Ben’s Secret in Hickory Hills – DZ Fest

Up in the Hills of Hickory, on the southwest side of Chicago, close to the edge of civilization (well, Hidden Pond anyway) a magical once-a-year event takes place. Like an indie records version of Brigadoon, DZ Fest appears out of the misty swamp fog. DZ Fest is the love child of Ben Arguelles and DZ Records, an indie music label that slipped into the room like a ninja a mere eight years ago. I came across DZ Records five years ago while perusing local music videos on YouTube. DZ Records tapes live and studio session work by up&coming and lesser-known independent artists from all over, with a nice stable of local talent. Bands like Avantist, The Belvederes, Boss Fight, and Black Bear Rodeo, to name just a few, are among a laundry list of bands who have recorded & played at DZ. One look at some of the videos produced by Ben and his staff and you’ll understand what makes DZ so special: quality. Whether it’s a CD for Bad Bad Meow or a Midijoyful video, the sound is fantastic and the true nature of the artist & music is revealed. The only thing better is DZ Fest….

DZ Fest is two days of local and indie music, bands from all over. There is an extraordinary level of talent and creativity that fuels this oasis of art & music, a DIY style festival that has something for everyone. I brought two of my friends out to experience this year’s festival and each had a great time. Jay loved Afterglows with their trippy extended jams and excellent guitar work. Johnny Ekert declared Boss Fight the best band of the day for him, a great punk and pop hybrid that burst at the seams with energy. I myself really like Orange Dilemma, with their intricate time changes and high-powered lyrics, they were lots of fun to watch. The weather was perfect, the audience was friendly & fun, and the venue was hospitable. Ben and his volunteer crew were exceptional with everything from sound to stage changeovers to free bottled water and outhouse accommodations. Everywhere I looked, people were smiling, dancing, enjoying the scene. The art tent had plenty of visitors, but the taco truck was holding its own, too! After 5 hours and 10 bands, we had to go, but we had gorged ourselves on music and enjoyed every minute of it. DZ Fest runs two full days and introduces 40 bands to a welcoming crowd. No one goes away unsatisfied.

To think that DZ Fest happens right in our own backyard is astonishing, especially when you consider the logistics (parking, staging, getting bands in and out) but the DZ Fest staff handle it like professionals – in some cases, better. The staff is as impressive as the line up of bands that play and it makes for my personal favorite music weekend of the year. I thanked Ben and wanted to ask him what he thought the future holds for DZ Fest, where he imagines it in 5 years, but he was running around having so much fun monitoring his staff, talking to fans and neighbors alike, that I didn’t get the chance.

Sometimes, living in the moment is all you really need.

If you get the chance, mark your calendar and make it a point to attend this hidden gem of a festival next year. You’ll be glad you did.




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