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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chicago native Haroula Rose to return home for dream gig at Schubas



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood, it has been the dream of Haroula Rose to perform in the intimate, fan-friendly confines of Schubas Tavern in Chicago.

That dream will come true on April 8 when she opens for Chicago/Nashville musician Andrew Belle as part of a sold-out show at Schubas.

Rose, www.haroularose.bandcamp.com, is touring in support of her self-released debut album, "These Open Roads," produced by Andy Lemaster, who has worked with the likes of Bright Eyes, R.E.M. and Conor Oberst.

I had the chance to talk to Rose about her upcoming hometown show and her latest activities.

Q - So you are going to perform at Schubas. That's a great place to see a show. That's one of the most fan-friendly venues around.

Oh my God, I know. I remember seeing Mason Jennings play there back in 2000 and 2001, and he's one of my favorite songwriters ever. I remember thinking to myself, "I want to play at Schubas someday."

So this is a weird dream come true kind of situation. This is the first time I have ever played there, and I'm so excited.

Q - And of course, you cover one of his songs on the album, "Duluth."

Yeah, so it's just a trip. I remember 10 years ago I requested he play that song, and he played it, and now it's on my record.




Q - How long have you lived in Los Angeles? Was it just a career move?

I've lived there for about three years. I had come to L.A. to work at a film production company to see what it was like to work on a film set.

I used to do music for TV and commercials. I met all these filmmakers, and I thought that I might want to try that or see what it was like.

I was only there for six months when I got this really cool grant to live in Spain. I stayed there for almost two years. It was really an amazing experience.

Q - How do you like living in L.A.? Has it been good for your career?

I think so. I feel like there are so many creative people around you, so it's really nice to have that kind of community.

I guess since I grew up in Chicago, I always felt I needed to leave, at least for a little while, so I could eventually go back there at some point, or make another album there.

My whole family is there, so I miss it.

Q - There's a lot of heavy hitting musicians on this album. How did you assemble this band?

From being in Los Angeles and just meeting different musicians, you kind of do meet the best of the best.

Everyone is so creative and collaborative, so it's not unheard of just to run into someone whose played with some amazing people.

Orenda Fink (from Azure Ray, O+S and Art In Manila) is a friend of mine, so she came down and sang on it. She is actually the one who introduced me to the producer, Andy Lemaster.

One of the songs, "Free To Be Me," we finished up in Chicago, actually. I used to work in a recording studio there, and they were cool enough to let me come in and record vocals and mandolin on that song there.



Q - What goals did you have for the album?


I wanted it to sound like me, and I wanted it to be really organic and not sound overly produced.

Q - You've probably heard your music labeled in a variety of ways, such as roots rock, or folk, or alternative country. How do you view your own music?

It is hard to say one label in particular, because a couple of the songs do have a more Americana kind of vibe, or alt-country. I love that music. 

Other ones seem more folky, maybe a little mellower. Since it was my first full-length record, I wanted to experiment with the different hats I do wear.

I didn't want it to be all one vibe necessarily, because the songs I write don't fit in one label.

Q - That's one of the reasons I like the album. There are so many different textures on it. It's not a one note album by any means.

That was definitely a goal of mine, so thanks, I'm really glad to hear that.

Q - You were talking earlier about your stay in Spain. What do you think living and working in Spain did for your songwriting?

It's really an amazing experience in life to be able to go someplace where you can totally make it your own.

I didn't know anybody there. I didn't know the language or anything. And that was really intimidating, but also liberating.

There was the most amazing art in Spain. I loved the music there. Just walking and roaming the streets and the plazas, you get to see so much that I don't think you necessarily see here in the States, especially not in big cities where you are always in a car or a bus or getting from place to place.

I thought it was really nice to be able to stop and notice all kinds of little details about people's lives. That was really helpful to me. And just living in transit, being able to travel to take in all this stuff.

Q - Any new projects on the horizon?

I'm starting a new project where I am actually writing songs in Spanish. So that's kind of a cool development.

It's really cool, because you can say so many things in Spanish that are very poetic or dramatic that somehow just don't translate as well in English.

I think when you are writing in English, you can't just necessarily say the way you are feeling. You need to be a little more lyrical. You can't just say, "I feel sad" or "You make me sad."

In Spanish, it is so direct and it sounds so pretty.

Q - Yeah, you could literally read a phone book in Spanish and it probably would sound pretty.

