Same Business, New Family

Anastasia Davies describes her new position as talent buyer for FitzGerald’s, the long-lived Berwyn roots-rock club, as “a marriage made in heaven.” It might sound like a cliche, but in fact going to work for the venerable venue is tantamount to joining a family–she’s the only nonrelative the FitzGeralds have brought into the club’s administration in its 17-year history.

“I think there’s a little bit of passing the torch,” says co-owner Bill FitzGerald, who until now has been the club’s only booking agent. As briefly noted in this column last month, he’s in the midst of developing a new restaurant adjacent to the club with Sheila McCoy, owner of Wicker Park’s Leo’s Lunchroom. “I thought to myself, How can I possibly put the effort required into this if I have all this other stuff on my mind? I’m not the most organized person in the world, but I’m a big music fan and somehow I’ve been able to muddle through 17 years of booking bands and keeping things together. I’m more interested right now in seeing something happen with the building [that the restaurant will be in].” So in May he began talking to Davies, who’d left another family joint, Schubas, in November after establishing it as a haven for up-and-coming alternative country.

Bill FitzGerald bought the building that houses FitzGerald’s with his father, Chris Sr., and his brother Chris in 1980; Chris Sr. sold his portion of the business to daughter Catherine Klisz and brother Terry in 1995. When it first opened, the club wasn’t even intended to be a music venue. “We thought we’d have a bar and eventually save up enough money to book Jimmy Buffett or something once in a while,” Bill says. But a trickle of local bookings soon gave way to a stream of national acts, and before long the diverse mix of rock, blues, soul, country, jazz, bluegrass, Cajun, and zydeco positioned FitzGerald’s as the best roots-rock club in the Chicago area. It’s got a reputation as a great place to see anything: no televisions, no embarrassing promotions, and mostly friendly, attentive crowds.

Eight years ago the FitzGeralds purchased the building next door to the club, which then housed a dry cleaner and a TV repair shop. It’s been vacant for the last three years. Bill says they’ve wanted to put in a restaurant for some time, but that it took McCoy’s participation to kick things into gear. Next month the partners will begin taking bids, and if all goes well, construction will begin by fall on a restaurant Bill says he expects to be similar to Leo’s.

It’s obvious that Davies was a great choice to help take FitzGerald’s into a third decade–but what’s she doing back in the game she was looking to get out of less than a year ago? “I thought I was burnt-out on the music business,” she says, “but once I took some time off and actually got healthy and rested, I missed it so much that every time I thought about doing something different I kept coming back to this. I missed talking to the agents, I missed being excited about a demo tape, and I missed seeing these bands.”

Though she came on too late to be involved in the booking, there will be plenty of bands to see this weekend at the club’s annual American Music Festival, which began Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Soul man Otis Clay and Austin’s terrific Alejandro Escovedo are among the attractions on Friday, while Saturday’s bill includes Cajun traditionalists the Hackberry Ramblers, former Blaster Dave Alvin, and country rockers Blue Mountain (see Critic’s Choice) and Cheri Knight.


Billboard magazine’s Dance Music Summit returns to Chicago, starting Wednesday night, for the third consecutive year. The showcases at last year’s event were heavy on flavor-of-the-month electronica newbies, but this year dance music’s prime movers seem to be shaking to house-inspired grooves once again. To kick things off, Green Dolphin Street presents “Clubland Unplugged,” where house divas like Crystal Waters and CeCe Peniston will sing to the music of a live six-piece band instead of the usual programmed beats. Another highlight is the Thursday-night lineup at Crobar, a raft of major R & B-flavored dance acts including Kim English, Kelly Price, Barbara Tucker, and Mya. The conference also includes daytime panel discussions on the usual music-biz blah-blah-blah Thursday and next Friday. The showcases are open to the public at normal cover charges; walk-up registration for the seminars, on Wednesday on the fifth floor of the Marriott at 540 N. Michigan, costs 375 clams. For more info call 212-536-5002.

On a related note, house legend Frankie Knuckles will speak about the evolving role of the remixer at an event sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (that’s the Grammy people to you and me) at 6 PM Monday at the Chicago Recording Company, 232 E. Ohio. Nonmembers of the academy pay $7; call 312-786-1121 for more info.

Ken Vandermark has left the NRG Ensemble, the seminal free-jazz group started by Hal Russell and led by Mars Williams since Russell died in 1992. “I feel like the music I want to play is moving in a different direction, and I’ve felt confined in that band,” says Vandermark. The group will need to find a replacement in time for its appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival, in early September. Williams couldn’t be reached for comment.

Rather hear tunes than guns this July 4? You may recall that back in September Mike Armstrong of the Velour Motel chartered the Jamaica for an indie-rock cruise; he’s doing it again this Saturday with a lineup that includes Pulsars, the Bells, the John Huss Moderate Combo, Grimble Grumble, and his own band. The boat leaves at 7 PM from its slip on Lower Wacker between Franklin and Wells and returns at 11 PM. Tickets, which cost $30, include a buffet; call 773-549-4240 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Anastasia Davies, Bill FitzGerald photo by Nathan Mandell.