Little Chicago Festival to jam-pack downtown Johnson City, several local bands to rock the stage

Mackenzie Moore • Aug 8, 2018 at 10:55 PM

The Little Chicago Downtown Music and Arts Festival schedule is jam-packed with local bands Friday and Saturday.

The first to rock Nelson Stage at 12:45 p.m., Donnie and the Dry Heavers, is a four-man group from Kingsport that banded together after two co-workers at Model City Tap House realized they both held a passion for music.

Chancellor Lawson, 22, vocalist and guitarist, described the group’s launch as sort of fate, and 10 months after its formation, the music bunch continues to perform several times a week and upgraded from little gigs to becoming the house band.

“We were actually just a little Thursday night gig,” Lawson said. “But then we started drawing a crowd and enjoying how rowdy people were getting. Three of us were in a band together before, and the drummer and I work together. So we started jamming, and the rest is history.”

Festival-goers can expect a mixture of Appalachia blues and indie rock from Donnie and the Dry Heavers, but the band will also play original songs along with mash-ups.

“We really have developed our own musical niche,” Lawson said. “We all have different influences and musician heroes that show through our playing. It’s an eclectic mix. We primarily do originals, but we have some groovy covers as well and want to keep the audience entertained with familiarity while getting them used to hearing our songs.”

Another band to perform at the festival — American Dropouts — is influenced by Guns N’ Roses and Kiss.

Bass player Ben Williams, 21, views performances as a way to escape.

“We’ve always kind of been outside of that social mold of school and working in the office,” Williams said. “We wanted to be out of the social norm and pursue what we love, which is music. A lot of our music is alternative and classic rock, and whenever we get out on stage, we let it all out and enjoy seeing people getting into it.

“Everyone who’s supported us over the years — they’re what keep us going.”

American Dropouts will perform on Nelson Stage on Saturday from 5 to 5:45 p.m. and will play an original inspired by Kiss, “Try and Stop Me.”

Lawson and Williams rock out with different bands, but both are driven by the same energy from live music.

“It takes you out of your box that you’re in all day and frees you for a few hours,” Lawson said. “You hear things you won’t hear in studio recordings. You feel things you can’t feel from a radio. Ultimately, a live show is the relationship between entertainers and audience.

“I want people to hear this feeling I put on a piece of paper and say, ‘I feel or have felt this way.’ We’re all using the music as a way to process the beauty, the trials and the obstacles of life.”

The live concerts at the Little Chicago festival are free, and both bands encourage families and friends alike to join on the jam session and get lost in the music.

Making up Donnie and the Dry Heavers are Chancellor Lawson as guitarist and vocalist, Niko Graham on bass; Andrew Kraemer as guitarist, vocalist and trumpeter and Cameron Hites on drums.

American Dropouts features Joseph McKinney as lead singer, guitarist Kurt Johnson, Ben Williams on bass and drummer Peyton Helm.

For the complete lineup, visit www.littlechicagofestival.com. 

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