I love the way Spanish sounds. And I love how there are so many different kinds of Spanish. Like Colombian Spanish sounds so different from Mexican Spanish. We're taking all that in account in writing these songs. I actually can speak Spanish pretty fluently now, and before I couldn't.

Q - The title song from your first EP was featured in the television show, "How I Met Your Mother." Do you think an opportunity like that broadened your audience base?

I definitely noticed people mentioning it or reaching out. That was kind of cool, because I don't know if anybody in Malaysia or Indonesia would have ever heard my music otherwise.

Q - I've heard that TV is the new radio. Do you think that's true?

The music industry is in such a weird state anyways, where you can't necessarily just make a living off selling albums anymore. But there also aren't as many radio stations, and do people listen to the radio as much as they used to?

Q - Probably not.

Q - Do you have dream collaborations, people you are dying to work with?

I always thought it would be nice to write a song for someone like Emmylou Harris, who is an idol of mine. It would be cool to write a song for her and hear someone like that sing it.

That would be a dream come true for sure, just as a writer.





Monday, March 28, 2011

Chicago Blues Festival to pay tribute to Robert Johnson, showcase Alligator Records

Robert Johnson 

 


The 28th annual Chicago Blues Fest will feature a stellar lineup of entertainment, including a tribute to Delta blues legend Robert Johnson and a showcase celebrating the 40th anniversary of Chicago blues label Alligator Records. 

Here is the full schedule for the festival, which will take place June 10 to 12 in Grant Park. Admission is free.

More information is at www.chicagobluesfestival.us.


Friday, June 10

Crossroads Stage

  • 11:00 a.m. - Guy King and his Little Big Band
  • 12:45 p.m. - Eric Guitar Davis and the Troublemakers
  • 2:30 p.m. - Holle Thee Maxwell
  • 4:15 p.m. - The Rockin’ Johnny Band featuring Smiley Tillman and Mary Lane


Mississippi Juke Joint Stage

  • 11:30 a.m. - Panel Discussion of Robert Johnson w/ Steven Johnson (family of Robert Johnson)
  • 12:30 p.m. - Howlin’ Wolf Birthday Celebration panel discussion with Richard Shurman, Bettye Kelly, Barbra Marks & Hubert Sumlin Hubert Sumlim
  • 1:30 p.m. - Chris Gill & Derrick Martin
  • 3:00 p.m. - Nora Jean Bruso
  • 4:30 p.m. - James “Super Chikan” Johnson
  • 6:00 p.m. -  Festival Jam Session w/ Fernando Jones Band


Front Porch Stage

  • 1:00 p.m. - Blues in the Schools: Stone Academy w/ Eric Noden, Katherine Davis and Erwin Helfer
  • 2:15 p.m. - Erwin Helfer Band featuring Katherine Davis
  • 3:35 p.m. - Rocky Lawrence
  • 4:45 p.m. - "Sanctified Grumblers"


Petrillo Music Shell

  • 6:15 p.m. - Eddie Cotton
  • 8:00 p.m. - Tribute to Robert Johnson: David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Rick Sherry, Rocky Lawrence, Hubert Sumlin and Duwayne Burnside Band
   


Saturday, June 11

Crossroads Stage

  • 11:00 a.m. -  Ronnie Hicks & Masheen Company Band w/ Bob Jones, Cicero Blake, Brown Sugar & Jessie
  • 12:45 p.m. - Dave Herrero and the Hero Brothers Band
  • 2:30 p.m. -  Duwayne Burnside Band
  • 4:15 p.m. - George Stancell and Band w/ Willie Buck


Mississippi Juke Joint Stage

  • 11:30 a.m. - Panel Discussion of the Mississippi Blues Trail: Jim O’Neal, Rip Daniels and Alex Thomas
  • 1:00 p.m. - Jarekus Singleton
  • 2:30 p.m. - Dexter Allen
  • 4:00 p.m. - Zac Harmon
  • 5:30 p.m. - Mississippi Jam Session featuring Dexter Allen


Front Porch Stage

  • 1:00 p.m. - Fernando Jones and The Blues Kids of America
  • 2:15 p.m. - Fruteland Jackson
  • 3:30 p.m. - Sam Lay Blues Band
  • 4:45 p.m. - Tribute to Pinetop Perkins featuring Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Friends


Petrillo Music Shell

  • 6:00 p.m. - Dave Specter Band featuring special guest Jimmy Johnson
  • 7:15 p.m. - Carl Weathersby’s Blues Band
  • 8:30 p.m. - Billy Branch and The Son’s of Blues & Friends






