You've probably never heard of Gerald Dowd, and I understand that. In Chicago, however, he is one of the best-known drummers in town. In 2014 he held a 13-hour "Day of the Dowd," where he played drums with most of the bands or singers from Chicago that he's recorded with...then he did a set of his own music!
I first came to know Dowd through his extensive work with Robbie Fulks, the best-known member of the Chicago alt-country scene. I've seen him a number of times playing with Fulks, but the only time I ever saw him doing his own material was when he opened for Fulks at the Old Town School of Folk Music in 2014. This was a great opportunity for me, therefore, to get to see Gerald shine.
Dowd's set focused primarily on his 2014 release Home Now. The album is a great mix of rock and country with excellent lyrics (to my ear, he's picked up quite a bit of Robbie Fulks' songwriting skills). The album came about thanks to a grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, and it was money well spent.
The highlight of the night was the title track of Home Now, a song that Dowd wrote about his late brother. The song juxtaposes baseball analogies (Dowd, raised in Boston, is a big baseball fan) and a tribute to his brother. The noisy crowd became reverently silent as Dowd delivered the song.
Early in the set Dowd also performed "I Die a Little Each Day" in tribute to Otis Clay, who had died earlier in the month. He mentioned the rash of musical deaths to start 2016 before covering Loudon Wainwright III's song "This Year," saying, "Let's start the new year here."
Gerald Dowd's touching "Home Now"
A 2014 clip of Dowd's song for his brother
Friends Helping Out
Some of the musicians Dowd has played with over the years stepped up to the microphone to sing back-up during the set. Steve Frisbie, who leads yet another one of the bands Dowd plays in when he's not doing his own material, played guitar and sang on a couple of songs. Scott Stevenson, who plays with Dowd in Fulks' band, joined Dowd on accordion for the haunting "Kalamazoo Star" (another song that had everyone's undivided attention), and opening act Dan Phillips (who performs in a duo known as Zapruder Point) also sang backup.
Zapruder Point's opening set was 35 minutes long and consisted of mostly quiet, introspective songs. Phillips is a good songwriter and has a pleasant voice with which to deliver those lyrics.
Dowd's set was warm and intimate, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone in attendance.