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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

‘Still Here’ after 20 years: Chicago Farmer kicks off milestone Midwest tour at the Castle

Four guys stand around a pool table, smiling and laughing
Courtesy of
Chicago Farmer
Chicago Farmer & the Fieldnotes will play the Castle Theatre at the front end of a 14-city tour. Frontman Cody Diekhoff (second from left) spent more than 15 years on the road as a solo artist before forming the band.

Cody Diekhoff settled on the dichotomous musical moniker of Chicago Farmer a couple decades ago and has stuck with it. The Delavan native now calls Bloomington home, but he has spent most of his career on American highways as a travelling troubadour.

Chicago Farmer & the Fieldnotes celebrate 20 years of music making with a set at the Castle Theatre on Friday night.

Diekhoff says he feels the gravitational pull of both the country and the city.

“Whenever I was living in Chicago, I really longed for the gravel roads of my small town and to know everybody. Then I’d get back there, and I’d be like, OK, I’m ready to go back and get back into the thick of things in the city,” he said. “I fell in love with them both. Central Illinois just felt like more of my home.”

Diekhoff and his contemporaries are early adopters of a quintessentially central Illinois sound blending folk, rock, Americana and country music. Chicago folk music legend John Prine is a key influence in Chicago Farmer’s tone, with images of Diekhoff’s rural upbringing and time living in Chicago making appearances throughout his catalog.

“It all started with folk music for me,” Diekhoff said. “That’s just expressing your surroundings. Not only the people but also the environment. It has a vibe of our area. If we’re putting that out, I guess we’re doing our jobs.”

Decades on, the back roads of Delavan and Diekhoff’s centenarian grandparents continue to provide inspiration.

“When I was in high school in my town of 1,700 people, what we would do for fun is drive around,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll go back to my hometown and cruise around the old streets. Immediately, stuff just starts to flow.”

Music careers are built on compromises and wagers. By choosing to stay in Illinois, Diekhoff traded a sustainable, affordable path for the big city breakthrough many artists crave.

“I’ve stayed here because it’s home,” he said. “After 20 years, I’ve been able to travel all over, from Alaska to Key West and everywhere in between. I’m still doing it and more people keep coming. It’s been a slow burn; that’s for sure.”

Chicago Farmer & the Fieldnotes play Friday at the Castle Theatre, 209 E. Washington St., Bloomington. Doors open at 7 p.m. followed by an opening set by Wisconsin band Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. Tickets are $20 at thecastletheatre.com.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.