Look around and you’d see plenty of grey hairs in Gallagher Way as the sun was fading on an early August evening.
So sure, the kids aren’t flocking to see JJ Grey & Mofro and Blackberry Smoke, but given the nice-sized, yet decidedly older, crowd that assembled on a Thursday night in the shadow of the old ballpark, this is the type of music that still means something, and is worth supporting.
Each of the co-headliners brought a slightly different flavor of the roots-oriented, Southern-tinged rock-and-soul music that minted huge stars 40 years ago, but still refuses to be set down in the years since.
JJ Grey and Mofro’s version comes complete with an earnestness that could damn near put a lump in your throat.
At this point, Grey and the band are certified road-warriors and are putting in the miles and smiles for the pure love of the game. Looking polished and professional in their suits, you need to be committed to a certain image to put up with should be an enormous dry-cleaning bill. But the style is reflective of the sound.
Classy, orchestrated, laid-back and soulful. The act has an undoubtedly retro feel, but in only because the musicians feel this music in their bones and just have to get it out. These guys have seen enough years to put together a greatest hits style set that at times may feel a little dangerous, but still produce a whole lot of lovable.
From Grey’s on-stage monologues to some down-and-dirty horn-driven swamp rock, the band tugs on heartstrings while still pushing the boogie buttons.
But as far as dedication, Blackberry Smoke attire may have outnumbered the Mofro merch and fans were out in force for their earlier set as well.
And they were indeed puttin’ on a show for their die-hards, looking as if they dressed up in Southern Rocker Halloween costumes straight out of central casting -- and going for big crunchy guitar riffs and punchier, more rocking tunes.
This is a band that has a few tunes with multi-million plays on Spotify, so they’re not necessarily even under-the-radar. They play it bold, aggressive and crowd-pleasingly.
The band just gets up there and grinds-it-out, even dropping a few covers (the snippet of “Scarlet Begonias” was welcome on Jerry’s birthday) to hook the less familiar.
They probably would have a half a dozen chart-toppers in 1978 – so I don’t think I’d be totally surprised if one of those Spotify hits ended up breaking out in the mainstream at one point. Blackberry Smoke is poised and ready for the big time and I’m crossing my fingers that they can make it.
And in true bury-the-lede fashion, I’ve got to say a little about Gallagher Way (formerly The Park at Wrigley), in this first season of ticketed concerts in the space that is just adjacent to the venerable ballpark.
Sure there is a little something "manufactured" about a lawn and temporary stage outside of an MLB stadium, but Wrigleyville itself is something of an adult playground and despite its logistical challenges for many people outside of the city proper, there is an element of fan-friendliness about the environment that is missing at so many Chicago venues.
Take in-and-out-privileges for instance -- it's a feature that I certainly didn’t expect at a Chicago-area venue, but it came in handy during the rain delay between acts, allowing us to seek shelter at a cool neighborhood establishment and make it back just in time for JJ Grey.
While it's location can seem a bit makeshift, the space contains design elements from the iconic park, and represents a truly unique atmosphere to enjoy live music.
First impressions -- this place is a keeper. Although the number of ticketed events will be necessarily limited, the combination of crowd size and general atmosphere provides an atmosphere not found at any other outdoor (or indoor) venue in the city. Let’s see where it goes from here.