Illinois John Fever acoustic performance melds blues, punk, and old-time rock

BY RYAN FOSMARK | JULY 09, 2009 7:21 AM

It may seem like a stretch for a band that once channeled the tunes of Slipknot to now liken itself to the country sounds of Old Crow Medicine Show, but that’s just what Iowa band Illinois John Fever has done.

The group will play with Crokane and Old Man at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., at 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $6.

Sam Locke Ward, a booking agent at the Mill, said the band will deliver an acoustic performance with an old-time rock/blues sound stitched together with a little bit of punk. The three-piece relies on raw energy to pump up its shows rather than relying on the electrical wattage of amps.

“We definitely consciously put the punk-rock energy into it,” said Bob Hall, Illinois John Fever’s drummer. “That’s kind of part of it. Even though we’re a little old and tired, we’re still trying to, you know, push it a little bit.”

While the band has only been together for a few years, the members have been active for ages; Hall, for instance, has spent the last two decades influencing the local music scene. He ran the Chicken Coop recording studio and played in the ’90s band Iowa Beef Experience, which, Ward said, was responsible for launching many other bands in the area.

“Most of the stuff that I played, oh, years ago, was generally more of the heavy stuff,” Hall said. “I come from the school of hard rock and punk rock and all that, and it’s hard for me to really turn it up to 11 anymore.”

Although he plays a different sound now from that when he was younger, he says it’s only because of his artistic growth.

“Even in what I listen to, I can find just as much innovation in Old Crow Medicine Show as Slipknot,” he said. “I can be moved just as much; it doesn’t matter that it’s not super heavy or fast or loud. I guess I can hear emotionally provocative songs and ideas coming out of whatever the genre is, so I don’t need 1,200 watts to feel it anymore.”

The original members of Illinois John Fever come from amplified backgrounds, so the group’s collective acoustic sound is quite different from the individuals. The music produced by the trio is a culmination of the members’ experiences mixed with pure and unrestrained creativity.

“We figured out when we became familiar with the material, it was more like we weren’t even playing the songs anymore,” Hall said. “We were just there to observe the unfolding of the song into our sensory reality, or whatever you want to call it. We’ve always tried to take a metaphysical approach to our music and not take too much responsibility for it, you know.”

The result of the approach was a roots/blues/country-punk band that produced sounds unfamiliar for any of the band members. In fact, it wasn’t until after Illinois John Fever had been fully established that any members actually began to pinpoint influences.

“It was like, oh, we finally started hearing stuff that was closer to what we were doing that was recorded anywhere from the late-40s to the early ’70s, and it was still all coming from rural black America,” Hall said. “So that was really interesting and good for us, I think, to understand that we had somehow subconsciously connected with this type of music that we both could hear in our heads but had never really played it.”

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