My trip to Chicago took me to an old favorite of mine, the Tonic Room. Located on Halsted right by the Fullerton Red Line and Depaul University. I was there to see a 3 piece bluegrass group from Southern Illinois called the Whistle Pigs that has started to gain some considerable steam in the areas surrounding Southern Illinois University. Playing nearly 200 shows a year has given them the ability to play in front of any crowd.
The Tonic Room is known for being the most haunted bar in Illinois with a history that includes a period of time as being a brothel and time where supposed ritual murders were carried out in the basement. However…there was nothing scary about this night. The Whistle Pigs did not disappoint the substantial crowd of Depaul students out of southern Illinois as well as a group of great fans that came all the way from Carbondale.
The group describes themselves on their website as “hillbilly music from southern Illinois” and I couldn’t disagree for a minute. Between their substantial beards, songs like “Prayer of the Banjo,” “I’m Broke,” “I Bought Whiskey,” & “Rainbows & Rednecks,” and a label called Mudstomp Records it’s hard to argue with their hillbilly credentials.
The set was energetic from start to finish. The group interacts with the crowd between and during pretty much every song. The Whistle Pigs seemed to pick up steam throughout the night as they recognized and called out to fans they knew had come all the way from back home. The band consists of “Banjo” Joe McCamish (also the main songwriter of the group) playing, you guessed it banjo, Nate Graham on the upright bass, and Alex Pape on the accordion (yes, the accordion).
I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a show in Chicago before that had fans square dancing, but it happened…more than once. People were dancing jigs all over the bar and the foot stamping rumbled the floor at one point. All in all, a great first experience with the band, I would recommend them to anyone that enjoys bluegrass music, so…EVERYONE!