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A grape moment for Waco Brothers

Dean Schlabowske (right) Waco Brothers. 2012 handout photo.

Dean Schlabowske (right) and the Waco Brothers. 2012 handout photo.

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:09AM



The Waco Brothers are the Midwest’s premiere insurgent, hard country-punk band.

So what are they doing at an Aug. 28 wine pairing at the upscale City Winery? This, after all, isn’t Carol’s Pub.

The Chicago-based anarchists will perform the music of T. Rex, paired with five wines ($15 ticket only, $35 includes the tasting).

Waco Brothers singer-guitarist Dean Schlabowske owns the popular Cellar Rat wine shop, 1811 W. North in Wicker Park.

“The wine business is sort of the island of misfit toys,” Schalbowske said. “Where people had grander ambitions for their life. It’s been 22 years in the wine business for me. Back when I was in Wreck [the Steve Albini-produced indie-rock trio], a friend of our bass player ran a company that sold old and rare wines mail order. They needed some help and that’s how I started.”

Schlabowske has not seen City Winery in New York or Chicago.

“It’s an interesting concept,” he said. “It seems they’re pulling out all the stops to bring pretty big names in there. And then there’s us. I can’t tell you who came up with the concept of pairing wine with music.” City Winery owner Michael Dorf does similar music-wine pairings in New York.

“We’re playing nine songs,” Schlabowske said. “Of course we will do ‘20th Century Boy,’ which we regularly do. You can’t do a T. Rex thing without doing ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ [the band’s only crossover hit in America, released in 1972]. I wonder if the audience at a place like City Winery is even familiar with anything other than ‘Get It On.’ ”

At the Wacos & Wine mashup, expect a British overview of wine, with burgundy, Bourdeaux and ports. There will be more music and wine pairings at the venue.

City Winery beverage director Rachel Speckan is former general manager of Lush Wine and Spirits in Chicago. She said, “When the World Music Festival is in town, we will be working with a Portuguese band called Bia linda, and we’re working with the Lost Bayou Ramblers on a Cajun, bayou and Cabernet festival where we will do food, wine and music.”

Schlabowske opened the Cellar Rat in 2007 after spending five years as the French wine buyer at Sam’s Wine and Spirits in Chicago. His store features smaller, family-owned wineries where people use more traditional and natural growing techniques. Schlabowske said a “vast majority” of wines in his store cost less than $20.

He lives in the wine and rock ’n’ roll world. How does Schlabowske think City Winery will play out?

“Increasingly I find audiences and band members are getting more interested in wine,” he answered. “It’s a reflection of Americans seeking it out more than ever. I discourage the notion of intimidation. For some reason Americans feel unsophisticated if they don’t know about wine. Throughout Europe it’s just a beverage that gets stuck on the dinner table every night. They don’t know much about wine outside of their particular area. But being the land of convience and choice, we drink wines from all over the world. It becomes this enormous subject to get some kind of mastery.”

Dave Hoekstra



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