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Monday, September 1, 2014

A Labor Day reflection on friendship and loss

Jerrypalooza 2010
By Ted Slowik

This year's Labor Day holiday is a particularly sad and difficult one for many people I know. For the last few years a group of friends has gathered on a farm outside Yorkville over Labor Day for a weekend of music, food and fun known as Jerrypalooza.

The small, private festival took its name from its host, Jerry Reno, who resided in the old farmhouse. The property included several barns and outbuildings, and in one of these a band would set up and play. Jerry played drums. 

There would be a big bonfire and tent camping, followed by a big country breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen the next morning. Jerry’s girlfriend Toni would co-host the festivities. 

I got to know Jerry through good friends Dave and Cheryl, who is good friends with Toni. In addition to getting to know Jerry and Toni at various parties over the years, Toni, Cheryl, Jo and I went to see Mumford and Sons, Dawes and other bands together at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Dixon, IL in 2013.

The music at Jerrypalooza was performed by a group of old friends. I felt like an outsider at first, not really part of this circle of musicians. But Jerry was the link. Jerry was so friendly and inviting, and when he told me to stick around and play I stuck around and played.

Sadly, there is no Jerrypalooza this year. Jerry took his own life this past February. This was within a day of my near-fatal heart attack, so I didn’t learn of Jerry’s passing right away and haven’t found the right opportunity to acknowledge it in the past six months.

I just want to say thanks, Jerry, for your friendship, and peace and love to Toni and all the many others touched by your spirit.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hopstring Fest postscript

Chris Flood photo
By Ted Slowik

Hopstring Fest 2014 was a huge success! Despite rain that mucked up other area events, Joliet's premier summer festival for Americana music and craft beer entertained thousands in comfort, thanks to the concrete concourses of Joliet's Silver Cross Field.

I played a couple small roles in the festival. I was the first performer of the day on the Red Betty stage, which included such great acts as Allison Flood, J Ross Green, Dan Dougherty and Rebecca Rego. The Prairie Ghosts performed before me on the main stage, opening the festival. Triz and Kathy of Chicago Street Pub throw a great party!
Kevin Errek photo

I also helped publicize the event. I applied my PR skills to connect artists Allison and Chris Flood of Lockport, New Lenox's Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies, Frankfort's Chase Walsh and Mokena's John Narcissi with reporters and photographers from their town's local newspapers. That helped get the word about Hopstring out to thousands of nearby fest-goers, so great thanks to 22nd Century Media for their community journalism!

A photographer from the Mokena Messenger came out and took pictures of several Hopstring performers including John Condron and Pat Otto, Jake Cullen and and Bridget Cavanaugh of the Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins at the Wednesday acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse before Hopstring, so that was great.

With Allison Flood. Chris Flood photo.
I had a great time performing a set of five originals from 11:35 a.m. to noon, before the rain. I played my mahogany Martin acoustic and used a Boss loop pedal to solo over a rhythm track. I opened with "Record Store" and "Mr. Deal," then Aly joined me for "Red Rover." I played "Sparks" and closed with the new tune "No Tomorrow" with a chorus of "Give Peace a Chance."

Jo and Noah were there, and Kev and Deb. Scott McNeil ran sound and Chris was managing the stage. I hung with Tim Placher, saw Chuck Pelkie, an old friend Jim Baker from our concrete days together, and a ton of musicians. I got to hang backstage with the guys from The Steepwater Band, Chicago Farmer and Edward David Anderson and met the world-renowned slam poet Roger Bonair-Agard thanks to Mark Eleveld and Ron Maruszak of EM Press

Kevin Errek photo
Kevin Errek took some great photos. I ran around between three, sometimes four stages, snapping pictures of the performers. I really didn't get much of chance to hear too many performers  but had a great time. I was sore for a couple days afterwards, my calves and back especially, but I recovered. 

It was great getting to know Kristin Barry, Dave Johnston, Pete Hegarty and Eric Johnson of Flipside Works better in the weeks leading up to the fest. I bought a very cool piece to wear around my neck from Sue Regis Glass Art. It's great living in a community that supports art, and making friends with all types of artists.

I also had fun writing about other artists and sharing their stories on this blog the past two months. This closes the chapter on Hopstring Fest 2014, and the next post will be about something completely different. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hopstring Fest 2014 in pictures

By Ted Slowik

Hopstring Fest 2014 Aug. 23 at Joliet's Silver Cross Field was a 13-hour celebration of roots music, craft beer, food and community.
2014 Hopstring Fest 

This was the third fest presented by Mike "Triz" & Kathy Trizna, owners of Joliet's Chicago Street Pub. The pub is a hub for live, local, original bluegrass, roots, Americana and blues/folk/rock music in Joliet.
The Prairie Ghosts
The music started at 11 a.m. with a mainstage set by The Prairie Ghosts.

