On March 25, 2023 we went to La Crosse, Wisconsin to see Chicago Farmer and the Fieldnotes at the Main for the final show of the 20th anniversary tour, part one. Or as I like to refer to it, the first quarter tour, Chicago Farmer plans on celebrating 20 years all through 2023.
I spoke to Chicago Farmer before he and the Fieldnotes went on while Cheeba, the opening act, was playing (more on that later). He said they brought back some old tunes to revisit and some newer ones for this show. Chicago Farmer’s tour solo tour which opened February 3rd at the Broadgauge in Petersburg, Illinois was relaxing, especially with Kymber and Luna along for a working vacation in Florida. He’s given up touring Minnesota in winter for now.
I asked him if the crowds could be overwhelming after going through Covid time. “I love the live music experience, the energy of people connecting to music together. It was so wonderful to see people coming out again after the pandemic. We’re back and saying it out loud!” he said.
On tour, Chicago Farmer and the Fieldnotes played to listening crowds and they played to rocking crowds. They had a lot of fun when the band teamed up with his friends like Vince Herman, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, or Head for the Hills. “And there were a lot of new meets with opening acts. Jaik Willis opened for one of the shows.” – no new meet there, just talent.
The show at The Main in La Crosse, Wisconsin marked a fine end to the 1st quarter of the year. The venue wasn’t much different in size from the Broadgauge, but more a bar than a ballroom. I will say the Broadgauge audience sang along better, even getting harmonic in moments, but Central Illinois is Chicago Farmer’s home stomping grounds.
People I chatted with at The Main (a few sort-of-embarrassed-to-admit-to-be-north-shore Chicago ex-pats) were blown away by the storytelling, the songs, and the band.
The new songs during the show really stood out to me. The show opened with “Battlecry.”
“I’ve been crying but I don’t know why,” were lyrics too appropriate for a long grey winter. The song “Peshtigo” told the story of the Peshtigo Fire of 1871, considered to be the deadliest fire in the US, killing 1,200 – 1,500 people on the same day as the Chicago Fire. The irony of being Chicago Farmer singing about the Peshtigo Fire while in Wisconsin was not lost on him. The song was fiery and roaring and properly lit with lots of red light.
“Great River Road,” told the story of two elderly people (based on his grandparents) playing a song called The Great River Road and teaching it to their grandchildren (the Echoes). It was a tender tribute to generations of family.
“The young people grow up so fast
The old people move too slow
Waiting for the green light to go”
I asked Chicago Farmer if his shadow self, his dark side, is revealed in the lyrics of songs like “The Twenty Dollar Bill,” and “When He Gets That Way.” He said he writes folk songs and folk songs often have a murder or death at the heart of the story. Somebody has to die. He tells it that way.
The Fieldnotes were in fine form, but the sound man stepped away at the wrong time and didn’t get Jaik Willis’ steel guitar mic live as “The Twenty Dollar Bill” began. Combined with Cody Jensen’s mandolin and Charles Harris’s base, the band provided a melodic background for this song that enhanced but didn’t overshadow the story, a tricky balance for a band, especially when they can rock on with songs like “$13 Beers.”
The song “Mattress” had a Bakersfield sound to me. It is interesting how to hear differences in a song with the band as opposed to hearing it as a solo act in Petersburg, Illinois.
Chicago Farmer said they would return to the southwest Wisconsin area when they play the Driftless Music Garden at People Fest, August 10 – 12.
Chicago Farmer’s 2nd quarter shows open on April 8th at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky.
I noticed he has been climbing in the roster of artist names and headlining a couple of festivals later this year. He said he’s been working on it, getting better known over time.
Find Chicago Farmer and the band at Riddle Point Boogie Lake Lemon Conservation District, May 6th in Unionville, Indiana,
Chicago Farmer and the Fieldnotes will also be at the River Front Concert Series, on June 10th in Havana, Illinois, and the Happy Trails Music Arts Festival at Tamms, Ilinois, July 27-30.
A couple of notes about the March 25 opening act, Cheeba, composed of Christian Chubba Staehly and Greg Cheech Hall, two fine local La Crosse area musicians trading originals and covers while harmonizing and picking. I enjoyed Hall's bluesy, slide guitar style. They played a lovely cover of The Beatles, "I’ve Just Seen a Face." Staehly and Hall organize Cheech’s Deecefest Fest July 28 – 30 at the Bluebird Family Camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
By the way, the La Crosse Distilling Company features a Fieldnotes label from whence Chicago Farmer Fieldnotes get their name. The organic Fieldnotes gin was quite tasty.