It would be about this time of the year I would do a round-up of the beers that would be available at Merchant Street Music Festival. I’d text John Doolin, of Blue Ribbon Distributing, and Tommy Vasilakis, of Brickstone, and see what they are bringing. One year, because I wrote about Dog Tag Lager, Doolin brought it later that summer. It has been a pleasure working with those guys on that part of the festival. I love that festival, and it has been a big part of my summer for the past five years for me, but this would have been MSMF’s 10th anniversary. We are all sad MSMF can’t fill up the Train Depot again this year. That weekend would have been a blast, especially after the year we have had so far. The whole thing might have sneaked past me this year, but I caught that Brickstone had made a label just for Merchant Street Music Festival this year on Instagram. I thought people could throw their own MSMF in their own backyards with this beer from Brickstone, so I reached out to some musicians I know have played Merchant Street in the past and might have played again and wanted to see what they would say.
The first person I thought of was Eric Fitts, bassist in Rebecca Rego and The Trainmen. Eric and I worked together briefly probably five years ago, and I have followed the band’s story since. The first time I saw them live was at Merchant Street a few years ago.
“I’ve been lucky and grateful to have played at Merchant Street a handful of times,” Fitts said. “The Merchant Street team has always done such a fantastic job. Some of my favorite acts over the years have been Murder by Death, Fishbone and the Raging Death Weasels. I will definitely be missing it this year. I think it is an amazing event for the whole community of Kankakee county. We (Rebecca Rego and the Trainmen) were very much looking forward to playing this year. We are currently still on to play the Merchant Street stage Friday, Aug. 21.”
The lead singer and namesake of the band, Rebecca Regoalso weighed in.
“The first time I came to Kankakee was almost 10 years ago, and it was to play the first Merchant Street Music Fest. I will always remember it as one of the most magical evenings of my life. Even though there was a big storm that almost blew half the stage away, everyone made the best of it and huddled in the back of the train depot and listened to music under the awning there. I remember that night a bunch of us also went to Out on a Limb and did karaoke after.”
Rego continued: “Merchant Street has always been one of the best festivals. It has always been a time when I can come back to Kankakee and see old friends, watch their babies grow, see all sides of the community come together to celebrate art. It is a loss not having it this year. It’s made me realize how precious it was in my life and how much I will look forward to it next year.”
Watch for more details about the Trainmen’s show schedule near the end of August. Their album “Speaking of Witches” released last year is available on their Band Camp, rebeccaregothetrainmen.bandcamp.com.
The other musician who got back to me was John Gray, of Carrying Torches about the loss of MSMF.
“I’ve been fortune enough to have played drums at Merchant Street Music Festival many times with many different bands. All of my friends always look forward to it, and it feels like a family reunion. Everyone was bummed that it couldn’t happen this year.”
Gray said he had played drums at MSMF with five different bands during the years: Pilgrims, Free the Fox, Dischord, The Prairie State and the latest band, Carrying Torches. Carrying Torches’ newest single, “Higher,” is available on Spotify. Their website is carryingtorches.com.
Local legend Lupe Carroll said, “I remember one year playing MSMF with Matt Yeates, Cory Ponton and Eric Fitts, and we were opening for Matthew Sweet, and the crowd was insane. We huddled in silence before taking the main stage and really didn’t need to say much. We said it on stage. I’m going to miss seeing other bands live this year.”
Music and enjoying a cold beer outside as the sun is setting later in the warm evenings is the stuff summer dreams are made of. Right now, I’m into Nathaniel Rateliff’s new solo album, “And It’s Still Alright.” It came out in February, but it just has this vibe to it I am into this summer. Brickstone’s Merchant Street Pale Ale is the stuff of summer. The world is crazy now. The reason MSMF is canceled is a fairly unpleasant thing and seems now a pretty daunting task to get under control.
A number of years ago, I was in Jerusalem during most of July. It was hot. No one was on the streets mostly all day, but at night, people would burst onto the streets. We were there during the Lights of Jerusalem Festival, which was a series of stringed lights and light installments all over Old City Jerusalem. You have to celebrate life. You have to make something worth remembering. It was a wise decision to cancel the fest, but give it some time. When we are ready and it is the right thing to do, we will have another Merchant Street Music festival because it is worth doing.
Get a six pack of Brickstone, turn up the music in your backyard if you can, and enjoy the rest of this summer. That is worth doing right now, too. I know I’ll be doing it.
Name: Merchant Street Pale Ale from Brickstone Brewery
ABV: 6.25 percent
Style: Pale Ale — American
Brewery’s notes: “Deep golden in color, made with light caramel malts, hopped with loads of Amarillo hops with a slight citrus flavor, then dry hopped for four days for a plentiful aroma. Our brewmaster’s favorite.”
Where to Buy: This beer will be available at some bars around town for the time being. It will be available during the Sunset Stroll on Aug. 15 in downtown Kankakee, and it is available at the brewpub in six packs of 12-ounce cans for $10.