Scott McNeil and friends
In addition to running sound on the Red Betty stage all day, Scott McNeil performed an early set and was joined by Pat Otto, Allison Flood and John Condron.

The Leadfoot Band
The Leadfoot Band, a great bluegrass ensemble, played an early set on the mainstage.

The Alex Hoffer Band
The Alex Hoffer Band performed next on the mainstage. Rain interrupted entertainment on the side stages for a while.
The Regressors
Up next on the mainstage was The Regressors.

John Narcissi
Meanwhile, the rain let up and entertainment resumed on the Deschutes stage with a set by John Narcissi.
Kev Wright and John Narcissi
John's guitar teacher, Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies, joined him for some songs.
Barrett Harvey

Backstage, The Righteous Hillbillies drummer Barrett Harvey collected signatures from Hopstring Fest performers on a drumhead he planned to auction and donate the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Chase Walsh
Chase Walsh, another of Righteous Hillbillies guitarist Kev Wright's students, performed on the Deschutes stage. Chase has more than 35,000 followers on Vine.

Back on the mainstage, Chicago Farmer performed.

The fourth stage
Triz wanted to give as many local musicians as possible the opportunity to be part of the festival, so music students performed on a fourth stage in front of the ballpark.
Tom and Becky
Tom Maslowski and Becky Smentek played a set of their new originals on the Red Betty stage.
Ryan Olsson
Ryan Olsson performed on the Deschutes stage.
Edward David Anderson
Next up on the mainstage was the great Edward David Anderson.
Kevin Krauss and Cody Diekhoff
There was plenty of fun backstage with artists like Kevin Krauss of The Regressors and Cody Diekhoff of Chicago Farmer hanging out together.

J Ross Green
Over on the Red Betty stage J Ross Green and his band played a blistering set.

Molly Batozech
Meanwhile Molly Batozech performed on the Deschutes stage.
Jeff Massey, Ed Anderson, Eric Saylors
Edward David Anderson hung out backstage with Jeff Massey and Eric Saylors of The Steepwater Band.
John Condron & the Old Gang Orchestra
Up next on the mainstage was John Condron & the Old Gang Orchestra.
Old Gang horn section
Condron's set featured Bill Aldridge and Matt Doherty on trombones.

The toast at Hopstring Fest
Pete Hegarty, John Condron, Triz & Kathy, Dave Johnston and Eric Johnson took to the mainstage for the official 2014 Hopstring Fest toast!

Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts
Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts performed on the mainstage.

Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins
Jake Cullen on bass, Pat Otto on mandola and vocals and Bridget Cavanaugh performed as Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins on the Deschutes stage.

Backstage with The Steepwater Band
There was more fun backstage hanging out with members of The Steepwater Band.

Allison Flood with John Condron
Allison Flood performed on the Red Betty stage with help from fellow Flipside Works artist John Condron.

The Steepwater Band
Up next on the mainstage was The Steepwater Band.

Brent James and Tom Maslowski
There was more hanging out backstage with the likes of Brent James and Tom Maslowski.

There were other performers on side stages and performances by The Righteous Hillbillies and Cracker on the main stage but I missed getting pictures of them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Joliet native Alex Hoffer to perform at Hopstring Fest Aug. 23

By Ted Slowik

Joliet-area musican Alex Hoffer and his band will perform on the Hopstring Fest mainstage from 1:05 to 1:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, in Joliet’s Silver Cross Field.

Tickets for the 12 and a half  hour celebration of live music, food and craft beer are $20/presale, $30 at the door and are available through and at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet.

For his Hopstring Fest set Hoffer will be joined by band members Tom Maslowski on bass, Doneco Nudi on drums, Giles Corey on guitar and multi-instrumentalist Pat Otto on mandolin and mandola.

Hoffer, 29, was born and raised mostly in Joliet. He started playing guitar when he was “16 or 17,” and has been a full-time musician since 2008. He estimates he’ll perform about 200 shows this year, both solo and with his band.

“I’ve gained more experience performing this year than ever before and doing a lot of things I haven’t done before,” Hoffer says.

He’s also on the verge of releasing his first studio recording, a four-song EP of originals called “Free From Apathy.” The tracks were recorded with band members at Chicago Recording Company this year.

“My writing is changing as I become a better player,” Hoffer says. “The songs have spaces and are structured to allow for different timings and things.”

Hoffer plays acoustic guitar mostly and performs folk/rock music with progressive or “prog rock” overtures. He performs often in the Chicago area but has played throughout the Midwest and across the country.  He recently sang the national anthem at a Cubs game.

