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One-man band Bailey captivates Axe crowd

COTTAGE GROVE – Two guitars, a banjo, six harmonicas and an elaborate drum set-up.

Sounds like an interesting band, huh?

Actually, it’s one guy – M.G. Bailey, from Chicago – and he was at the Axe & Fiddle on Sunday night displaying his take on how a one-man band holds an audience.

“There are so many one-man bands out there,” said Bailey, who said the ones who influenced him the most were Scott H. Biram and Richard Johnston. “I’m just trying to find my own way with it right now.”

So far, he’s doing just fine.

Bailey, 41, has been a professional musician for 20 years, playing in a number of bands until 2008. It has been all one-man band gigs since 2010, but it took him a while to step out of his comfort zone in the Chicago area.

“People were telling me all the time that I should be opening up for big bands, or that I should be on the radio,” Bailey said. “It made me wonder, did I spend too much time doing tequila shots?”

Clearly, Bailey is a pro’s pro, with quite an amazing catalog of songs in his repertoire.

“Sometimes I walk in front of 100 people and ask them what they want,” said Bailey, who plays just about every genre in the book. “I’ve had train-wreck shows where people crap all over you, and ask for stupid music. They ask you to Play the Barney theme song. … People just like to mess with you.”

After spotting a John Prine shirt in the crowd, Bailey asked the customer what his all-time favorite go-to Prine song was, and when told it was the rather obscure “Saddle in the Rain,” Bailey was obviously shocked and said, “No way! Mine too!” Then he proceeded to play a riveting version of the song that had the whole place rocking.

Bailey said he loves his life as a traveling one-man band, but when given time to reflect, he sometimes can’t believe his “on-the-edge” lifestyle.

“I saw ‘Walk the Line’ and it really opened up my world,” Bailey said of the popular Johnny Cash movie. “Boy, that’s good, but that’s hard, what that guy has done – I’ve been a musician for years, I’d been making a living playing music, teaching music, doing my thing for 20 years – even now to this day, I was playing ‘Walk the Line’ on this tour and I thought, ‘Jesus, that’s literally how I’m living my life.’ I have a family and kids and I’m out in the world and there’s booze and drives and danger. I walk that freaking line, dude. I don’t know how many times I’ve played that freaking song.

“Until Covid, I had no time to look back or stop, I would just go, go, go, go, go. I didn’t have time to say, ‘I did a good job at that show.’ But for me it was a break I desperately needed and gave me time to reflect and time to plan. And that’s what got me here. I had never been to the West Coast before.”

He’s winding down his 62-day tour, which is 15 days longer than last year’s tour, which had been his longest ever. So he’s looking forward to getting back to Sweet Home Chicago and his wife Kristiana and their two sons, Kingston, 10, and Wylie, 8.

“Sept. 9 is the last stop,” Bailey said. “It’s been a long tour. It will be good to get home.”

Bailey’s seventh album – Sideshow – is in the works. “It will be out before the end of the year, come hell or high water,” he said.

Check out M.G. Bailey’s act and you’ll probably agree: This is no sideshow, it’s the main event.