Northalsted Market Days
By Robert Rodi
There’s no denying the attraction of the big lakefront music festivals—Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, Jazz Fest and Blues Fest, Ruido and Riot Fest, yada yada yada—but I’ve got to confess a weakness for the smaller-scale festivals…the ones that offer a sense of community that’s at least as potent as the music. My recommendations are entirely subjective and personal; that said, I’m right about all of them, and you should trust me implicitly.
Square Roots Fest
All year long, you see musicians lugging instruments into and out of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square. Well, for three days in high summer, those players burst out into the open air and take over the entire block, including a significant chunk of Welles Park. The Square Roots festival hosts more than sixty acts on four stages, including jams, bluegrass, world music artists and other varieties of enchanting, inspiring performances that wouldn’t make it through the turnstile at the blockbuster venues. Long story short, it’s a festival for people who love making music as much as listening to it.
July 8, 9 and 10 on Lincoln between Montrose and Wilson Read the rest of this entry »
Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, R&B, Rap, Rock
By Keidra Chaney
Now is a decent time to get back into the live-music swing of things this winter, with upcoming album releases, the return of monthly live music events and more.
Definitely bring your earplugs to check out Chicago’s three-piece Lume when they come to Subterranean (2011 West North) on February 19 to celebrate the release of their album, “Perennial Phase.” (You can also preview and purchase the album on Bandcamp.) If you’re into brooding, rough slowcore then you’ll be into Lume; they combine fuzzy riffs, melodic, understated vocals and lush production. The seven-minute opus “Rattleback” is the new album’s centerpiece; it floats from an alternating loud-soft dichotomy to a dark, almost dreamy breakdown that builds up into a chaotic, feedback-laden outro. It’s a song that will definitely translate well live, since Lume has been known to bring an intensity to their stage shows that doesn’t always come through in recordings. Check them out on the heels of their Southern U.S. tour, with fellow feedback slingers Estates, Sough, Droughts as openers. Tickets are $7 and the show starts at 10pm. Read the rest of this entry »
JMSN/Photo: Cameron McCool
By Keidra Chaney
It’s that time of year again: the annual winter celebration of indie rock (and occasionally other genres) Tomorrow Never Knows, which takes place at Schubas, Lincoln Hall, Hideout and Metro on January 13-17. If you’re into indie, this is the event to tide you over into the summer festival season, and it’s a great opportunity to check out bands that are on the rise before they hit bigger stages. Here are my picks for bands to check out at TNK 2016. Read the rest of this entry »
By Craig Bechtel
The latter half of December may wind down with a whimper in terms of hip-hop happenings, but New Year’s Eve always offers a chance for the year to end with a bang; 2015 won’t be an exception.
If you’re still looking for the perfect gift to put under the tree (or menorah, cornucopia or metal pole) this year, your favorite hip-hop fan will love and/or find food for thought in “The Rap Year Book” by Shea Serrano, which features a foreword by the father of gangsta rap (and recent actual father) Ice-T. Rather than rank the best hip-hop tracks from 1979 to 2014, Serrano chooses the most important rap track from each year, defends his choice via an essay and has one of his favorite music writers rebut each choice in a 200-word sidebar. In a radio interview, Serrano pointed to 1980’s “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow as being important as the first track that features a chorus, and included Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” from 2005, despite his intense dislike for it. “The Rap Year Book”—a New York Times bestseller—was published in October by Harry N. Abrams. Read the rest of this entry »
Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn
By Dennis Polkow
When Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli first came up with the idea of devoting an entire concert to the music of Billy Strayhorn more than a decade ago, the first question was often, “Billy who?”
“It was for a gay chorus that I directed for eight years in Los Angeles,” recalls Rastrelli, “and they had a tradition of doing single composer concerts: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman. I wanted to move beyond doing composers that were obvious. I wanted to challenge the chorus and the community with things they didn’t know, specifically jazz, and especially a black composer who was out and gay at a time when that was not at all typical.”