Sunday, June 12

Crossroads Stage

  • 11:00 a.m. - Jarekus Singleton
  • 12:45 p.m. - Rob Blaine’s Big Otis Blues


Mississippi Juke Joint Stage

  • 11:30 a.m. - Q & A Panel w/ Bruce Iglauer and Richard Shurman celebrating 40th Anniversary of Alligator Records
  • 12:30 p.m. - Ben Wiley Payton
  • 2:00 p.m. - The Jimmy Burns Band
  • 3:30 p.m. - Nellie “Tiger” Travis
  • 5:00 p.m. - Festival Jam featuring Kenny Smith


Front Porch Stage

  • 1:00 p.m. - Nick Moss & The Flip Tops
  • 2:15 p.m. - Memphis Gold
  • 3:30 p.m. - Mud Morganfield Band
  • 4:45 p.m. - John Primer


Petrillo Music Shell

  • 6:00 p.m. - Shemekia Copeland
  • 7:30 p.m. - Lonnie Brooks with guests Michael “Iron Man” Burks, Rick Estrin Ann Rabson and Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater: 40th Anniversary of Alligator Records.



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Chicagoan Greg Gibbs balances making sandwiches, music



By ERIC SCHELKOPF
When he is not behind the counter making sandwiches at the Chicago Bagel Authority, Chicagoan Greg Gibbs is crafting delicious ditties.

I had the chance to talk to Gibbs, www.gregpoop.com, about his latest album, and his bid to make his song "Raincoat" the official rain delay song of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.

Q - How do you juggle being the owner of a sandwich shop and being a musician?
 
I make music when I have time. The shop comes first... at least that's what I tell myself. I have a small practice space in the basement of my store, so I'm never too far away from some sort of noise maker.

Music is really a way of turning off the store anxiety in my head.  I'll spend half a day here and there completely absorbed in some aspect of making music.  It's refreshing. A lot of stuff gets worked out while I'm off on my binge.
 
Q - How has being a sandwich shop owner inspired your music?

Since CBA is as much a culture as it is a business, I'd say the influence is immeasurable.  

I have always isolated my music. With CBA, I started occasionally writing a bit more for an intended audience; sometimes a specific person or two. I guess the business has helped to cracked open my shell a bit.
 

I'm also continuously being bombarded by new music that my employees bring in. That's helped to expand my musical vocabulary and refine my taste.  

Just when I think I've found my voice, I hear something new that blows my mind. Time for new chops. 

That's a really nice struggle to have - always trying to create a sound or style that pushes that envelope rather than sealing it.

Q - How would you describe your music? What artists have been the most influential in the music you make?
 
Homemade_cobbled_propped-up_multifarious_genre-bending_ditties.mp3.

I guess I'm always trying to tap the confluence of Zappa/Ween/Deerhoof boundless spirit with a Elliot Smith/Sufjan sincerity.

There is a piece by Frank Zappa called "Sleep Dirt" that kinda nails what I'm looking for. It's the side that Zappa has a difficult side showing, but easily one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created.

Zappa's spider-like guitar pyrotechnics (acoustic mind you) dripping with so much soul and passion that you're left with just enough breath to say, "somebody's a genius."

Best of all, the album version sounds like an jam session or outtake replete with the accompanying guitarist lamenting, "my fingers got stuck."

The take was too good and too perfect to bury. I'm actually surprised it saw the light of day in his lifetime, seeing as it it is so contrary to his persona.  

So I guess it sounds like all of my musical efforts are an attempt to create a "Sleep Dirt." Maybe I set the bar too high.

Q - What were your goals for "The Lights?" Do you think you accomplished all of your goals?
 
To make a more or less cohesive album.  My previous albums, "Raincoat" and "Hemoglobin," were both just a hodgepodge of song styles and mixing/mastering techniques.

I don't even remember trying to set reference levels other than making sure they weren't clipping. I also wanted to make a more thematically cohesive album - I know, songs about air conditioners and celiacs make cohesion a real challenge.

For the most part I'm satisfied.  It's the best I could do with what I knew how to do at the time. When you're grinding away at something for a long time, it's almost impossible to step back and look at the big picture. Many decisions are really just struggles to come up and get some air.

Q - How do you think your music has evolved over the years?
 
I'm taking it seriously.  I made a commitment in 2004 to start singing and writing songs. I was constantly "scoring" my life with instrumental tracks because I though I had little to say that anyone would really care about.

Most of my earlier song attempts were insincere and abrupt - I was aiming at absurd. I love working in the absurd because absurd does what it wants when it wants.