At Hopstring Fest, Hoffer says fans can expect a great day of live, local, original music presented by organizer and Chicago Street Pub owners Mike “Triz” and Kathy Trizna.

“Hopstring is a gathering of all kinds of people—people who are passionate about craft beer and great music,” he says. “Triz has been the area’s biggest supporter of people doing their own music. People from all over the Midwest know about Chicago Street Pub.”

Hoffer encourages people to visit his website,, to listen to and download his original music.
If You Go
What: Hopstring Fest
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Where: Silver Cross Field, 1 Mayor Art Schultz Drive, Joliet
Who: Local talent and headline bands like Cracker
How much: Tickets are $20 presale/$30 at the door

Thursday, August 14, 2014

John Condron & the Old Gang Orchestra perform Aug. 23 at Hopstring Fest

By Ted Slowik

Veteran Joliet-area performers John Condron & the Old Gang Orchestra will play a set on Hopstring Fest’s mainstage from 5:10 to 5:55 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, in Joliet’s Silver Cross Field.

Tickets for the 12 and a half-hour celebration of live music, food and craft beer are $20/presale, $30 at the door and are available through and at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet.

Condron, 41, will be joined by Old Gang Orchestra members Tom Maslowski on bass, Doneco Nudi on drums and multi-instrumentalist Pat Otto on mandolin and mandola.

Condron has released five albums since moving to Joliet from Philadelphia in 1997: “If Any Or At All,” (2012),  “Eleventh Hour Grace” (2010), “Loud As Silence” (2006), “Down To Dorsey” (2004) and “My Own Device” (2001). The most recent was a solo album, with others released by the band he formerly fronted, John Condron & the benefit.

“If Any Or At All” marked Condron’s debut on the Flipside Works label. Flipside Works is managing Hopstring Fest’s mainstage lineup this year, which is headlined by Cracker. Condron also manages the label’s Midwestern artists, which include Hopstring Fest performer Allison Flood.

Connections abound among Condron and Joliet’s independent, original music community. He’s a former co-owner of Chicago Street Pub with Mike Trizna, who organizes and presents Hopstring Fest.

“Mike and Kathy Trizna are huge fans of music and have done incredible things for the local music scene,” Condron says. “Hopstring Fest is like hearing in one place on one day the 20 best sets of all the bands that come through Chicago Street Pub in a year.”

When he moved to Joliet 17 years ago, Condron was playing rhythm guitar in the New York-based band Poets and Slaves. The band was looking to relocate to the Midwest and took up residency on the floor above the restaurant, then known as Chicago Street Bar & Grill.

“I’m in awe of what Triz and Kathy have accomplished,” Condron says. “We planted seeds together years ago to create a music community but they’re responsible for what it has become.”

Condron started working at the restaurant as a bartender then as manager, and brought Trizna on board. The pair took over operation of the business and eventually ownership on Jan. 1, 2005. Condron sold his share to Kathy Trizna when his son Liam was born in 2009.

Condron also credits disc jockey Mike Tomano for helping establish his name by playing songs from “My Own Device” on WYKT-FM.

These days, Condron continues to perform regularly and is writing new material. He also produces works for other artists, including a debut by Flood being recording at Third City Sound, a studio located above Chicago Street Pub.

Condron also has produced, arranged and performed on a full-length studio recording for multi -latinum Irish singer songwriter Mickey Harte and collaborated with legendary songwriter Paul Brady, for whom he opened a show at Old Town School of Folk Music last year.

He’s toured across the United States, in Ireland and throughout Europe in support of his original material. Visit to learn more.

If You Go
What: Hopstring Fest
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Where: Silver Cross Field, 1 Mayor Art Schultz Drive, Joliet
Who: Local talent and headline bands like Cracker
How much: Tickets are $20 presale/$30 at the door

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hopstring Fest Aug. 23 features return of Chicago Farmer

By Ted Slowik
Chicago Farmer is among the 10 mainstage acts at this year’s Hopstring Fest and will perform from 3:05 to 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, in Joliet’s Silver Cross Field.

Tickets for the 12-hour celebration of live music, food and craft beer are $20/presale, $30 at the door and are available through and at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet.

Chicago Farmer is the stage name for Cody Diekhoff, a songwriter and musician who moved to Chicago from a small central Illinois farming community in 2003. He writes, sings and plays mostly acoustic roots Americana music inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie and John Prine. 

Chicago Farmer has released six albums: “Backenforth, IL” (2013), “Somethin’ Else” (2011), “Gunshots on Tuesday” (2009),  “Talk Of Town” (2007), “From a  Small Town in Illinois” (2006) and “About Time” (2005). 

Growing up in Delavan, IL with a population less than 2,000, Diekhoff’s grandparents were farmers, and their values have always provided the baseline of his songs.