Strayhorn is best known for his near thirty-year association with Duke Ellington, from the time they met in 1938 until Strayhorn’s early death from cancer in 1967 at the age of fifty-one. Often given direct credit, sometimes not, Strayhorn is estimated to have composed and arranged some forty percent of the entire Ellington catalogue and was, as Ellington himself put it in his autobiography, “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” Read the rest of this entry »
This is Billy Strayhorn’s centenary, and it’s been heartening to see so much attention paid to a songwriter whose gifts are almost in inverse proportion to his fame—i.e. the former stratospheric, the latter microscopic. Part of the problem is that Strayhorn is so closely associated with Duke Ellington, who was one of the more flamboyantly extrovert of the past century’s geniuses. Another part is that Strayhorn himself was quite happy to reside in Ellington’s shadow. The result is that today people are surprised to learn that tunes indelibly associated with Ellington—such as “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”—are in fact Strayhorn’s compositions. It’s hard for us to think of them in a new way; they’re so bonded to our DNA. Read the rest of this entry »
By Gail Dee
The seventeenth World Music Festival Chicago continues through September 22. The city’s free annual cultural blood transfusion, which began on September 11, presents fifty artists from twenty-six countries with over sixty performances taking place at fifteen venues.
The “O.M.G. did you see?” of the entire festival is certain to be the long-awaited Chicago debut of the intense Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagaq (September 19 at Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago) performing a searing live soundtrack to the 1922 silent film “Nanook of the North.” It’s her sole performance in the festival. Like Dakha Brakha in 2013, this is an artist you won’t soon forget. Don’t come expecting a lyrical, meditative musical experience; her intention is to express herself without restraint, and she can be sonically shocking. Most of her shows are improvised, though this performance does have a score (written by a composer Derek Charke). Read the rest of this entry »
By Gail Dee
The seventeenth annual World Music Festival Chicago hits town September 11-22, bringing musical adventures from across the globe. It’s the largest festival of its kind in the U.S., yet appallingly many Chicagoans have never heard of it; you can help spread the word. Completely free to the public since 2012, this cultural feast is absolutely no risk—enjoy just a nibble or consume the whole bounty. This year there are more than fifty different artists from twenty-six countries represented in sixty performances.
Unlike other festivals produced by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, WMF is spread out among eighteen different venues, including Martyrs’, Mayne Stage, City Winery, Chicago Cultural Center, Old Town School of Folk Music, The Promontory, Museum of Contemporary Art and Jay Pritzker Pavilion. You can pick up a printed schedule or check it out online. This year the city is also experimenting with a new phone app called Eventfest, to help you navigate the various performances. Some venues—like Mayne Stage and Old Town School—allow you to reserve tickets; I highly recommend this for the only performance by Manitoba artist Tanya Tagaq, which complements a screening of the 1922 silent film “Nanook of the North” on September 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 East Chicago); it will definitely sell out. Read the rest of this entry »
Frank Sinatra Jr.
By Dennis Polkow
“There is a lot of traffic out there in this kind of show for this year,” admits Frank Sinatra Jr. on the myriad of Sinatra salutes happening throughout 2015, the centennial of his father’s birth. “Many, many people have taken it upon themselves to do this kind of thing. They can, of course, recreate the music. But because this is the one-hundredth anniversary, I felt it was very important that people also learn something about the individual.
“We’re no longer talking about a man who is a famous performer, a famous movie star. Now we’re talking about somebody who is being time-honored with a century of recognition. For that reason, I think it’s time to know that person. We already know his accomplishments, now let’s concentrate on the person.”
From the beginning of his own career some fifty years ago, Frank Jr. always performed “at least a song or two of Sinatra,” as he calls the public figure, “but I worked hard to have my own identity.” Read the rest of this entry »
Jazz Fest ambles into town the first weekend of September, and as usual there’s a sense of having waited for the larger and noisier summer festivals to yield the lakefront in exhaustion, so that the grownups can move in and get down to the serious business of making serious music. Among the many highlights will be Friday’s appearance by composer/pianist Fred Hersch, whose latest CD release is a solo outing (entitled, rather unenterprisingly, “Solo”) that’s garnering ecstatic reviews from the cognoscenti. But for Jazz Fest he’ll be heading up his trio, which includes bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Read the rest of this entry »