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"On Big Shoulders" is an Americana album featuring 12 of Chicago's best musicians collaborating on 10 songs linked to The Windy City.
"On Big Shoulders" is an Americana album featuring 12 of Chicago's best musicians collaborating on 10 songs linked to The Windy City.
233 backers pledged $26,092 to help bring this project to life.

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Debut "On Big Shoulders" album celebrates Chicago's music

$26,092

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FINAL STRETCH GOAL: $29,226

photo by Tim Brown
photo by Tim Brown

Wow, we made it past our campaign goal of $21,000 with 28 days to go and past our first stretch goal with 5 days to go! Thank you to everyone who backed the project and made my dream come true! Now I'll be able to hire a wonderful publicist to work the album for three months, giving it a nice dose of attention in the national press.

Now, in our final week, our second and final stretch goal: if we can reach $29,226 by Saturday at 11.56pm CDT, I'll be able to hire a fantastic director to make an MTV-style music video for one of my favorite tracks on the album. Spread the word to your pals who might want to pitch in for our final lap.

In celebration of surpassing our campaign goal, here's track #8 from the album! We hope you dig it. It's our honky-tonky interpretation of Collin Moore's song "Only You."

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"Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive" 

- from "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hi, my name is Matt Brown. I am a record producer in Chicago, Illinois. I've spent the first 29 years of my musical life learning, performing, and teaching music. In 2005, I discovered a parallel passion for producing albums. That passion has grown over the years as I have produced recordings for myself as well as other artists, and has manifested now into On Big Shoulders, by far the most ambitious album to date that I've concocted & produced. This is a concept album that highlights just some of the fantastic music that has been made in Chicago through the decades. For On Big Shoulders, we recorded new performances of ten of these songs with some of the best American roots musicians working in the city today. The results are stunning!

I see this project as a chance to put Chicago more firmly on the musical map. Wait until you read the meticulous liner notes written by Gregory Reish, PhD, director of the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University. It may turn into your favorite music history lesson. Did you know that Bill Monroe recorded in Chicago with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs? How about The Delmore Brothers?! 

And how about Chicagoland's GRAMMY-nominated singer, guitarist, and songwriter Robbie Fulks? He's an alt-country icon who once counted Tina Fey as a guitar student and who is beloved across the country for his impeccable wit, astonishing musicianship, and energetic stage presence. I was lucky enough to secure from him an exclusive commission for On Big Shoulders, and that somber song he wrote is track #6 on the album.

I also see this recording as the formal launch of my career as a producer. Producing allows me to use my favorite musical (and non-musical) skills in a way that is immensely satisfying. In particular, I love the chance to collaborate with talented, driven musicians in a comfortable, creative environment. Something magical happens when the clock is ticking and the tape is rolling. On Big Shoulders would not have been possible without my co-producer Liam Davis, who is equally brilliant as an arranger, producer, engineer, singer, and instrumentalist. I learned so much by working with Liam, and am grateful for his participation in all facets of the project. 

Keep on reading for more background about the album itself, plus, you can watch the behind-the-scenes music video of us recording our Wilco cover, which is track #3 on the album!

Since a generous grant from the City of Chicago and donations from 13 close friends and fans helped me fund the recording, editing, mixing, and mastering of On Big Shoulders, I now need your help to get it out to the world. The funds I raise with your support of this Kickstarter campaign will cover the remaining costs of designing, licensing, manufacturing, and marketing the album. 

Please share this page with your friends and family who love Chicago, appreciate its cultural legacy, and want to support its vibrant music scene!

On Big Shoulders will be launched later this year with an album release concert right here in Chicago. The album will concurrently be released on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services. The date for the hometown release show will be announced as soon as CDs and vinyl begin production. Stay tuned to the backer updates for announcements of the concert date, location, and a ticket link! 

