Why Riot Fest Is Still Chicago’s Best Music Festival

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It was touch and go there for a while, but Riot Fest did return this year, and it was another great one.

The daily schedules were not announced until about a week before the fest was to start due to a number of factors, including Blink 182’s late cancellation.

About a year ago, I posted here that Riot Fest is Chicago’s best music festival, and it remains so. 

My reasons for asserting that is basically the music is just better. Riot Fest highlights actual musicians playing and singing music that they have written, unlike some of the other fests in town.

This year was no different, with great sets from Elvis Costello, Blondie, and Johnny Marr, and a bucket list appearance (at least for me) by Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis, still tickling the ivories with the best of them.

The location at Douglas Park is a perfect setting. Plus, Riot Fest is a bargain.  You could buy a three-day ticket this year for less than $100. I am already looking forward to next year.

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A Musical Treasure Discovered

Image result for White Noise Bed album cover
I have too much music.  As problems go, I guess that’s not a bad problem to have.  CD’s sit unlistened to since I just don’t have enough time to get around to playing them.  I don’t have a lot of spare listening time between my regular job, preparation for my show,  and the multitude of TV shows that I try to keep up with before the DVR disc is full.

People send me lots of CD’s for my show, and I listen to as much as I can. That means there is little time in my life to listen to music for pleasure, so CD’s that I have bought usually go unlistened to for some time, usually until I have to check them out for an upcoming show feature.  Such was the case with Santah’s debut album “White Noise Bed.”

I saw Santah live in October of 2011 at The Cubby Bear in Chicago, opening for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (now knows as JR JR).  I must have enjoyed their set, since I bought a copy of “White Noise Bed”.  Here’s the thing:  If you give me your CD at a show, I am compelled to listen to it ASAP and play the songs that I like on the show.  However, if I buy your CD, it goes into the pile of “music not listened to”, and I will eventually get around to it and then play it on the show if I like it.

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50 Years Ago in 1968, Three Albums, Four Days

In a four-day period this week in 1968, from February 21st to February 24th, three classic albums were released.  Two were the debut releases of groups that would go on to much bigger things.  The third was a posthumous release of a recently departed soul icon.                                                                                                                               The first of the three albums, released on February 21st, 1968, was the debut album from Blood, Sweat & Tears, “Child Is Father To The Man”.   The brainchild of founder Al Kooper, Blood, Sweat & Tears was his next group after The Blues Project.  Al had long wanted to have horns as part of a rock band, and he was able to do just that with this band and album.  It’s a wonderful album, and ranks with the best work of Kooper’s long career.  Sadly, he was forced out of the band not long after it’s release, replaced by David Clayton-Thomas for their second album, “Blood, Sweat & Tears”, which was one of the biggest albums of the late 60’s, early 70’s era.            Blood,Sweat&TearsChildIsFathertotheMan.jpg                                                                                            Two days later, on February 23rd, 1968, Otis Redding’s album “Dock Of The Bay” was released.  Otis had died about 10 weeks earlier, in December of 1967.  In the meantime, the title cut had become a #1 hit in January.  The album was compiled by guitarist Steve Cropper from singles and b-sides dating back to 1965.  Of his posthumous releases, I don’t think it’s as good as “The Immortal Otis Redding”, but it does have some great work by the master of soul.  Otisdockofthebay.jpg               The next day, February 24th, 1968, saw the release of Fleetwood Mac’s debut, “Fleetwood Mac”.  This is not the later Fleetwood Mac of the mega-selling “Rumours”,etc. but the original band formed by Peter Green.  In fact, they were billed as “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac”.  It’s a good debut, featuring some of the best British blues rock of the time, and hinting at the later great work Green would do with the band, such as “Black Magic Woman” and the wonderful “Then Play On” album, containing his opus, “Oh Well”.  Interesting side note, “Fleetwood Mac” was the only Mac LP that does not include Christine McVie piano.  She contributed to the later Green releases and “Kiln House”, but was not a regular member until “Future Games”.      Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac (1968).jpg                                                                 So it was an interesting time in popular music, and I will be featuring all three albums on my show Monday, 12-2 PM CST at http://www.uicradio.org .  I hope you can join me!        

