Birds of Chicago brings its from-the-gut soul music to Campout for the Cause |

Birds of Chicago brings its from-the-gut soul music to Campout for the Cause

Caramie Schnell
Birds of Chicago is built around husband and wife duo JT Nero and Allison Russell.
Special to the Daily |

If you go ...

Who: Birds of Chicago.

Where: Campout for the Cause, Rancho Del Rio, near Bond.

When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday.

Cost: Single day tickets are available at the door for $69 for Saturday or $59 for Sunday, or $119 for a Saturday and Sunday pass.

More information: Visit

JT Nero and Allison Russell harmonize beautifully in both their personal and professional lives. The husband-wife duo leads a musical collective known as Birds of Chicago. The musical connection came first.

“You can’t predict which voices will sound right together,” Nero said in a recent phone interview. “It’s this extra, intangible thing that I knew the first time I sang with her.”

Their voices are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the sound.

“Nero’s fractured country soul croon is wrapped in Russell’s silver and gold tones for a harmony blend that is like nothing else in music today,” according to the band’s dead accurate bio. “Fired by the band, it’s a full tilt revival — streamlined poems, deep grooves, sharp hooks and joyful singing straight from the gut.”

In an EPK on Vimeo you can watch online, Nero calls their music: “Poetry you can dance to and poetry you can play live.”

Support Local Journalism

The band performs at Campout for the Cause for the first time Saturday evening. They play on the main stage at 7:15 p.m.


When they met, Nero and Russell were singing in different bands. Russell, a Montreal native, started her music career in Vancouver, touring around the world with funk/country/jazz band Po’ Girl. Meanwhile Nero was in Chicago, focused on his rock and soul band JT and The Clouds. The bands were “friends and mutual fans,” and would make excuses to get together.

“There was this pull with Ally and me,” Nero said. “At some point we realized we had to carve out some space and time for the thing we had musically. “

That was 2012; the two got together and recorded an album.

“Birds of Chicago was going to be the name of the album but we got sick of saying our names and it morphed and became the name of our project,” he said.

The music connection was profound, as was the love connection, though at first the couple tried to deny their chemistry.

“But after awhile, it was taking more energy to fight the love side of it,” Nero said.

And so they gave in. The couple is now married and has a 16-month-old daughter, Ida, who has been on tour with them since she was 4 months old.

“She’s a pretty jaded veteran, a road dog,” Nero said, laughing. “Being able to have our family on the road and pursue it together is a real lucky thing.”

Ida is growing up with a deep love of all things musical.

“She’s a real music head,” Nero said. “She’s just like her mom. She knows a thousand nursery rhymes and she goes around singing these crazy mashups of them: ‘Old McDonald had a dog and Bingo was his name.’”


From the get go, the band had a lot of momentum.

“People responded in a gut way that galvanized it in a real way,” Nero said. “Once we felt that momentum, we were comfortable throwing our eggs in our basket and focusing on this.”

And focus they have. The band is on the road 10 months a year. While the band is technically based out of Chicago, they’re hardly ever there. “That’s where our stuff is, that’s about it,” Nero said.

“We kind of tour like maniacs because we’re so excited about this project,” he continued.

Live, the band has a revival feel to it that resonates with the audience.

“There’s not a lot of pretense to what we do,” Nero said. “It’s a real gut level thing. People respond to the words and we try to sing from the gut and have that raw, communal experience.”

Prior to Birds of Chicago, Nero used to go to two to three concerts a week in Chicago; he’s been both in the audience and on stage when everyone is into a groove or a song and the energy in the room syncs.

“There’s nothing that replaces that feeling,” he said. “That’s the feeling we’re shooting for; we’re trying to get to that real good spot.”

It doesn’t always happen, but then again, if it were common, you likely wouldn’t appreciate it in the same way.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

Support Local Journalism