Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

A Neighborhood Celebration of Sound: A Preview of the Englewood Jazz Festival

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »
Ernest Dawkins

Ernest Dawkins

By Corey Hall

For fifteen consecutive years, Englewood resident Ernest Dawkins has coordinated a free, six-hour outdoor celebration of sound as a contribution to his community. This celebration, officially called the Englewood Jazz Festival, is sponsored by the Live the Spirit Residency, a nonprofit organization Dawkins founded in 2006. He presented the first three Englewood Jazz Festivals through a grant from nonprofit Meet the Composer (now called New Music USA) and, when this grant ended, Dawkins supported the next three festivals with his own funds before establishing Live the Spirit.

“This community has multiple economic difficulties and has been ignored by the arts community for too long,” Dawkins said in a recent conversation. “I did this festival to try and institutionalize the music and arts in this underserved community and, in the future, I plan to branch out to Roseland or the West Side. I want this to get bigger.” Read the rest of this entry »

Still Punk and political: A Conversation with Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

Festivals, Punk No Comments »

stifflittlefingers
By Bart Lazar

Stiff Little Fingers is a punk band originally from Belfast, Ireland that has been around since the second  UK punk wave—they formed just six months after the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned.  Some of SLF’s best known work—”Tin Soldiers,” “Nobody’s Hero” and “Alternative Ulster”—-contains lyrics that hate hate:  advocating against war, violence, oppression, racial prejudice and class hatred.  Stiff Little Fingers’ influence lives on in more commercially successful descendants such as Green Day, The Offspring and Bad Religion.

Today, the band still exists with two of its four original members and recently released “No Going Back,” its first album in eleven years. The album just hit the charts in the UK at number fourteen, the band’s best performing material since the early eighties.

Jake Burns, the original snarling/shouting lead singer is now a Chicagoan–making the band twenty-five-percent local.  He discussed  the band’s history, relevance today and playing at Riot Fest in a recent interview.

How would you describe SLF to someone who is going to Riot Fest, and has never heard of you or your music?
We are a punk band that’s been doing it for thirty-seven years. We have always tried to play music that entertains, but means something in terms of social commentary.  Sometimes we are called a “Political” band, but I would say “political” with a small “p.” Certainly, we don’t play a lot of love songs.

Have the driving themes of your music changed over the years?
The themes we focus on—class distinctions, caring for one another, racism—are consistent. Those are the things that concern me most and those are the things that we can change. We can’t cure cancer. We live in America, where there are people sleeping in cardboard boxes. They are all things that offend my sense of justice. This is fixable!

Are you more optimistic about the world than you were back in 1978?
I don’t think so to be honest. People really are polarized. People that have things want to hold on to them.The “Greed is Good” mentality has come back again. That kind of selfishness is pretty dismaying.

You have seen touring bands that you influenced—Green Day, Offspring, Pennywise and Bad Religion. How does that feel?
It is very flattering. Green Day had us open their tour in Australia, and it was amazing to see them standing on the side of the stage watching our whole show. One of the guys from Pennywise told us he got his first fake ID so he could get into one of our shows. That’s some kind of influence.

What can old punks teach new generations?
When we started, the music was seen as outside of the mainstream, sort of “rebel” music, and we were not all about pleasing the public or selling anything.  Now punk rock, for better than not, has become part of the entertainment industry. And most “punk rockers” today are more about making party songs. At the end of the day, we are there to entertain people, we are not university lecturers—ultimately. But we can show people that the words are more important and older punks are not shy about saying things.

What can you say about the longevity of punk rock?
As the Clash said in “Complete Control” about what was said about punk and them—”They Ain’t Gonna Last.” One truism we’ve discovered is that it [punk] never goes away. Punk rock really does seem to be a life choice. It’s not just another t-shirt. You are buying a whole set of principles, and after you get past the outward appearances, I have found “punks” to be some of the most honest, gentle, solid, nice and polite people you will ever meet.

With a new record out, at Riotfest should we expect to hear the new album or your punk standards?
Riot Fest is one of the best festivals, and I am glad to play again before a hometown crowd. Because it is a festival it is more of a celebration, sets are shorter and although some may have come to see us, people are not necessarily coming only to hear us play and some may not even be aware of us at all—so it is not the platform to play the new record. We may play one new song, but we will focus on the Riot Fest theme and play more of our older material.

Stiff Little Fingers performs at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park and an aftershow with Cock Sparrer at Concord Hall at 9:30pm on Friday September 12.

Preview: Vieux Farka Toure/Chicago World Music Festival

Afrobeat, Blues, Festivals, Genre, World Music No Comments »

Vieux_Farka_Touré

RECOMMENDED

This Malian guitarist, singer and songwriter has long crept out of the shadow of his father, the late, great Ali Farka Toure, kicking off his international career shortly before his father’s passing with the release of his self-titled album (World Village) in 2007. The album was recorded with his father’s participation and blessings, even though at first he wasn’t too happy about his son embarking onto the uncertainties of a musical career.

