John C. Reilly

Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP

The endearing Chicago-native (and DePaul University alum) turned actor John C. Reilly, 48, may be best known for his goofy silver screen characters. But Reilly’s also got pipes.

He returns with guitars, harmonicas, and bandmates Tom Brosseau and Becky Stark in tow for an old timey, honkin’ good time at the Old Town School of Folk Music on June 22. Reilly joined Chicago to talk about what to expect at his Saturday night show.

People have seen you sing in Chicago and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but it was news to me that you play guitar. When did you start?
I started teaching myself around the time I was at DePaul. It was always something I just did as a hobby on my own time. Eventually I did it enough that people started asking me to do it in public.

How’d you become interested in folk music?
I grew up listening to a lot of traditional Irish music because my dad was really into it. We also had a player piano in our house with a lot of piano rolls so I was awash in music that was not of my era. But it wasn’t until I started playing guitar myself that I began listening to bluegrass and older country music.

For a while I had a blues band in L.A., but I realized I was too optimistic to play the blues. I did not have the misery in my heart that the blues required. I was more interested in music that informed the blues in the first place.

What appeals to you about those old songs?
It’s the sense of the eternal in the music. Some songs that were very popular in a certain age fade away and others that may have been overlooked at first stick around; those are the kinds of songs we sing in the band.

I understand that your group got started in the L.A. club Largo. Can you tell me a little bit about the place and how you began playing there?
It’s this really amazing place run by my friend, Mark Flanagan. We incubated the band at Largo. Over the years, a lot of great musicians have come through there. Los Angeles can be a bit rootless, and it’s a place you can go on a Friday or Saturday night and see people you know. It’s become a hub in the musical community.

Since you’re from Chicago, does playing the Old Town School have any special significance to you?
I feel really honored. The whole reason this tour came about is because they offered us a date. That place has always figured huge in the landscape. New York has Greenwich Village and Chicago has the Old Town School of Folk Music.

So what can we expect during your show there?
It’s a roots variety show with a rotating cast of people singing everything from old bluegrass to ancient folk songs to classic country songs. I try to keep it really open. We know probably 150 songs and try to mix it up as much as we can. Sometimes the group is rowdier and sometimes they’re in a more reflective place, so I try to make the tailor the set each night.

John C. Reilly and Friends perform June 22 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N Lincoln Ave. $28 ($26 school members). For info,


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Summer Music Calendar | Pitchfork vs. Lolla Smackdown | Talent Spotting | Jeff Tweedy at Middle Age
Chicago’s Next Big Rap Star | Our Q&A with John C. Reilly | 40 Performers Everyone’s Buzzing About