LAKEVIEW — It all started as a bunch of music geeks wanting to play Bob Dylan songs at dive bars in New York 10 years ago.
But the "Dylan Fests" organized by Alex Levy, Austin Scaggs and Matt Romano started growing beyond the dives, and beyond Dylan. They ended up adding a Tom Petty Fest, and then a Rolling Stones Fest.
By 2012, Jameson Irish Whiskey signed on to sponsor the event, now known as the Best Fest, and the crew was able to take the celebration on the road and donate all proceeds to charity.
Next Wednesday, the Best Fest will debut in Chicago with a night celebrating the music of Tom Petty — and the fests are still just a bunch of "music geeks" partying and performing, Levy said.
"It's a 'pinch me' kind of thing," he said.
Chicago's Petty Fest will be on Wednesday, April 23 at The Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. In the show, the house band The Cabin Down Below Band stays on stage, and artists step in for different songs — a format inspired by Martin Scorsese's concert film "The Last Waltz."
"It’s a party, more than anything else," Levy said.
Many of the music geeks playing the show are well-known artists.
Levy, Scaggs and Romano play in the house band. Levy and Scaggs started off as musicians and have been in the music industry — Levy in records and Scaggs in writing at Rolling Stones magazine — and Romano has been a drummer for The Strokes and The Albert Hammond Jr. Band.
Jakob Dylan, lead singer of The Wallflowers and son of Bob Dylan, will be performing at Chicago's Petty Fest. Alison Mosshart of The Kills and Deadweather and Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards will be singing, too.
And beyond the already set line-up, surprise guests will show up. At the Los Angeles fest, actress and singer Juliette Lewis joined the party, and in Seattle, Ann Wilson of Heart popped by to perform.
The conglomeration of artists creates surprises regardless of the line-up, Levy said. Many artists are fans of each other or know each other, and spontaneous collaborations sometimes end up happening, he said. Other times, artists will end up just hanging out in the audience, enjoying the show like every one else.
"The beautiful thing is, we don't know what's going to happen," Levy said.