Review of concert at 1999-06-12: Chicago, IL, Chicago Motor Speedway   (Fleadh Festival) - no review of Elvis
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1999-06-13
- Dave Tianen


Chicago's Guinness event a Fleadh of talent and a sea of mud

By Dave Tianen
of the Journal Sentinel staff
June 13, 1999

Chicago -- For much of the afternoon, glowering skies threatened to turn the 1999 Guinness Fleadh into the Guinness Flood.

Fortunately, the sky made angry faces but never did much more than sprinkle. A real downpour at Saturday's event could have been devastating because Friday night's thunderboomers had turned much of the Chicago Motor Speedway into an ankle-deep mudhole.

The combination of sandal-sucking mud and hip-to-hip crowds made moving between the Fleadh's three stages a minor quest. Still, the new grounds were a marked improvement over last year's event at the Arlington Race Course. This year's festival offered a dramatic increase in the supply of food and beverage vendors.

As with last year, the 1999 Guinness Fleadh offered an absolutely glittering array of music talent: Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, John Prine, Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams, Hootie & the Blowfish, Luka Bloom, Joe Henry and Beth Orton, among others.

The afternoon's performances demonstrated again that success at these gigantic outdoor shows has as much or more to do with style as intrinsic musical talent. Lucinda Williams' knowing update of outlaw country made her 1998 album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" a critical favorite, second only to the "Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."

But Williams tends to write gritty, slice-of-life ballads and character sketches such as "Drunken Angel," but they really need the focus of a club or theater to reveal their full merit. Williams sounds like an older, more road-weary Sheryl Crow, and she did prosper with a few of her more muscular rockers. Better suited to the occasion were Taj Mahal and the Irish party rockers, Saw Doctors. Taj wisely turned to proven party starters like "Hoochie Coochie Coo" and "Oow Poop Pa Poo" to beat the heat. Although he had to be one of the three or four senior folks on the premises, there was no sign that time or humidity could wilt Taj.

"Are your hips ready?" he challenged the crowd before pounding through "I Need You Lovin'."

A couple of suggestions for next year's festival if it returns to the speedway: These megashows really cry out for big-screen television, particularly where the sound board tent blocks much of the sight line. Also, organizers need to relocate the VH-1 stage and the main stage to reduce sound spill.

Copyright 1999, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. All rights reserved.