Big Cities Lounge Celebrates 22 years

With a host of customers, friends and musicians, Big Cities Lounge celebrated its 22nd year of bringing live music to Rockford Sept. 27.

The weekly blues show, hosted by Bob Levis and Dave Kaye of the Barstool Bob Blues Band, quickly turned into an all-star jam session. Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos was even able to wrangle up his former bandmate Jon Brandt and guitarist Mark Willer for several tunes. Beginning as a three-piece effort, the set was added to with the harmonica works of Teddy “T-Bone” Lawrence and guitarist J.F. Gaziano.

According to Big Cities owner Nino Gardona, having Carlos and Brandt in the house reminded him of the days when members of Cheap Trick could be seen on his stage on a regular basis.

“I remember when Rick (Nielsen) and (Pistol) Pete were jamming one night. They really got into it, and Rick raised his guitar up and poked the headstock right through the ceiling tile,” Gardona laughed. “I think the hole is still there.”

Drummer Bob Salamone, who had been waiting to bring his custom-built Ludwig kit out of storage for the Big Cities party, also jammed with Brandt and Willer, resulting in a set by the entire Mark Willer band. Salamone and his wife, Amy, also surprised Gardona with an anniversary cake.

Known for its quaint seating area and intimate stage, Big Cities Lounge is known to many as one of the best venues in the area to see live music. Tommy Manson of Rockford said he’s been on hand for many memorable shows at the downtown club.

Manson said: “I have seen Maynard Ferguson here, Studebaker John—many of the greats. There’s not a bad seat in the house. Nino does a great job.”

To patrons who enter Big Cities for the first time, it may seem as if they are walking into a dark cellar. Typical of a blues bar, the dimly-lit club is filled with music memorabilia. The once bare walls are covered with posters and autographed photographs of musicians who have played the bar and whom Gardona has met over the years.

The club’s list of past performers is quite extensive and is something Gardona says he’s proud of.

“When you think of who’s played here, it’s quite amazing. I have had national and international acts here—Joanna Connor, Moose, Duke (Tumatoe) to name a few. Even guys like (Steve) Ditzell and Pistol Pete have been all over the world,” Gardona said.

Gardona says he will keep the club going for as long as people keep supporting his effort. He also laughed at how he felt 22 years have gone by so quickly.

Gardona said: “1984 seems like a long time ago, but, then again, it doesn’t. But if you really think about it, the early to mid-’90s seem like ages ago. It seems like only yesterday that my dad (Frank Gardona) was at the door collecting money and checking IDs.”

California bluesman Chris Cain will help Big Cities continue its trend this month. Cain will take the stage Friday, Oct. 20. Other October shows include Pistol Pete, who got his Rockford start at Big Cities, Johnny & The Boomers and Lucky Peterson.

Big Cities is at 905 E. State St., Rockford, and offers live music at least four days a week. More info about the club can be found at or by calling 965-6026.

From the Oct. 4-10, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!