Rewards

I am delighted that we have some terrific rewards to offer, including two autographed copies of Steve Dawson's remarkable book about songwriting. Steve wrote one of the songs on our album, a witty and wrenching country song entitled "A World Without You." He is a masterful songwriter, as good at crafting songs as he is at singing and interpreting them:

And then there's this super hip t-shirt that features the album logo, designed by Chicago's Zerobird Studio, which will make it onto the stickers & mugs, in addition to functioning as the CD & vinyl cover art:

Or you could be the proud new owner of my Gold Tone/Nechville OT-MH Marc Horowitz Signature Banjo. It's ideal for anyone who wants to fly with their banjo, because you can take it apart and fit it in a suitcase. It has a stable graphite neck on a 12" Nechville Atlas pot with Nechville's Flex-Tone adjustable/removable neck system. Graphite neck (26-1/4" scale. 1-1/4" nut), pearl dot inlays with star on peghead and at 5th fret, S-shaped scoop starts at 17th fret, Gotoh nickel 2-band planetary gears & geared 5th peg with black buttons. Nechville Atlas pot (no tone ring) with Remo Fiberskyn head, tension hoop cut low near neck for hand comfort, Sampson compensated birch & ebony bridge, Nechville straight-pulling tailpiece, Little Mountain black Corian armrest. I'll even include my Boulder Alpine gig bag. Note: no banjos were harmed (or even used) in the making of this album.

assembled (photo by Tim Brown)
assembled (photo by Tim Brown)
disassembled (photo by Tim Brown)
disassembled (photo by Tim Brown)

The Album

Concocted in 2016 by executive producer Matt Brown as a showcase of some of Chicago's rich musical history, On Big Shoulders is a grant-funded Americana album Matt co-produced with GRAMMY-­nominated producer Liam Davis in the summer of 2017. The album was recorded at I.V. Lab Studios in Chicago and features a dozen of the city's busiest musicians. The core band comprises Steve Dawson (vocals & guitar), Brian Wilkie (pedal steel & guitar), Aaron Smith (bass), and Gerald Dowd (drums), with guest appearances from Elise Bergman (background vocals), Gia Margaret (lead & background vocals), Keely Vasquez (lead & background vocals), Liam Davis (lead vocals, piano, and organ), Liz Chidester (background vocals), Anna (trumpet) & Evan (trombone) Jacobson, and Matt Brown (fiddle).

Each song on the album was written by a Chicagoland artist or was previously recorded in Chicago. Repertoire includes "I'm Mississippi Bound" from Grand Ole Opry stars The Delmore Brothers (who recorded in Chicago in 1933), "Heavy Traffic Ahead" from the seminal formation, with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, of Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys that recorded in Chicago in 1946, "Shake Your Head" from Barbara Carr's Chess Records output, "Long Tall Mama" from Big Bill Broonzy, "It's Just That Simple" from Wilco, and new songs from Collin Moore, Steve Dawson, and GRAMMY­-nominated Chicagoland resident Robbie Fulks (an exclusive commission).

On Big Shoulders was engineered by Shane Hendrickson at I.V. Lab Studios, mixed by Liam Davis at Abbey Street Studios, mastered by JJ Golden at Golden Mastering, and produced by Matt Brown & Liam Davis.