Welcome To My “Half Show”

As you may know, my show is now two hours long, after being four hours long for 17 years.  I have been doing the show since UIC Radio started in 2000.  On the longer show, I was able to feature five artists or albums every week.  With the two hour show, I have been featuring three artists or albums every week, and consequently, you hear fewer features and less music.  It was often hard to narrow the features down to five, so you can imagine having to cut it to three.  I will still try to feature those artists and albums that don’t get heard elsewhere as often as they should.  Next week is particularly tricky.  Just looking at birthdays alone, it’s the week that Neil Young, Gene Clark, and Jeff Buckley were born.  All three would normally be featured, but what if it’s the week that an important album was released 50 years ago in 1967?  You can see my dilemma.  Another consequence of the shorter show is less music from non-featured artists and albums.  Artists send me their CD’s from around the globe, and I hope you have enjoyed hearing them on the show.  There is less time to do that now, and I also have to play something from artists having notable birthdays, such as Johnny Rivers’ 75th, Greg Lake’s 70th, and Mose Allison’s 90th this week.  So I hope you will stay tuned, and continue to enjoy my now “half show”, Mondays from 12-2 PM CST at http://uicradio.org/ .  

That Time Bruce Released Two New Albums On The Same Day

Bruce Springsteen had released a double album before, 1980’s “The River”, pictured here.  So it wasn’t a foreign concept to the man.  25 year ago this week in 1992, in an almost unprecedented move, he released two new single albums, “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town”.  I say “almost unprecedented” because Guns N’ Roses had released two new albums, “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II” on the same day the previous year.  In Springsteen’s defense, his two albums were recorded almost a year apart, with “Human Touch” done in 1989-1991 and “Lucky Town” recorded later in 1991 into 1992.  So, unlike GNR, it wasn’t a way to make more money by selling two LP’s instead of a double album.  The original plan was to record an extra song for “Human Touch” so it could be released in 1991.  Instead, Springsteen ended up recording ten more songs, so he had a new album.  It had been almost four and a half years since his previous album, “Tunnel Of Love”, so his fans were hungry for new product.  It might not have been the best idea, but he released both albums on March 31, 1992.  Sales were not great, by his standards, and certainly not in the league of he GNR albums (both were certified 7x platium by the RIAA).  Of the two, “Human Touch” sold better, but “Lucky Town” was more popular with the critics.  A friend once told me the story of going to the record store when the albums were released with his Dad, who was a rabid Springsteen fan.  Even as a kid, he could tell how disappointed his Father was when they played the albums that day in the car.  That being said, there are good songs on both of them, so I will be featuring them on my show Monday, 12-4 PM CST at http://uicradio.org/ for their 25th anniversary this week.  I hope you can join me and I hope you will find some songs from the albums that you enjoy.SPRINGSTEEN_RIVER_5X5_site-500x500

Happy 50th Birthday, Kurt Cobain

images-1                                                                                                      Kurt Cobain would have turned 50 tomorrow.  As we all know, he passed away in April of 1994 at the age of 27.  He released four albums with Nirvana in just a little over four years, and they have certainly stood the test of time.  We can only imagine how much great work he might have done, had he decided to stay with us.  But would he have been the same artist without the pain and depression that drove him to shoot himself on that April day?   As Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”.  Perhaps.  But in appreciating Cobain’s genius, there is also that sadness that he just couldn’t keep it together, despite all of his success.   We will never know.  But attention must be paid, and I will be featuring his music on my show Monday, 12-4 PM CST at https://uicradio.wordpress.com/ .  I hope you can join me.  

“Harvest” at 45

Neil Young released his fourth album, “Harvest”, 45 years ago this week on February 1st, 1972.  It has become his most popular album and was the top-selling album in the US in 1972.  The album reached #1 on the US and UK charts, with two hit singles in the US, “Heart Of Gold” (#1) and “Old Man” (#31).  I think it’s a good album, but I wouldn’t say it is Young’s best.                                                                                                                                The album features guest appearances by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash on vocals, along with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor.  Taylor also added the banjo guitar (a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar) on “Old Man”.  It was recorded in Nashville, London, New York,  and at Young’s barn on his ranch in California.  One song, “The Needle and the Damage Done” was recorded at a live concert at UCLA.  Young’s backing band for much of the album, drummer Kenny Buttrey, bassist Tim Drummond (who supposedly was found by producer Elliot Mazer in Nashville “just walking down the street”) and pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith.  Keith’s work shines throughout the album.                                                                                                                             Young was said to be taken aback by the album’s success, and his famous quote is that the record  “put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”   Throughout his career, Young has continued to reinvent himself, never getting too comfortable with one style of music.   “Harvest” proved to be the one point in his life that his music struck a chord with the largest audience.   The album was not loved by the critics, and the Montreal Gazette called it “embarrassing” in places.  The same reviewer also thought that “Are You Ready For The Country” was the best track on the album, so we can take his review with a grain of salt.  Personally, I would say that is the worst track on the album.  In retrospect, reviews have been kinder, with Rolling Stone ranking the album in 2003 as as the 78th greatest album of all time.                                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3IA6pIVank                                                                                                                                 

What Do I Call him?

