Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Chicago Samba at Logan Square Auditorium



Sometimes you just have to push yourself to find something new.  Chicago Samba is a Samba group that plays around the city and has been making great sound for over twenty years.  Last Saturday, Chicago Samba took over Logan Auditorium for a night of dance and music while serving up caipirinhas.  The scene was relaxed, many people got up and did their favorite samba moves and I was content to snap away and take in a night of good music and dance.

#10 – Chicago’s Best Street Fest: West Fest



If you’ve ever been to Chicago in the summertime, you know our streets and calendars get stacked with an endless array of neighborhood street fests that combine local shopping, food and of course, live music. You’ll find West Fest in the second week of July between Wood and Damen on Chicago Avenue. Like most street fests, you’ll have to pay your $5 suggested donation that benefits the West Town Chamber of Commerce and roll through past the barricades to get your hand marked.

Once inside, you’re free to roam to the rock stage on one end or the DJ staged on the other. In between, you’ll find food vendors, boutiques, and even a few bar patios on the way east. An endless stream of people with dogs, kids, and friends inevitably means you will run into people (whether you want to or not). Most years I try to check out both stages and some of the vendors but this year I got to West Fest and the music was slammin’ so I just had to rush past all the vendors and check out @djjohnsimmons at the turntables.

I first heard John “Break It Down” Simmons at a Halloween party a few years back. I was sleepy and ready to go home but at about 3am, I heard the music kick it up three notches and had to get my dance on. I looked over and saw the wizard at work spinning the hot tracks and keeping people on their feet. The hardest working man in Chicago, you’ll find him spinning his craft all over the city on any given night.

West Fest

@SmallbarDst at West Fest

West Fest transcends your local neighborhood street fest, it is an experience and it is the city’s best street festival of the year. Why is West best so spectacular? Just like going to a great party, you know you’ll run into friends you hadn’t planned on seeing. Every year I run into friends I haven’t seen in ages and this year was no different. Another trend I’ve noticed the past few years at West Fest is that if my friends get too tired and all go home, all I have to do is walk twenty feet and I’ll run into another friend I didn’t expect to see! That’s when you know you and everybody else is in the right place and the right time.

@blucu hard at work

@blucu hard at work

There’s a simple rule with West Fest – when the sun goes down the crowds roll in and everyone is dancing! Some friends of mine booked early (ahem ahem @haterface @allaboutkelli @cassidycody @funnybunnytoes) and missed out on the best part of West Fest. As the crowds start gathering up, you best lock yourself a spot to either sit back and relax or get up and get your dance on. Luckily, I ran into some old friends and had a seat on the patio of Tecalitan.

West Fest Crowd

West Fest Crowd

With Chicago legend Derrick Carter bringing the people off the curb and onto the street to dance, I had to get off of the patio and make my way to the front. Using light taps to get my way through, I found the quickest path curbside wading through an endless sea of people and empty bottles of water. Pushing through, eventually I made it all the way to the front speaker at full blast. Knowing full well the price of getting to the front was going to be eating some decibels, I slicked my way across and got all the way to the front to see and hear one of Chicago’s world class DJ’s giving it all to the hometown faithful. Nothing says Chicago more than house music outdoors at the best street fest all year. Take it from @blucu:

Derrick Carter

Derrick Carter

More on the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam


One of the things I enjoy about The Chicago Bucket List is getting reader feedback and expanding my knowledge on Chicago. One reader has been kind enough to share his insights and give us a broader view of the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam and what it stands for:

“In 2004, approximately a dozen burners gathered one evening to celebrate a friend’s birthday who lived in the area, by having a pig roast and doing a little fire spinning. The local police arrived soon after…and once they realized we were good people who meant no harm, we were actually ENCOURAGED by the beat officers to return; at that time nobody went to the lakefront after dark, as that area was rather gang-infested. The police felt that such a fire jam would bring more people into the area, and discourage the gang activity. So, the decision was made to come back every full moon the weather would allow, and the Full Moon Fire Jams were off and running.  Ever since, the size of the jams have grown exponentially every year. What started out as a small group of twelve people has now grown into the jam you witnessed last week, with well over 700 people in attendance! 🙂

As the size of the jams has grown, so too have the organizational and safety efforts been stepped up – the caution tape and solar lights are a relatively new development. The overall “ethics” behind the Full Moon Fire Jams come directly from The Burning Man Festival in Nevada; namely:

radical self-expression
radical self-reliance
respect/protect the community
ask first
leave no trace.”