But sometimes I used it as an excuse for not finished or refining it. It was kept away somewhere outside of the sphere of judgement.  Impersonal and immature.

I think I slowly started working through it. I was maturing emotionally and I could find absurd metaphors that were actually quite sincere.

I need both to feel comfortable not throwing shit it the face of the listener. That's how I got to the existential first person writing style that I use frequently.  

It's absurd to write a love song about hemoglobin or my social security number, but I've done it. Sincerely. The social security number song actually makes me well up a bit.

Q - Where do you see yourself fitting into the Chicago music scene?
 
Somewhere in the audience.  I think what I do will always be more of a sideshow, but I'm aiming to be a big sideshow.  

I'd like to be a big enough sideshow that if I asked someone to pose semi-nude for my album cover, they'd at least consider it and not slap me. That's not a lot to ask. I'm thinking Ohio Players-esque.

Q - Your music has been featured on National Public Radio and Comedy Central. Has that expanded your audience base?
 
Not really.  I hope people heard it, but it was so sibilant that it fatigued the ears after a minute or so.  It was a piece called "Rock, Paper, Scissors" played on guitar, sheet paper, and a pair of scissors.

The scissors sound really rips the top end out of your day if listen too intently. The piece was conceived by my friend, Hugh Musick.  He asked me to compose it.
 

Q - It seems like technology has made it easier to make music and get it out to people. How have you tried to use technology to get your music out to more people?
 
I'm constantly looking for new distribution techniques to get my music onto the iPods of potential fans. I've uploaded my songs to Jango, Last.fm, Soudcloud, Reverbnation, etc. I've seen limited success with each. 

Soundcloud is probably the easiest to connect and distribute. You can collaborate easily, and make new fan/friends without much effort. The industry seems to change weekly.  

Every time you find a decent distribution method, the format changes.  It's at the point where artists are paying to give there music away... literally.  It's not that it's not worth buying, but that nobody does.  

The effort, risk, and investment to try something new is outweighed by the convenience and assurance of an iPod Classic with 160 gbs of music you already love anyway. I know it's true because I live that way myself.
 
Q - Any dream projects? Any dream collaborations?
 
My dream project is an album of aleatoric compositions. Right now I don't have the focus or the guts to pull it off, but it is something I'm always working on in the back of my mind.

Look for it in the next few years when I have time for the challenge. I don't have a dream collaboration.

I wouldn't mind having an orchestrator work through some of my old melodies, but other than that I'm pretty excited for the alone time.

Q - How many people have signed your petition so far to make "Raincoat" the official rain delay song of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field? How did you come up with the idea?
 
As of today, I'm at 182 signatures!  I was watching a Cubs game with friends one rainy day a few years ago. I needed an idea for my CBA "Five Minute Film Festival" submission.

It just came to me - Pretend like it is your dream to have "Raincoat" played as the rain delay song at Wrigley Field. That was all it took. I ran with it.

I cobbled together the video in a few days - Kerry Wood showed up one day by chance and agreed to appear in it. Chuck Garfein was a frequent customer and I bribed him.

All the pieces fell into place and added to the legitimacy of the farce. People still believe the "Lesson 14 - The Ice Walk" breakdancing lesson is real.

I have the phony VHS tape on a shelf in the store milk the mystery. Three years later, people still ask how it's going and I still tell them I'm plugging away.  

I guess I should start by contacting the Cubs. Now that Kerry is back on the team, I have an in :) 

Who knows, maybe I'll make a sequel this year.
 

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

My short term goals are to open my second store. That's coming up. Hopefully we'll be open in early June. 

My long term goal is the keep that store open. Overall, I just hope I'm capable of coordinating two stores and still having enough free time to enjoy fruitful relationships with friends and family while still having a place for music... breathe.



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Time is right for Chicago band The Right Now

 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The time is now for Chicago band The Right Now.

The band is putting a fresh face on soul and R&B, with its latest album, "Carry Me Home," receiving rave reviews.

The Right Now, www.therightnow.com, has opened for the likes of Bettye LaVette and Bela Fleck, and will perform April 16 at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, Chicago, to celebrate the release of its two new singles on a seven-inch record as part of Record Store Day.

The Revelations featuring Tre Williams and Vertikal also are part of the bill. The show starts at 9:30 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at www.martyrslive.com.

I had the chance to talk to lead singer Stefanie Berecz about the band and its recent appearance at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.