This project is partially supported by an Individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, as well as a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, a state agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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setting up (photo by Tim Brown)
setting up (photo by Tim Brown)
Shane & Matt (photo by Tim Brown)
Shane & Matt (photo by Tim Brown)
Liam in a laptop glow (photo by Tim Brown)
Liam in a laptop glow (photo by Tim Brown)
Steve Dawson is a versatile & powerful singer, and an incredible guitarist. (photo by Tim Brown)
Steve Dawson is a versatile & powerful singer, and an incredible guitarist. (photo by Tim Brown)
Brian Wilkie is equally gifted on pedal steel and guitar. His solos throughout the album are daring and unforgettable. (photo by Tim Brown)
Brian Wilkie is equally gifted on pedal steel and guitar. His solos throughout the album are daring and unforgettable. (photo by Tim Brown)
Aaron Smith is one of my favorite bass players. His pocket is deep and his ideas are lyrical and smooth. (photo by Tim Brown)
Aaron Smith is one of my favorite bass players. His pocket is deep and his ideas are lyrical and smooth. (photo by Tim Brown)
Gerald Dowd is jaw-droppingly good. He's the best drummer I've worked with, plus, he has good recommendations for affordable socks. (photo by Tim Brown)
Gerald Dowd is jaw-droppingly good. He's the best drummer I've worked with, plus, he has good recommendations for affordable socks. (photo by Tim Brown)
Gia Margaret's angelic voice is one of my all-time favorites. Check out her original music and her covers on YouTube! (photo by Tim Brown)
Gia Margaret's angelic voice is one of my all-time favorites. Check out her original music and her covers on YouTube! (photo by Tim Brown)
Elise Bergman is one of my favorite singers and songwriters in Chicago. She leads Big Sadie, the band in which I play fiddle. (photo by Tim Brown)
Elise Bergman is one of my favorite singers and songwriters in Chicago. She leads Big Sadie, the band in which I play fiddle. (photo by Tim Brown)
Triple threat Liam Davis plays piano, organ, and sings on the album. (photo by Tim Brown)
Triple threat Liam Davis plays piano, organ, and sings on the album. (photo by Tim Brown)
My Old Town School colleague Anna Jacobson saved the day when she added trumpet to "It's Just That Simple." (photo by Tim Brown)
My Old Town School colleague Anna Jacobson saved the day when she added trumpet to "It's Just That Simple." (photo by Tim Brown)
Anna's husband Evan Jacobson threw down some very important trombone notes on "It's Just That Simple," too. (photo by Tim Brown)
Anna's husband Evan Jacobson threw down some very important trombone notes on "It's Just That Simple," too. (photo by Tim Brown)
I play a fiddle solo on one track. Order the album to discover which one! (photo by Tim Brown)
I play a fiddle solo on one track. Order the album to discover which one! (photo by Tim Brown)

"It's Just That Simple" Music Video 

Below is the first music video for On Big Shoulders, our cover of the John Stirratt-penned Wilco song "It's Just That Simple." My Big Sadie bandmate Elise Bergman brought this song to my attention, and I'm eternally grateful to her for doing so. She has sung it a number of times with John in a project they are in together, and she suggested we make an On Big Shoulders arrangement. I just love the sound of sound of Steve, Elise, and Gia singing it together. And those horns! Gerald, our drummer, wrote the horn lines, and Anna & Evan nailed them. Featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the recording of the song, this video was shot by Sebastian Buffa & Tim Brown and edited by Joey Delisi.

 About The Project Creator

photo by Tim Brown
photo by Tim Brown

Matt Brown is a musician and producer who teaches fiddle, banjo, and guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, as well as at Stephen Wade's American Roots Music Program at the Rocky Ridge Music Center in Colorado. Matt's fiddling is featured along with guitarist Greg Reish on the 2015 release Speed of the Plow, which was engineered and co-produced by GRAMMY-winner Dave Sinko (Punch Brothers, Béla Fleck, Hot Rize). Matt and Greg have toured the country as a duo performing the album's collection of old-time duets. Matt has also toured as a soloist, with percussive dance ensembles Rhythm in Shoes and Footworks, and has made guest appearances with Tim O'Brien, The John Hartford Stringband, Uncle Earl, Special Consensus, and Della Mae. He has performed twice with Mike Snider on the Grand Ole Opry. Matt plays fiddle with the Chicago band Big Sadie. He is the Vice President of the Chicago Chapter of the Recording Academy.


Matt's credits as a producer:

  • On Big Shoulders (2018)
  • Speed of the Plow - Matt Brown & Greg Reish (2015)
  • My Native Home - Matt Brown (2010)
  • Barrier Falls - Annalivia (2010)
  • Only Me - Kevin Neidig (2009)
  • Falls of Richmond - Matt Brown (2008)
  • Old-Time Fiddle Lesson, Vol. 1 - Matt Brown (2007)
  • Lone Prairie - Matt Brown (2006)
  • In The Moment - Jane Rothfield (2005)

Risks and challenges

Making an album as ambitious as "On Big Shoulders," in one of Chicago's best studios with a bevy of in-demand musicians and engineers, was an invigorating challenge.

