Without Chicago, a new project from fiddler Matt Brown and singer/guitarist Steve Dawson wouldn't exist — nor would Brown's newfound obsession with Korean chicken wings.
Brown, a teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music, wanted to pay homage to the musicians who made Chicago what he calls “musical ground-zero.” So he gathered an eclectic mix of songs with Chicago roots and recorded them with a studio band led by Dawson. The result is “On Big Shoulders,” an Americana folk album “that celebrates Chicago.”
Brown and Dawson answered five questions about their Chicago history, and favorite local food and venues.
What song do you listen to when you need motivation?
Steve Dawson: These days, I’m obsessing over Patty Griffin. There’s a song of hers called “Wild Old Dog” that freaks me out because it’s so good. She seems to just channel the divine. She just gets there — and it’s such a reminder of “oh, that’s how you do it.” Songwriting, imagery, passion, phrasing … everything.
After being on the road, what’s the thing you most look forward to eating when you get back to Chicago?
Matt Brown: The place that I can’t stop going is a new restaurant called The Warbler in Lincoln Square. They have the best chicken wings. They’re Korean style, but they’re served with lime wedges so it cuts the sweetness of the glaze. As someone who grew up obsessed with buffalo wings, those have now been supplanted by these Korean-style lime-spritzed brined chicken wings.
What’s your favorite venue to play in Chicago?
Dawson: I’d say The Hideout. Playing shows, there’s a lot of things to worry about, but the thing about The Hideout is that you walk in there, and there’s nothing to worry about … In terms of the people you’re going to be dealing with, the sound system, the stage … you know all that stuff is taken care of. And they’re friendly, they’re supportive … it’s like going to a friend’s house. I’ve never played a set there where the vibe wasn’t great.
Could your story have happened anywhere else?
Brown: I’m not sure it could’ve happened anywhere else. I came to Chicago in search of a big-city vibe, where there was a strong history of people playing roots music, and old time fiddle tunes. I feel like the work that I’ve done at the Old Town School these past 7 ½ years, the people I’ve gotten to know and the shows I’ve gotten to play, and now this record we got to make …. I don’t see that happening anywhere else. And I don’t see it happening with any other combination of people.
What musician or band do you love that might surprise people?
Dawson: Maybe Journey? Would people be surprised by that? Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ and Wheel in the Sky. And I do like that first Molly Hatchet record. That was a big one (growing up) in Hailey, Idaho.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Press play above to hear Tony Sarabia’s interview with Brown and Dawson talking about their new project "On Big Shoulders."