Guest Blog: Van Ghost On Chicago’s Finest Musical Exports


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Michael Harrison Berg was a big part of the Chicago music scene even before he was fronting rock band Van Ghost. A music promoter who has worked with bands as well as festivals, such as North Coast Music Festival, Berg has seen bands come and go in the Second City.

Here’s Berg’s top 5 bands from his hometown. Van Ghost’s new album The Domino Effect drops July 17.


There’s no band/artist that represents Chicago and everything I love about music greater than Wilco and singer/songwriter/frontman Jeff Tweedy. From a songwriting aspect they wear their influences (well) on their sleeves of various classic rock acts while pushing their own boundaries of everything from folky roots music through the Radiohead-esque album opener, “The Art of Almost,” on their newest release. The live performance I caught of this song at the Civic Opera House in Chicago last year changed my life. Wilco is real rock and roll at it’s finest. Period.


There isn’t a hotter up and coming act based out of Chicago right now than JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, and for good reason. JC is beyond the real deal in regard to his vocal chops and his world class frontman persona. Billy Bungeroth (lead guitar) is the co-writer on a ton of the material and a major influence on their sound from my perspective. They’re self described as post-punk-soul, but I consider their songwriting and performance swag more of a funk and soul band with a dose of indie rock and a dash of tasty classic rock stirred in the mix.


One of my favorite bands on the live music circuit is Umphrey’s McGee, hands down. While their songwriting differs from my traditional tendencies as a fan (missing the elements of pop and Americana that I love), their songs are constructed with a stroke of pure musical genius. Take my word there is not a tighter band in the world. Although widely considered a jamband, this is a progressive rock and roll band with shredding guitars and a metronome of a rhythm section. That said, their timeless songs like “In The Kitchen” and “Booth Love” negate these claims and could be hit songs on AAA radio, during any given generation or time frame.


Although he splits his time between Nash-Vegas and Chi-City, Chris Gelbuda is a Chicago-based songwriter who epitomizes everything I love about the craft of songwriting. Chris’s songwriting certainly leans towards the americana/alt-country vein but he can go poppy or event reggae at times. He has collaborated and shared the stage with several notable acts over the years in addition to Van Ghost and has been a staple of our acoustic touring outfit, having a major influence on me as a performer and songwriter. Chris co-wrote the Van Ghost song “If It Ain’t Crazy, Then It Ain’t Love,” a new staple of our live set that is guaranteed to be on the next record.


There are “songy song” writers and there are “art song” writers. In my humble opinion, Andrew Bird comfortably falls into the latter. Andrew’s a raconteur and a poet who can sing and play the violin with grace and poignancy who must claim a spot on this list for his material. The stories he tells though his songs and the way he delivers them are unique and interesting. I prefer his studio work to his live show, but rest assured he is a worthy songwriter and musician to say the least.

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