'Unreal': What's it like for a local band to play at Little Chicago?

Jonathan Roberts • Aug 5, 2019 at 12:00 AM

For a local band, playing at one of your city’s biggest — and most popular — music festivals is a big deal, and one that can be the highlight of your year.

And for the members of several local bands slated to take the stage Friday and Saturday for Johnson City’s Little Chicago Festival, it’s a dream come true.

“It’s one of the best things,” said American Dropouts bass player Ben Williams of playing at the festival. “Every year we look forward to Little Chicago. It never fails.”

The American Dropouts will be playing at the Nelson Stage at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, and all four of the band’s members, Joseph McKinney, Kurt Johnson, Peyton Helm and Williams can’t wait to take the stage.

“Little Chicago allows us to get to celebrate our growth with all the people closest to us,” Williams said. “Hometown shows like this mean the absolute world to us.”

The American Dropouts aren’t the only local band excited for a hometown show this weekend, as Zach Ross, manager for Doctor Ocular, A Great Disaster and Love Unit, said “it’s really exciting for us to play our hometown festival.”

“We probably play 150 shows a year out of town trying to get our music out there, but it’s always great to come back and play our hometown festival,” Ross said. “All of our friends and family can come out… everyone just feels really comfortable coming and being a part of it, which is what makes the artists so exciting at both stages.”

That excitement and community support surrounding the stages makes for a unique atmosphere, one that Williams says makes Little Chicago one of his favorite shows.

“That’s one of the main reasons why it’s my favorite festival that goes on in the area,” Williams said. “The community is so tight-knit and all the local businesses are really supportive.”

Ross, meanwhile, said that having a crowd as engaged as the typical Little Chicago crowd “pumps us up” and “makes us really thankful and grateful and reminds us how blessed we are to come from a community that cares so much about the arts.”

For Ross and the members of Love Unit, A Great Disaster and Doctor Ocular though, the festival takes on some added importance, as all three groups either just released an album or plan to in the near future.

“It’s going to be one of our biggest most engaged audiences that we’ll (see) in 2019 and because of that, we’re going to have a lot of people who’ve never seen or heard of us before,” Ross said.

A Great Disaster just released their album “Over a Dark Water in March,” and take the Main Stage at 5:30 p.m. Friday, while Love Unit, whose album debut album releases in November, will be playing the Nelson Stage at 9:30 p.m. Friday. Doctor Ocular, one of Johnson City’s biggest local bands, is going to be playing new music from their album “Hindsight,” which releases Aug. 31. They play the Main Stage at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s half about putting on a great, really exciting set for the people that know you, and the other half is about trying to do something impactful and meaningful for the people that never heard of you,” Ross said. 

“A show like this is more of a reminder of where we were and where we’ve come to be,” Williams said. “To see it all come together, it’s really an amazing feeling — it’s an unreal feeling.”