BUCKTOWN — The Hideout’s annual country music festival is returning in-person this weekend for the first time since 2019.
A Day In The Country starts at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Bucktown bar and venue, featuring mostly Chicago-based country acts and singer-songwriters. The festival went virtual in 2020 and was canceled in 2021, before The Hideout reopened for live shows.
The festival is organized and booked by musician Lawrence Peters, a bartender at The Hideout and a stalwart of Chicago’s country scene for decades.
Peters got involved in the local scene when he moved to Chicago from Kansas in the ’90s, and has worked at the Hideout in various capacities for more than 20 years.
He started A Day In The Country in 2007 as a showcase for Chicago’s country bands, which he said can often be overlooked in the city’s larger music ecosystem.
“After a few years of being out here and having bands and stuff, I realized that there was kind of a lack of support for the local bands in some of the bigger festivals. And so I was like well, I guess the best way to solve that is to make my own,” Peters said.
The festival builds on a tradition of country music in Chicago going back 100 years, Peters said, when people started moving north to Chicago and country bars popped up all over the city.
“Chicago was a big destination for people that were leaving the southern states for factory work and that kind of stuff. So, a great little country scene built up and maintained for years and years and years,” Peters said.
Today, Peters said the local scene ebbs and flows, while a dedicated core and fan base remains constant.
“Some years we’ll have a real bumper crop of amazing bands, and then some years everybody will decide to move off to somewhere else and sort of start from scratch,” he said. “Chicago does really respect and appreciate country music, but we definitely have to foster it.”
Peters himself has a hand in numerous country-related projects across Chicago.
He’s the host of Country, My Way, a weekly radio show on WLPN 105.5 FM where he plays lesser-known songs from country greats like Patsy Cline and George Jones, as well as new music from bands across the country.
“This is all stuff that just fell under the radar for whatever reason. I play a lot of that and then I also play newer stuff that I really like and respect. So I played a lot of the artists that are on this year’s A Day In The Country [lineup],” Peters said.
He’s also written extensively about country music, through his column at the Honky Tonk Times as well as lectures for the Old Town School of Folk Music. His band the Lawrence Peters Outfit will also be playing this weekend’s festival.
Peters’ voice is also featured on one of the most beloved country-influenced albums recorded in Chicago over the past few decades: Songs: Ohia’s ‘The Magnolia Electric Co.’
Songs: Ohia was one of the many projects of Chicago-based songwriter Jason Molina, who died in 2013.
Peters said he got involved with the record after Songs: Ohia played at the Hideout in the early 2000s, and Molina mentioned he had a new song called “The Old Black Hen” he wanted Peters to sing.
Peters wasn’t there that night, but got a call from Molina a few days later, asking if he’d be interested.
“He called me up and said ‘hey man, I’ve got this song, I think you’d be really great on it, I’m recording a record’…he sent it to me, he’s like, ‘learn it, figure out a key, get it in your voice and then come on in and we’ll do it,'” Peters said.
Peters did learn the song, and recorded only two takes live with Molina’s band at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio. Everyone in the room immediately knew it was a special track, he said.
“It felt like a living breathing creature. … It was unbelievable. It’s hard to describe but it was an incredible place to be. I was nervous as hell. But it was really cool,” Peters said.
This year’s A Day In The Country will feature Chicago bands like Meg and the Wheelers, Mulefoot and many more. California band West of Texas will headline.
The first few bands of the day will play on The Hideout’s front porch, while the rest will perform inside the venue later in the day and evening.
But even then, the music will be patched through speakers to the patio, Peters said, for fans who want to hang out outside while still hearing the music.
“They’re just like, I’ve got my seat. I got my beer. I got my barbecue … everybody will just hang out,” Peters said.
A Day In The Country starts at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. Tickets are $20. More information can be found here.
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