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Carnival owner, Dan Driskill, finds therapy through his musical talents


By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of Maiden Chicago

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Dan Driskill engages in heavy metal at both of his jobs. The full-time carnival owner has a side gig as the drummer in an Iron Maiden tribute band.

Maiden Chicago, the name of the group that calls Chicago home, has performed for the past six years in clubs across Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. Driskill, co-owner of D&J Amusements, pounds the skins on 11-piece customized Ludwig drum kit. It adds up to $15,000 worth of equipment.

The investment is worth it for Driskill. Everybody in the carnival industry knows the demands of operating an outdoor business largely dependent on the weather. Indoors, in the glare of stage lights, it's a different story. Driskill finds the relief he needs behind the massive drum set at a Maiden Chicago show.

"It's a huge outletPhoto By Maiden Chicago for me apart from the stress of running the carnival," Driskill said. "It's therapeutic."

Driskill, whose family ran the old Spectacular Midways for many years, has played drums since he was 9 years old. 

"Ever since I could reach the pedals," he said. "I played on and off for fun all through school. For a stretch of about eight years, I didn't play because we were always on the road with the carnival. I realized how much much I missed it."

It's a labor of love for Driskill and his four bandmates, lead singer Bill Swanson, bass player Gary Igram and guitarists Al Contreras and Mike Zatezalo. They're all heavy metal fanatics. On his own, Driskill grew up listening to Judas Priest, KISS, and of course, Iron Maiden, a band formed in London in 1975. 

Maiden Chicago was launched after Eric Babcock, the band's co-founder, posted a message on Facebook stating his interest in starting an Iron Maiden tribute act. One thing led to another and "five guys who didn't know each other" started the band, Driskill said.

Babcock left the band in 2012 to join Damaged Justice, a Metallica tribute group. Ralph Circelli, another Maiden Chicago original, now performs in a band called Color Me Dead that plays original music.

The five current members of Maiden Chicago practice once a week at Driskill's house in Bourbonnais, Ill. Driskill has a soundproof studio set up in his basement. The others come from as far as Lombard and Carpentersville in Chicago's western suburbs to get to Driskill's house in the far south suburbs.

The pay isn't great, according to Driskill. The band receives between $800 and $1,200 per show depending on the venue. "After it's split between five guys and we pay for hauling the equipment, we're in the hole," he said. "We do it because we enjoy it, and that's why we have other careers. We want to have fun."
There have been a few moments of glory for Maiden Chicago. In June 2015, the group opened for national act Jackyl during Throttle Fest, a biker event in Grayslake, Ill. 

Jackyl is known for a hit song called "The Lumberjack," and those who have seen the band live know that lead singer Jesse James Dupree wields a chainsaw during the performance of that particular tune.

Otherwise, the carnival season effectively restricts Maiden Chicago's performance schedule. The band plays about one show a month over the summer before expanding to a steady stream of weekend dates in the offseason. 

Maiden Chicago has a website and a YouTube channel. One upcoming date is Aug. 27 at JJ Kelley's in Lansing, Ill.  Bang your head.

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