He might be a small town boy, but Cody Diekhoff has a big presence when he is on stage. Even if that stage is on the same floor everyone is standing on, right next to the bar everyone is crowded around. He is used to being in those smaller gin joints and squeezing himself into a corner to perform his songs, as many up and coming singer songwriters are. Diekhoff tours by the name Chicago Farmer and originally hails from Delavin, IL, a barely there town as you cruise by. Having been in his fair share of hole in the wall venues, probably drinking cold beer just as often as he performing in them, Cody uses these experiences as inspiration. A small town upbringing is what he knows, what he writes about, and what is gaining his success. Currently on tour in support of his new album Backenforth, IL, this small town boy made it a point to hit up those smaller towns with fans that have driven long distances in the past to support his musical career. Now they can just go around the block. It's his way of giving back, relating to all his fellow middle of nowhere folk, that know how it is to travel hours to the big city to see their favorite band. I'm one of them, and most of the people drawn to Chicago Farmer are in the same position. Cody is no stranger to the city though, having lived in Chicago, and is very familiar fast paced life. He has embraced all sides, but is now focusing on his efforts and paying homage to the places and the people that are little less traveled. Presently settled into his tour and latest release, he is returning to small town America and stopping in the more rural areas of the U.S.
Prior to his show in Canton, IL, I had the opportunity to interview Cody on 11/12/13 for local radio station affiliate WBYS. Our first meeting was typical, casual, minor chit chat, learning about each others backgrounds. Interestingly enough we have quite a bit in common, coming from similar areas and having mutual friends. Then of course, right to business, and into the interview.
He appeared timid towards the radio microphone at first, but the interview went smoothly. (Listen to the interview here.) He was modest, honest and you could tell the idea of the smaller venue tour was more appropriate for the singer and less like a gimmick. We aired only two songs off the album. The first, "Everybody in this Town," recounts the mentality and sometimes relentless drama that you can run into by merely being from a place where everyone knows you, or thinks they do at least. The other "Backseat", accompanied by singer Heather Horton, is one of very few love songs gracing his repertoire. Cody admits love songs are not really his style, but couldn't resist expressing love for his wife who has been a major supporter and now part of his management while he is on the road. Listening to the lyrics of "Backseat" brings you into a true love story, where he confesses that his lovely wife is first and foremost in his life. The sign of appreciation is one that any woman would love to hear. He might not be known for writing love songs, but he sure does it well.
When I arrived to the venue, Bistro 101, a dark, slightly upscale haunt, rather different that country dive bar that you usually find in these country towns, Chicago Farmer wondered amongst the crowd. Mingling with patrons and hanging with his wife Kymber while she worked his merchandise table. He casually sipped his beer and listened to his opening act, fellow singer songwriter and friend Nathan Taylor. An appropriate scene for a bar show. The room, comfortably packed on a sold out Tuesday evening with faces of all ages, eager for his performance to begin. That shy, humble demeanor was still present in Farmer while he graciously thanked me for our interview that day. Little did I know that the tentative attitude I had witnessed before was soon to disappear.
Chicago Farmer took to the corner of the room set aside to be the "stage" which was nestled next to the bar shortly after I joined the party. Standing only feet away from the people crowded around him, he took in his surroundings, while he tuned his guitar. The coy demeanor I had witnessed earlier evaporated in an instant and the showman appeared as soon as he began to speak. No longer meek, Chicago Farmer took to the stage mic like a fish takes to water, drawing the attention of every ear in the room. He chose to begin by addressing his accent, or drawl that is. How it couldn't quite be pin-pointed by people he met on his tour travels. In his travels, fans wondered, if the slow roll in his speech was from the deep south or the northwest, or maybe people find it familiar to their grandpa's old time accent. Well, I guess they've never been to a small town in the Midwest before. That drawl comes from middle America, where the world is simple, the people are truthful and the memories are thick of the country way things once were. Or so it seems.
That small town boy, very much still there, becomes the entertainer, the performer, the musician, steps up front to transport you to an easier era with modern day terms grounded in roots, folk and blues. Cody's voice strong and eerily stuck in a time that seemed to be long gone. His haunting voice seems to draw on the likes of Woody Guthrie and John Prine, and Cody would be the first to tell you these men are where he draws his inspiration.
Telling stories from the eyes of that small town guy in songs like "Everybody in This Town" and "The Twenty Dollar Bill". Cody's sound might be old-time, but the show was anything but dusty. Hooting and hollering from the crowd and jigs being danced. Fans laughed at his witty banter and savvy stories, all the while attempting to find the words to sing along. I must admit I was leading the way with dancing and humming along to tunes that had been stuck in my head for a week as I prepped for our interview. The whole room was coming alive with a new found energy based in folk music.
Chicago Farmer received big reactions from some of his older songs like "Illinois Anthem" where the jilted lover takes revenge on a former girlfriend with nude photos. One regret of mine was forgetting to ask him if that was really true. Did he reveal nude photos of that school teacher he once dated or was it just the thought that he could do that that made the song what it is? Toes could not help but tap with the beat of "200 Miles Away", as you relate to the feeling of worry he emotes through incredible tone and expression. Nearly every Chicago Farmer song can be branded as one that will get "stuck in your head". You will catch yourself humming his catchy tunes days later, surrendering to the melody. Diekhoff is very much the story teller, drawing you even closer into the embrace of his music, especially when he recounts one of his first dates with his wife before leading into "Backseat". Every woman in the bar had a hard time resisting the urge to swoon, as his wife gazed lovingly towards him from the back of the room. A moment I would have no doubt that she looks forward to each night on his tour. Most everyone in the room recognized his rendition of "Proud Mary", pulling several listeners to the dance floor that were waiting for the right moment. The evening was alive and magical in the small town of Canton, IL thanks to Chicago Farmer. Hopefully it will happen again, and maybe next time he can bring the whole band. Either way, Chicago Farmer is a must see if you have the opportunity, and Backenforth, ILan album to add to your collection.
This is the raw video of my interview Chicago Farmer! Thank you to WBYS for letting me use their space & air waves & thank you Chicago Farmer!