From there, the recognition was almost immediate—that same year, he appeared in key stages in North America that gave him wide exposure, and that culminated in his participation in the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg alongside the likes of Shakira and Alicia Keys. He has since released two solo records. 2008’s excellent “The Secret” featured contributions from Derek Trucks and Dave Matthews. He is currently working on his side project Toure-Reichel Collective, a collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Reichel while also working on his own solo material. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: AV Fest and Hideout Block Party

Chicago Artists, Festivals No Comments »
Photo: Jason Creps

The Handsome Family/Photo: Jason Creps

RECOMMENDED

Between Pitchfork, Lolla, North Coast, and Riot Fest— not to mention all of the neighborhood festivals in between them all—Chicago has become Music Fest Central. As a result, the AV Fest/Hideout Block Party has gotten somewhat lost in the crowd in the past few years, despite a consistently solid lineup. These days the now-unified festival (Hideout and Onion’s A.V. Club joined festival forces back in 2012) has assumed more of a local fest identity, rather than a festival with national or international aspirations. Its local feel is far from a demotion, however, with national acts like Death Cab For Cutie, The War on Drugs, and Dismemberment Plan headlining. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Miguel Zenon/Chicago Jazz Festival

Festivals, Jazz, Latin No Comments »

zenonquartet

RECOMMENDED

Though a longtime resident of the East Coast, saxophonist, professor and bandleader Miguel Zenón never quite let go of the rhythms of his native Puerto Rico, and often incorporates their sounds from a contemporary jazz point of view. Over a decade working as a bandleader (he has done side work with the likes of Edsel Gomez, Brian Lynch and Edmar Castañeda) with his quartet, he has explored and experimented with various rhythms and grooves and developed them as a fodder for free improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lollapalooza: A Guide to Navigating the Festival, Even if You’re Not Going

Festivals No Comments »
Photo: Ashley Garmon

Photo: Ashley Garmon

Though I’d popped in and out of past versions of Lollapalooza thanks to press credentials, last summer’s edition was my first immersion in all three days of this singular sensation. Thanks, I’m sure, in no small part to the best weather the festival’s ever enjoyed and my convenient proximity to Grant Park from my Printers Row home, I had far more fun than my post-post-rock bones had any right to. As befitting a festival with far more musical variety and conflicting options than any one brain can process, we’ve asked a half dozen music writers to share their strategy for the weekend so that you either align yourself with the one who seems to speak your language, or pick and choose, which is what I’ll be doing. Here’s a few more things I expect to do, based on last year. Go early: sure you’re not dying to see the openers, but the best time of the day at Lolla is shortly after the gates open. Crowds are light, attitudes are chill (and mostly sober) and, if you sprawl out over a nice patch of grass, you’ll enjoy a beautiful afternoon in the park. Not to mention a chance to shop the vendors of Green Street (of which Newcity is a partner; see our guide after this section) or check out the progressive charities on site. Challenge yourself: This is not the place to hunt dinosaurs (we have Riot Fest for that), but to discover and enjoy the essence of newness, the once-driving spirit of rock music itself. Think old-school: Lolla started in 1991 and mobile phones and texting seem to work as well as they did back then: not at all. Be flexible: there are two main ends of the festival (north and south), and it can be a hike to get to and from shows at both ends. Unless you really really want to see someone at the other end, you might have more fun just parking at one end for the day. Don’t sweat the headliners, unless you really really must see them. The shows at night demand an early “campout” strategy if you want any chance to see the stage. If a closing act’s your passion, shape your day that way and pitch a tent. But if it’s not, you’ll enjoy a day of freedom and discovery and… summer. (Brian Hieggelke)

My Lolla: B. David Zarley
My Lolla: Craig Bechtel
My Lolla: Eric Lutz
My Lolla: John Wilmes
My Lolla: Keidra Chaney
My Lolla: Kenneth Preski
My Lolla: Reilly Gill

My Lolla: Craig Bechtel

Festivals No Comments »
Bomba Estéreo

Bomba Estéreo

True, this year’s Lollapalooza is yet another chapter in the continual poppification of the “alternative rock” landscape, and the headliners bring to mind the clichéd phrase “been there, done that,” but like every year, there are a few quality acts that provide some tough choices to make. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Eric Lutz

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Nas

Nas

I’m not huge into Lollapalooza. That might be a weird thing to admit in an issue that’s, you know, about Lollapalooza, but it’s true. It’s too expensive, the lineup is basically the same as every other big-name festival in the country, and—despite being in-shape and good at dressing for the weather—I seem to sweat way more than the average person. But, if there’s one thing I do like about Lolla, it’s the choices it forces you to make. Though innocuous on the surface, these questions actually make you consider deep questions about what’s important to you about culture. In 2011, I chose to see Lady Gaga instead of The Strokes. Gaga was the biggest thing in music that year, and though The Strokes are one of my all-time favorite bands, it seemed somehow more important to see the Fame Monster in her moment. I don’t have enough space to try and unpack the psychology behind this decision, but suffice it to say, I really kind of regret this now. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: John Wilmes

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Skrillex

Skrillex

I am a loner and a voyeur who attends music festivals like Lollapalooza as a sort of out-of-body experience—the spectacle of them is the drug itself. I typically cling to music because of the company it gives me when I’m alone, so sharing it with tens of thousands of others at once is a startling thing. I must leave my precious head to do it; I laugh and laugh, apropos of very little, when I walk Grant Park’s ever-popular grasses, taking things in as a speck in the crowd, not as the performance’s sole addressee I usually treat myself as. Join me as I become a citizen of the hearing world for a weekend. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Kenneth Preski

Festivals No Comments »
School of Rock

School of Rock

Whether you’re drinking Bud Light at the Samsung Galaxy stage, or checking your Samsung Galaxy phone at the Bud Light stage, Lollapalooza always offers the best in alternative-to-the-mainstream music, just like the festival has since the nineties! Read the rest of this entry »