“I love the energy, music, and creativity of Chicago, but at the same time, the roots and hard work of my small town,” he says on his website. 

He writes music for the “kind of people that come to my shows. Whether in Chicago or Delavan, everyone has a story, and everyone puts in a long day and works hard the same way,” he says. “My generation may have been labeled as slackers, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t work hard – many people I know put in 50-60 hours a week and 12 hour days. That’s what keeps me playing. I don’t like anyone to be left out; my music is for everyone in big and very small towns.”

He listened to punk rock and grunge as a kid before discovering a friend’s dad playing Hank Williams, and it was a revelation. Prine and Guthrie quickly followed. The name Chicago Farmer was originally for a band, but the utilitarian life of driving alone from bar to bar, city to city – to make a direct connection to his audience and listener, took a deeper hold.

Chicago Farmer has previously performed at Hopstring Fest and at Joliet’s Chicago Street Pub.

Visit to learn more.

If You Go
What: Hopstring Fest
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Where: Silver Cross Field, 1 Mayor Art Schultz Drive, Joliet
Who: Local talent and headline bands like Cracker
How much: Tickets are $20 presale/$30 at the door

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Edward David Anderson performs Aug. 23 at Joliet’s Hopstring Fest

Ed with Johnny Hickman 7-31-14, Castle Theatre
By Ted Slowik

Fresh off the release of his debut full-length solo album, American songwriter Edward David Anderson performs on Hopstring Fest’s mainstage from 4 to 4:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, in Joliet’s Silver Cross Field.

Tickets for the 12 and a half hour celebration of live music, food and craft beer are $20/presale, $30 at the door and are available through and at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet. Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Anderson has shared stages with Hopstring Fest headliners Cracker previously, most recently on July 31 at The Castle Theatre in Bloomington, where friend and Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman joined Ed onstage for his set.

He performed two mainstage sets at the 2013 Hopstring Fest, one as a solo artist and another with the band Magic Box.

Best known for his work with Backyard Tire Fire, who released a string of acclaimed albums in the previous decade, Anderson in April released his solo debut, “Lies & Wishes.” The 10-track collection was produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.
Anderson was born and raised just west of Chicago and lives a simple life, spending winters in an RV alongside the Gulf of Mexico in lower Alabama. He says he’s on an existential quest to find meaning through song.  
"I feel like every experience, every mile, every interaction, every tune, sort of got me to where I am at this moment," Anderson says on his website. "The songs on the record are confessional by nature. They are songs about loss and love and living and hope. Halfway through my life, it's an honest look in the mirror."
Anderson's journey over the last five years and his response to the challenges he faced is what sets the lifers apart from those that concede the artistic pursuit. The dissolution of Backyard Tire in 2011 was the first obstacle to overcome. The band had built a devout cult following around the U.S., counting Cracker, Reverend Horton Heat and Clutch among their fans, all of whom took BTF on the road exposing them to a wider audience. It was around this time that Steve Berlin of Los Lobos was first drawn to Anderson's songwriting.
“Backyard Tire Fire opened a show for us and I remember being backstage and listening to their music and I was like, ‘Wow, that song sounds really familiar. Whose cover is that? It’s a classic tune,’” says Berlin. “It turns out that they were all Ed’s originals. They just had that instantly memorable quality to them. So, I introduced myself at the show and we became buddies and then collaborators. Ed’s music is so evocative, so well written. I honestly think he is as talented as anyone in the songwriting world and it is important that he be heard.”
Anderson adds: "I was just starting to get back on the road again after Tire Fire split, touring with my friend Johnny Hickman and I got inspired to get back in the studio. I had these songs and had something pretty interesting to say based on the experiences I just went through. I knew if I could get Steve Berlin involved, who is an old friend that I’ve worked with in the past, it could be something special.”
It was just prior to this that Anderson's mother passed away, while the previous winter his wife lost her mother, both to extended illnesses. It was a defining moment for the 40-year old artist and culminated in a torrent of songwriting. Indeed, songs like "Lies & Wishes" "Lost & Found" and "Chain Reaction" delve deep into the human condition, asking difficult questions of both himself and his loved ones. 
“A lot of the subject matter on this record came from reflecting on these painful experiences” says Anderson. "After losing my mom, I decided I’ve got to make a record and dedicate it to her and make a statement here on my own. I feel like it's undoubtedly my finest work to date, the beginning of the next chapter for me."
Visit to learn more.
If You Go
What: Hopstring Fest
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Where: Silver Cross Field, 1 Mayor Art Schultz Drive, Joliet
Who: Local talent and headline bands like Cracker
How much: Tickets are $20 presale/$30 at the door