This reader has shed light on one of the most uniques events that you’ll get to see on the lakefront on full moons during the year. The Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam does not support the public consumption of alcohol and respectfully asks that any spectators leave all alcohol away from the Fire Jam. Being a lifelong Chicagoan, sometimes a mentality is developed that having a great time necessarily includes overexuberance, but I would have to agree here that drinking and breaking the law is not what the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam stands for. If you plan on attending the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam in June, please do not bring alcohol or any other contraband. After all, how would you feel if you were the one responsible for putting an end to this amazing display of skill and artistry?

#38 The Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam


Being on short rest and typing away at the laptop, I received a text message from a friend telling me that there was a full moon fire jam at Foster Beach from sunset to 10:30pm.

“What’s a fire jam?” I texted.

“Google it,” my friend fired back.

Googling it directed me to the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam website with a full calendar of fire jams for the remainder of the year. Pretty cool stuff, I remember the first time I witnessed fire spinners at a fundraiser organized by the Leftist Lounge where there were amazing bellydancers, capoeira performers, and fire spinners. I still remember that fundraiser since it was the best entertainment I’d seen in years and I think if you live in Chicago long enough, you’re going to run into fire spinners. Even with the precautionary safety measures taken by the fire spinners, from the outsider’s perspective, it always looks like someone’s going to loose grip and throw fire at you.

Given the spectacle and the fact that I hadn’t seen a friend since he packed for LA, I jumped at the opportunity despite severely short sleep and hopped on the bus. On the bus, there were people talking about the fire jam, but I found them to be a bit off kilter since they were missing a few teeth. They decided that they would wait ten minutes for the bus to round about from Foster and Broadway to Foster and Sheridan. I got off the bus and beat them to the lake, but didn’t see any fire jam.  Another friend decided to meet me down at Foster Beach and we started walking down the astroturfed soccer field. The flickering through the trees and the sound of drums was enough to let us know we were in the right place. Conveniently, someone had already put in the fire jam as a foursquare location and I checked in for an ungodly amount of points after my marathon day.

We walked into a crowd, and people were dancing to the beat of Djembes and trombone and trumpet. The fire constantly flickered from afar, but as we approached the flames transformed to giant arcs of instant combustion. Some people sat, others leaned closely to snap pictures and many a flash went off trying to capture every moment. Unlike most crowded venues and concerts, I had no hard time getting to the caution tape line that surrounded the fire spinners and was happy to not find stiff elbows as my reward. Some people brought their kids while others were in wheelchairs and the diversity of Chicago shined at the fire jam. In the distance, aspiring fire spinners took turns spinning hula hoops while still dancing.

Spinner after spinner lit their poles, bolos, and hoops and as quickly as the fire jam appeared, it was gone. Chants of, “Leave no trace!” filled the air and people picked up their garbage, bags, chairs, and started dispersing. The moon finally made its appearance over the treeline and the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam made a new fan. Next round about, I will make sure to bring others to indulge in the spectacle of highly skilled fire spinners.

Bonobo at the Metro


The stage is set for an awesome performance

Music more often than not is a gift, for those with more refined tastes for breakbeat and downtempo finding more music can be nothing less than a herculean labor. A while back some friends introduced me to this Bonobo – which also happens to be a species of chimpanzee that resolves conflict through sexual activity. My friend Leila from Johns Hopkins once declared, “I would give up my cat if it meant Bonobo could make more music.” With such fervor, I was persuaded to give check out Bonobo and over the years Bonobo has served as the de facto chill music of choice eliciting the, “Who is this?” response from people who have never heard the mysterious basslines and woodwinds at work.

Whenever I listen to breakbeat and downtempo I always think it is one guy spinning and mashing up four records and it’s always a great surprise to me when the entire entourage rolls out proficient in all manner of instruments. Front man Simon Green manned the bass most of the night, switching intermittently between the spinning and mixing and pounding the keyboard.

Looking like a Sith Lord straight out of Star Wars, Green manned the keyboard with proficiency sending the crowd in delight

I fought my way to the very front row during the beginning of the second opener, since I had an idea that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to get in the front politely after Bonobo took stage. If there’s one thing about general admission shows, it’s that I can’t stand not being in the front! I take that back – I refuse to be in the front when sweaty people in the front start taking their shirts off or if mosh pits materialize. Last night there was some guy in a backwards baseball cap and Hawaiian shirt celebrating his birthday and a girl sneaked into the front by offering him some marijuana. She later ended up giving the saxophonist the marijuana and I caught her later waiting by the trailers trying to get in. It was my first encounter with a groupie and I can’t say I respect that kind of perspective on being a music fan!