Okay, the Election is over and we have a new President-Elect, barring some miracle involving recounts or the Electoral College heeding Hamilton’s views that they are the last line of defense to prevent someone truly heinous from being President.  That leaves me with my quandary, what do I call the guy?  In my last blog, you may recall my Halloween warning about two of the scariest words ever, “President Trump”.  Unfortunately, not enough of you heeded my warning, and we are now in this predicament.  For just that reason, I can’t call him President Trump.  He will be the President, and as a resident of the USA, he will be my President, but I can’t bring myself to string those two words together.  There is a long tradition supporting how I feel.  FDR was our longest-serving President, and many Republicans just called him “that man in the White House”.  Nixon had the sad nickname “Tricky Dick”.                       I could just call him “Trump”, but where’s the fun in that?   I kinda like Trumpster, but that just doesn’t quite get it.  I have friends who call him “Cheeto Hitler” and “Mango Mussolini”, good ones, but not for me.  Jon Stewart has been calling him “F**kface von Clownstick” for some time, and that seems to bother Trump:       http://www.mediaite.com/tv/donald-trump-unleashes-fury-on-phony-jon-stewart-for-fkface-von-clownstick-nickname/

That bastion of great journalisn, The New York Daily News, did an entire article on Trump nicknames:  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cheeto-jesus-f-kface-von-clownstick-best-trump-nicknames-article-1.2747825

Continue reading “What Do I Call him?”

The Two Scariest Words You Will Hear This Halloween

Halloween is almost over, but I wanted to share what truly scares me this Autumn.   The two scariest words that I can imagine are “President Trump”.  We vote in one week for the candidate that will govern our country for the next four years.  We have two choices.  If you vote for anyone else, you are basically saying “this election isn’t important, and I don’t care what happens to my country”.  Your two choices are Hillary Clinton, a woman President Obama calls “the most qualified person to ever run for President”, or Donald J. Trump.  Mr. Trump has been shown to be a serial liar, a serial sexual predator, and a man facing at least two serious legal challenges after the election, civil cases involving fraud (Trump University) and a second case involving the rape of a 13 year-0ld girl.   So we have a choice between a candidate that is qualified to be President and a candidate that has been shown to be totally unworthy of the office.         It’s often said about Presidential elections that “this is the most important election of our lifetime” and that has become a bit of a cliche.  This year, however, it really is a choice that will affect the future of our nation and our planet.  I have voted in every Presidential election since I became eligible in 1972, and I have voted for the Democratic candidate in each election.  I have never regretted any of those votes, and feel that I made the right decision each time.  That being said, all of the Republican candidates in those elections, while I may have disagreed with their policies and later actions as President if they won,  were at least qualified to hold the office.  That is not the case with the candidate the Republicans have given us this year.  I ask that you please vote on November 8th, and vote for Hillary Clinton, a decent woman, and a person qualified to lead our country for the next four years.  

Why Riot Fest Is Chicago’s Best Music Fest

14466303_10210408976083673_979878473_oI was on vacation in Bari, Italy in 2012, when I received a special offer for tickets for a music festival here that I had never heard of, Riot Fest.  Apparently Riot Fest had been going on for a few years at the now-closed Congress Theater in Chicago for some time, but I had never heard of it, even though I am fairly familiar with the local music scene.  In 2012, the fest moved outside for the first time, with the first night at the Congress, and then Saturday and Sunday outside at Humboldt Park.  The offer was for the two days at Humboldt Park, with a lineup that included Elvis Costello and Iggy and the Stooges for only $39 a ticket.  It seemed too good to be true.  I would pay that much to see either of them alone, not to mention everyone else playing.  So I bought two tickets and had a great time.  Humboldt Park was a great location, compact and easy to get around.  And don’t forget, it’s “Riot Fest and Carnival”, so they brought in carny rides, etc. creating a fun atmosphere.                                                                                                              So why is Riot Fest Chicago’s best music fest?  It’s the music.  Yes, actual music with people playing instruments and singing songs they have written.  And the lineup is generally very good.  I go to Chicago’s other major music fests, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, and they have their good points, but for me, Riot Fest offers the best value in a great setting.  The citizens of Humboldt Park kicked the fest out after the 2014 fest, but the new location in Douglas Park is just as good, and certainly better than 2014, when Riot expanded and the logistics of getting around were impossible.  It has it’s problems, but I love Riot Fest and can’t wait to go back next September.