I knew from the outset that it would require thousands of dollars to make this album the way I wanted to. To date, the cost of making "On Big Shoulders" has been over $12,000. I put $2,000 of my own money into the project. I was fortunate to receive a $4,000 grant from Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events as well as more than $6,000 in donations from 13 friends & fans who helped me cover the remaining costs of making the album up through mastering.

I now turn to you, my Kickstarter backers, to help realize my dream of releasing this incredible record the way it deserves to be released. The remaining $21,000 will cover the cost of designing and manufacturing CDs and vinyl as well as the awesome stickers, mugs, and t-shirts you can choose for your rewards. Also included in the budget are mechanical license fees, since most of the songs on the album are copyrighted musical compositions. I will need to offset Kickstarter fees, pay an entertainment lawyer to help me navigate the licenses and copyrights, and hire a radio publicity specialist who will get "On Big Shoulders" to Americana DJs across the country.

I may be biased, but I think "On Big Shoulders" is one of the coolest albums I've ever heard. I can't wait for you to hear it, too!

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    t-shirt

    you'll receive a beautiful t-shirt screen printed by Chicago's Zerobird Studio with the On Big Shoulders logo. Sizes available: S-XXL.

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    you'll get a copy of the On Big Shoulders CD plus the advance digital download of of the album including the liner notes!

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    CD + sticker

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    vinyl + download

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    Take It to the Bridge - autographed copy

    you'll get an autographed copy of Steve Dawson and Mark Caro's book about songwriting! Plus, you'll receive the advance digital download and liner notes of On Big Shoulders.

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    CD bundle

    you'll get the On Big Shoulders sticker, the On Big Shoulders mug, an On Big Shoulders t-shirt (a beautiful Canvas t-shirt screen printed by Chicago's Zerobird Studio and featuring the On Big Shoulders logo. Sizes available: S-XXL), and the On Big Shoulders CD.

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    vinyl bundle

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    Skype lesson

    Take a one hour fiddle, banjo, or guitar lesson with Matt Brown using Skype (or FaceTime or Google Hangouts). Plus, you'll receive the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD).

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    2 tickets to the album release show

    You'll receive 2 tickets to the On Big Shoulders album release show in Chicago plus the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD) presented to you in person by Matt Brown at the concert.

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    dinner with Matt!

    Enjoy a delicious dinner with Matt Brown (filled with scintillating conversation) at one of his favorite restaurants in Chicago. Plus, you will receive the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD) presented to you in person by Matt at dinner!

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    your very own fiddle tune!

    Matt will write you a fiddle tune and share with you an HD video of him performing it! Plus, you will receive the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD). How can you resist? For an extra $3, he'll write you a banjo tune instead.

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    jam session

    Matt will lead a jam session for you and your friends in your house! Plus, you will receive the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD) presented to you in person by Matt at the jam! Jam location must be within 50 miles of Chicago.

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    Matt Brown House Concert

    Matt will play a concert of fiddle, banjo, and guitar tunes for you and your friends in your house! Plus, you will receive the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD) presented to you in person by Matt! Concert location must be within 100 miles of Chicago.

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    Matt's OT-MH Travel Banjo

    You'll get Matt Brown's Gold Tone/Nechville OT-MH Marc Horowitz Signature Banjo! Plus, you will receive the On Big Shoulders merch bundle (sticker, mug, t-shirt, and either vinyl or CD).

    Matt says of the banjo:

    "I bought this ingenious banjo to be my travel instrument. It's light and has a huge, clear, balanced sound. Thanks to the Nechville technology, it can be taken apart and will fit into a suitcase. I'm only selling it because I don't travel so much any more (and because I got a flight case for my primary instrument)."

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    • On Big Shoulders t-shirt
    • On Big Shoulders CD or vinyl
    • On Big Shoulders digital download
    • OT-MH Marc Horowitz Signature Banjo
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Funding period

- (43 days)