Weather Updates

The Revival Tour an ‘unplugged hootenanny’

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♦ 8 p.m. April 9

♦ House of Blues,
329 N. Dearborn

♦ Tickets: $20 -$22

♦ (800) 745-3000;

Since 2008, the Revival Tour has been an annual traveling conclave of punk musicians — who all play unplugged.

Previous tours have found members from bands such as Against Me!, Flogging Molly, the Gaslight Anthem, Bedouin Soundclash, Chicago’s Lawrence Arms and many more, each picking up acoustic instruments instead of the usual electric barrage.

“From the top, we play and sing together, showcasing a song from each artist’s catalog that’s on the bill that evening,” the tour’s founder, Chuck Ragan of the band Hot Water Music, recently told Rolling Stone. “There’re usually five to six artists as well as back-up accompaniment of fiddles, upright bass, mandolins, banjos and more. After this, most will peel off to spotlight one of the artists aboard who’ll present their own works.”

It’s a modern hootenanny, and Tim McIlrath of Chicago’s Rise Against couldn’t wait to jump on the tour.

“I’ve loved Chuck’s music for a long time, and my high school band opened for his band at Fireside Bowl years ago,” McIlrath recalls. “Last year, I went down to the [Revival] show at the Bottom Lounge, and backstage it was all these people from different worlds singing different kinds of songs. There was so much camaraderie. I got the sense that they were all having a lot of fun and learning a lot and becoming better musicians. I wanted in.”

This year’s Revival Tour features Ragan, McIlrath, Rocky Votolato, Jenny O, Jenny Owen Youngs, Streetlight Manifesto’s Toh Kay, Loved Ones’ Dave Hause.

McIlrath paused between some March shows Rise Against played in South Africa and the start of the Revival Tour to talk about both, plus the recent history of emergent protest music:

Question: South Africa must be a cauldron of interesting, socially conscious music, yes?

Tim McIlrath: They have so much material to sing about, and an urgent need to sing about it, and some things down there are so complicated one of the only ways to grasp the issue is to work it out through a song. It’s also an uphill battle for bands down there, being so isolated. It took us 12 years as a band to make it there. It’s an expensive trip. It’s hard for us to get down there, and it’s even harder for bands there to get elsewhere. So they’re very isolated.

Q. Which sometimes makes for an interesting scene.

TM: Yeah, because the people who are doing it there are doing it for the right reasons. They’re doing it despite the fact that they’re not going to have a Los Angeles label showcase. It’s a lot like when I was growing up in Chicago, really. We weren’t East Coast or West Coast. When my band left Chicago, we were going to play smaller cities — Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, college towns. In Chicago, you’re already in the biggest city around you, though it’s not a hotbed for labels and industry. It’s like a private party that way, and so the people around me were doing music because they loved music. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of hope of breaking outside the circle. It filtered out people doing it for the wrong reasons.

Q. We last spoke in 2011 after you’d performed at the Wisconsin labor rallies and as Occupy Wall Street was heating up. In 2013 now, have you taken any stock of that year and what the musical expressions of protest might have accomplished, if anything?

TM: It legitimized activism and spoke to so many people from my generation who haven’t found ways to articulate how they’re feeling. . . . I’m always surprised that this decade hasn’t produced more Neil Youngs, Bob Dylans, a Creedence Clearwater Revival, something like those big activist folk-rock legends who weren’t living in the margins. Those were huge artists speaking out; they weren’t a fringe movement. I thought this decade would produce that, as well. It hasn’t. There are bands out there doing their part, and I think what Occupy and the labor rallies in Wisconsin did was give people a place to go, a place where they felt part of a counterculture they didn’t even know existed. Maybe they don’t agree with everything, but at each of those events I found people who were fed up and wanted to do something about it and were sick of just typing in [online] message boards.

Q. When you were describing your 2011 experience in Madison, you voiced some trepidation about performing with only an acoustic guitar. So why are you now on an acoustic tour?

TM: It’s definitely different. When I walk on stage at a Rise Against show, I have this whole arsenal of weaponry I can use to fire up five or 10,000 people. I’m comfortable there. I don’t get nervous. I feel like I know what I’m doing. Then when I walk out just me and a guitar into a small club, I feel like I’ve checked those weapons at the door. I can’t scream into the mike and tell people to get off their seat. I can’t jump into the crowd, can’t smash gear on stage. With Rise Against, if I’m losing the audience I can get physically more into it and I’ll get them back. This show is just you, a guitar and your voice. This is all you have. You can’t use those other tricks. It’s really intimidating at first. But I don’t like being comfortable. I want to go out there and feel nervous again. Like many times in my life, I’ve leapt here before I looked. Sometimes you have to do that and figure it out on the way down.

Q. It’s been two long years on the road. What’s next for Rise Against?

TM: Taking a breather. We’re playing some festivals. We’ll reconvene when we’re ready, and we’ll write a new record and do it all over again.

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