Dan Mahoney and Dan Ulbricht
Co-Owners, Fort Knox Studios/2112 Chicago
Two years after our cover story on Fort Knox, the studio complex that bills itself as “The Largest Music Ecosystem On Earth” continues to offer state-of-the-art rehearsal space to bands and ensembles, with amenities, services and accommodations, including 24/7 access. Meanwhile, 2112 Chicago, which shares the expansive compound in Old Irving Park, functions as a comprehensive music incubator, providing office space, seminars and legal services to music professionals, including young people exploring careers in the industry.
Owner, Bloodshot Records
Since Nan Warshaw’s leave of absence, Rob Miller has been minding the store at the longtime indie label. He says while the music industry “continues to spasm and sputter and look for the next ‘answer’ and the next big thing,” at Bloodshot they “show up, wear the love of our artists on our rolled-up sleeves and plug away.” Miller highlights recent releases including a “killer Delta blues” album by Denver’s the Yawpers; the Bloodshot debut from Vandoliers, the “Texas country punks with a mariachi twist”; a “remarkable album” by Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers and “the best Mekons record in twenty years.” He’s looking forward to the debut from Jason Hawk Harris, who floored SXSW audiences this spring, as well as special releases coinciding with Bloodshot’s twenty-fifth anniversary.
Max Wagner and Eduardo Calvillo
Co-Founders, Ruido Fest
Max Wagner, owner of Metronome, and Eduardo Calvillo, host of the Latin alternative radio show “Rock Sin Anestesia,” were part of the four-pronged coalition—which included John Barry of StarEvents and Riot Fest’s Mike Petryshyn—who in 2015 launched a Latin-themed festival in Pilsen’s Addams/Medill Park. This year—Ruido Fest’s fifth—the event moved to the more accommodating Union Park, the site of other multi-day festivals including Pitchfork and North Coast. Ruido Fest expanded to fifty acts, up from forty in 2018, that range across genres and represent a broad coalition of countries, including Enanitos Verdes (Argentina), Diamante Eléctrico (Colombia), Fobia (Mexico) and Hombres G (Spain).
Host, “The Morning Amp,” Vocalo
Jill Hopkins describes her show (weekdays, 8-10am on Vocalo Radio, 91.1 FM), as “the first urban alternative station in the country focused on hip-hop and R&B,” while also playing dance, house, and local indie rock. Hopkins, a native Chicagoan, says “the local part is what makes our station so special,” and given that her hometown is “in the middle of a cultural and artistic renaissance, [it’s] a singular joy to be immersed in the music that makes this city tick, across all genres.” She also hosts StorySLAMS for The Moth, writes for the A.V. Club, contributes to The Paper Machete live magazine and performs as a comedic essayist and storyteller. She recently co-produced “Do Re #MeToo” at Metro with Lizz Winstead’s Lady Parts Justice League (since renamed Abortion Access Force), which included performances of vintage songs with problematic lyrics, as sung by herself and other feminists.
Lawrence A. Johnson
Founder, Chicago Classical Review and American Music Project
Known for its depth, critical chops and comprehensiveness, the Chicago Classical Review is a nerve center for serious, insider-driven classical music coverage. In April of this year, Lawrence A. Johnson received international attention for his column on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike, which sparked lively discourse on the site and caused some even to claim that it helped bring about its end. Beyond the world of media, Johnson has made tangible contributions to classical music itself through his American Music Project, which commissions new American works. Johnson’s publication continues to expand past the local scene, hosting sites for other cities across the country.
Music Director, Chicago Opera Theater
The figures most associated with Chicago Opera Theater across its forty-five-year history have been male impresarios such as founder Alan Stone and Brian Dickie. With the 2017 appointment of Lidiya Yankovskaya as COT music director, a conductor is the face of the institution and, in fact, the only female music director of a major American opera company. None of that would mean much if the Russian-born Yankovskaya couldn’t deliver the goods. But after only a single season in her new role, her musical presence has revitalized a company that had become a shadow of itself. The Chicago premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick” in April was a major event, in no small part because of Yankovskaya’s elucidation of the score. Russian operas are also a specialty, and the Chicago premiere of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” was no less revelatory.
Host, “Reclaimed Soul,” Vocalo
Ayana Contreras is a DJ, Chicago music historian and sound artist whose all-vinyl radio show, “Reclaimed Soul,” runs on WBEZ and Vocalo; she also serves as a producer on “Sound Opinions.” She says her work is “centered on uplifting and celebrating the cultural riches of the community around me, both what’s on the surface and what’s in the basement.” As a DJ, she’s shared the stage with artists from Roy Ayers to Makaya McCraven and spins on Monday mornings at Theaster Gates’ 95th Street Red Line DJ booth, “An Extended Song of Our People.” Contreras was a 2014-15 Arts + Public Life artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago and a 2015 Association of Independents in Radio New Voices Scholar. Her first hosting gig was WBEZ’s “Global Overnight” program in 2007. Her book on the power of post-civil rights-movement black Chicago media, called “Energy Never Dies,” is forthcoming through Northwestern University Press.
Chair, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Members Committee
Steve Lester has been playing unassumingly in the back of the double bass section of the CSO since 1978, back when Sir Georg Solti was music director. But in his other role, as union chair, Lester has been a visible and valiant spokesman for musicians’ rights, particularly during the recent seven-week CSO strike. It was Lester who was the public face of the players at press conferences and free neighborhood concerts, yet was planning strategies behind the scenes and diligently working the trenches of the negotiating table. Although future CSO members will no longer have a defined pension benefit, at least current vested members keep theirs thanks to Lester’s persistence and leadership. Additionally, a downward salary trend was reversed in the current contract.
Executive Director, Music of the Baroque
Declan McGovern came to Music of the Baroque in summer 2017, after helming the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Classical Review critic Lawrence A. Johnson says that McGovern’s “low-key style doesn’t grab the spotlight, but the Irish-born chief of Music of the Baroque is raising the venerable Baroque ensemble’s profile as well as ticket sales to new levels. McGovern also seems to be quietly making the right moves behind the scenes to ensure a bright future for MOB in the post-Jane Glover era.”
Executive Director, Hyde Park Jazz Festival
Kate Dumbleton’s full-time gig may be associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but her resume is as impressive in the performing arts as in the visual. Before joining Hyde Park Jazz Festival in 2012, she was executive director of the critically acclaimed Chicago Jazz Ensemble at Columbia College. Her work in jazz, in fact, spans more than two decades. At Hyde Park, her initiatives include commissioning new works, currently by Angel Bat Dawid and Isaiah Collier, and “new programs with storytelling that I have not yet announced.” Beyond the festival itself, she last year launched Back Alley Jazz in South Shore, which she describes as “a reimagining of the sixties and seventies informal jazz jams neighborhoods on the South Side had in the alleyways. It was amazing!”
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena.” His jazz quintet recently completed a two-year residency at Uncommon Ground, and he regularly hosts a jazz singers’ jam at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge. His literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.