about how being bullied can have a damaging and negative effect on all involved.

"...Really excited to be here was awesome ...[we] want to say 'thank you' to everyone and Elbo Room..." ~ Ben McMunn of Social Focus

Social Focus
"...[I AM Fest] is good so far..." according to Elbo Room's Dave Cook who also excited like SouthSide to see the next band, Social Focus ( performing on stage. So were some of the band's family and friends along with the many fans who came to I AM Fest in support of this rising band. Little did this reviewer know after finding Social's demo CD at Elbo Room two years ago that they would be appearing on stage at House of Blues rocking out this legendary venue with such a tour de force. This was, in her opinion, one of their best ever, blogspot readers ...and she has seen them enough times to stand by that statement. Opening with Dreamcatcher and Classic Me off their self-titled release, this band hit the stage hard and never ceased with the intense energy, dynamic fervor and ferocious rock sound until closing with Thank You - a new song dedicated to everyone who have supported them throughout the years. What intense excitement that was running high not only on stage but also everywhere around the main floor in which SouthSide observed their fans either singing along to their favorite Social Focus song and/or dancing to the band's music thrill ride. Whether it was Safeword or Solitaire, fans were totally grooving to the mellow-dramatic rock vibe, blogspot readers, that left many wanting more. SouthSide suggests snagging a copy of their current release to hear other fan favorite songs Note To Self, Telephones In The Skies (yes, the anagram jokingly reads T.I.T.S.) and of course the one rockin' her iPod these days - Merry-Go-Down, Social's trippy song with cool harmonizing vocals.

Av0n Dale

From Memphis, TN, Av0nDale ( combined the energy of an alternative sound with a rockin' twinge of country/rock music throughout this trio's set. What made this set enjoyable was the band's flair for the dramatic that was vibrantly heard from the intricate music composition and rhythmic tempo thus creating two different complimentary styles between the Av0nDale's guitarists. Each vocalist had his own way of making the crowd feel tender sentiment and/or the raw angst of the "every man" tone to draw you deeper into the meaning of the lyrics being expressed over the mic. Fans also wildly delighted in the band's gritty guitar riffs which gave the semi-acoustic sound a slight razor sharp edge especially during the instrumental bridges.
Eagle Trace
Meanwhile from Wisconsin, Eagle Trace ( wildly rocked the stage (at times) with four guitars thoroughly delighting I AM Fest goers (including the busload they brought with them from their hometown) from start to finish. Boasting such of an intense sound (even with 3 guitars going),  this band is very unique because it features brothers Max (on guitars), Jackson (on bass), Mitch (front man/guitar) and Cass (on drums) as well as Broderick on guitar, blogspot readers. This five-member group definitely knew how to rev up this crowd into a crazed frenzy especially during the instrumental bridges where the light-hearted tempo is fused with wild energy like within the song Attack & Release. What truly caught this reviewer's attention was while Eagle Trace performed Shepherd's Call when Mitch's voice had this youthful yet sexy cool punk tone amidst the many guitar riffs to get you moving to the beat. Also she recommends checking out other songs like Calypso and Separator. After their I AM Fest performance, SouthSide had a chance to speak with Mitch and Cass of Eagle Trace to get their soundbites about performing at this year's fest. According to Cass, "...amazing was a blast..." while brother Mitch commented "...[we] played to bigger audiences but nothing like this ...such a cool place to play..." In a nutshell, blogspot readers, it was so surreal for the band. They told this reviewer that being a new band of 2-3 years old (to the exact day of I AM Fest), they have played at other festivals like Summerfest with another rising local band Makeshift Prodigy as well as Elbo Room twice. On a funny note, Cass would have something to brag about to his friends at school come Monday morning.

Leah Druzinsky
"...this is pretty awesome..." says the next performer Leah Druzinsky ( about I AM Fest before her smokin' hot performance on stage. She added that she's hanging out with more people than she did last year because she was nervous about performing on the venue's legendary stage. "...everyone has been awesome..." then commenting about how I AM Fest is an "...artist-friendly festival..." and how she was excited " live the dream for one night..." And what performance this dynamic singer/songwriter did in front of the crowd at I AM Fest 2013! Not only did she rock the stage with her her jazz-like chanteuse vocals but also with a lot of sexiness within her stage presence. Yet it was her vocals that was being spotlighted on center stage since there would be moments when she added a touch of sultry coolness or dynamic soulful heat whenever the song called for it. She truly made the crowd feel the heartfelt emotions especially while amidst a downtempo rhythm and R&B groove before really spicing things up a bit with some jazzy upbeat swing. Yeah, blogspot readers, it was that steamy. Rounding out the lineup for I AM Fest 2013 was last year's spontaneously combusted headliner - Energy Commission ( who had MORE wild and crazy antics in store for their legions of EC firecrackers. If you thought the opening band Pirates were crazy, you haven't truly felt what crazy is all about until you experienced what happens when this band performs. SouthSide must warn you, blogspot readers, things can really intense as well as insane especially if on the main floor of House of Blues. Be on the lookout for bouncing things (i.e. ginormous balloon balls) bouncing around you things (i.e. leis, pom poms and more) tossed by the lovely Commissionettes ...sparkly lighted things (i.e. neon finger lights) and who knows what else Energy Commission has in their bags of free giveaways during I AM Fest! And the crowd goes wild as they chase down the prizes and bouncing balloon balls during Energy's rockin' performance. This is what the band is known for - fun and music while performing songs off their soon-to-be released album like We Got Game (done in the style to Tom Petty's Last Dance With Mary Jane) but with a danceable ska twist. Sometimes Energy Commission likes to smash things on stage (like front man Jay breaking his pink ukulele) or create new art (like their artist creating an ultra cool painting with the band's logo on it). There's so much to see and enjoy that you want the fun to last all night long but sadly it's an all-ages show there's a curfew at House of Blues. Before the Energy's performance, SouthSide spent a few moments with Jay to get his thoughts about I AM Fest. Here's what he had to say "...[it's] a great opportunity especially those who came through the Battle of the Bands..." adding that " one has that 'we're above you' rock star attitude ...we give what the people expect a show..." He also commented that it was really nice to be a part of production like this at a venue like House of Blues.
Rad Chicago

In between the music acts, SouthSide visited some of the featured artists showcasing at this fest and met people like Dan Olvera (, Jeff Radomski and Peter Bullock ( While briefly with Dan, SouthSide was informed that there will be a HUGE announcement coming from him on September 20 but in the meantime, check out his work especially his abstract paintings that were on display. Also in the merch area, there was really cool handcrafted and upcycled goods by Rad Chicago ...lovely jewelry pieces and works of poster art by Clinton Worthington as well as villainous masks and more from the local band V Is For Villains who stopped by to recruit new villain minions and promote their return to the music scene happening on Oct 26 in Elgin, IL for the Nightmare On Chicago Street.


Overall, blogspot readers, wow what a show! And it was a near sellout success too! There's a growing support for Chicago's local scene as more and more people attend shows around town like I AM Fest. Reserve this possible date - August 23 - I AM Fest 2014. Hope to see you there!

Until next time, support your local scene,

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your feedback - SouthSide