Q - Coincidentally, I recently interviewed JC Brooks, who I see contributes his vocals to a couple of tracks on "Carry Me Home."

He's a good friend of ours. I've known him for a while. It was good to have him on the record.

Q - There seems to be a growing neo soul, or indie soul, movement these days. Would you say that you and JC Brooks are a part of that? And why do you think it is happening in Chicago?

I feel that it is still on the brink in Chicago. There are very few bands that are doing this, the pop soul thing we are doing. I think we are similar in a lot of ways, but we're still just scratching the surface with other bands in Chicago that are doing this kind of genre.

Q - The band has been together for four years. Did you guys come together thinking you would form a soul band?

No, absolutely not. I met Brandan (O'Connell) about five years ago. We kind of started this thing by saying, "wouldn't it be cool to have this?'' or "wouldn't it to be cool to have a full horn section?"

We were just shooting all these ideas out. And then we randomly met all the other members of the band, just through networking and through word-of-mouth of great players in the city.

We touch a little bit on the soul in our music, but I'm not a complete soul artist. I loved listening to pop music and R&B growing up.

We touch on that as well. It's not strictly a retro soul vibe. It's a little bit of everything.

Q - Did you try to bring all that to "Carry Me Home?"

The album has a very contemporary feel. It does have that feel of a more pop soul album, with a little bit of R&B.

With this next album, we want to stretch our limits a little more. We want to get more of a raw, live feel, not so much of a polished sound.

Q - So you are in the middle of recording the new album?

We're starting. We recorded two new singles - "If I Wanted To" and "I Am Who I Say I Am" - that we are going to be releasing on Record Store Day (April 16). The two singles are going to be on a 45.

These new songs definitely lend themselves to going after that more raw, live sound. You feel like you are in the studio with us. And I think they will sound great on the 45.

Q - How was performing at South by Southwest?

It was great. It was my first time. I've never been to anything quite like that, and that's funny, because I've lived in Chicago my whole life and you've got Lollapalooza running through here and the Taste of Chicago. I said that I never wanted to go to those things because I don't like singing music in those kinds of manic, crazy environments with tons of people.

But what I learned at South by Southwest is that it is not so much about a bunch of bands coming. It's about artists supporting artists.

Q - How was your showcase?

The first one was on a Wednesday, and it was amazing. It was called SXCHI. It was a lineup of a lot of Chicago artists. It was really a great event that showed a lot of support for Chicago.

I must say, there was a lot more Chicago representation there than I'd thought there would be.

Q - Do you think the opportunity has helped broaden the band's audience base?

I really hope so. If you can walk away with anything from South by Southwest nowadays, it's just that, that people hear your music and will remember you.

We got great feedback on Twitter, where people would come and see us and there were tweets going up by the minute by people who had never heard us before.

Q - You do all this while juggling being the mother of a two-year-old. How do you juggle everything?

I think I've become pretty good about scheduling. When she was little, she went on the road with us all the time. Now she's two, so I hate to stick her in a car for 15 hours straight.

I've had amazing support at home to help me. Thank God for iChat. I get to video chat with her all the time. She thinks that mommy lives in the computer. It's funny.

Q - How does she respond to your music?

If I play one of our records, she's picking up words and she's picking up pitches. She knows them. She requests what songs she wants to hear.

She definitely knows whose momma's band is. She doesn't know the name of the band yet. I'm trying to teach her.

Q - The band has already opened for some notable artists, like Bettye LaVette. What have you learned from opening for people like this?

Literally, you go to school. I have a mental note pad that opens up every time we get these opportunities. These people are veterans and have had incredible careers. We've also opened for soul legend Otis Clay.

He is just incredibly wise and he always has amazing advice for showmanship. When we have these opportunities where we are playing shows with these amazing veterans, I take in every second that they are up there and take mental notes on how they do what they do and how it's made them so successful.

Chicago blues label Alligator Records to be featured on NPR's "Weekend Edition"

Alligator Records' founder and president Bruce Iglauer will talk with Scott Simon during a broadcast today on NPR's "Weekend Edition."

The discussion will revolve around the Chicago blues label's 40th anniversary, as Iglauer regales Simon with stories of Hound Dog Taylor, Koko Taylor and many other Alligator stars from the label's storied history. 
Simon also plays songs from the Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection.

The interview is scheduled to air towards the end of the second hour of the program, and will be archived online at the NPR Weekend Edition page.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Musical "Chicago" to return to Chicago in June






The smash hit musical "Chicago" will return to the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, for one week only, June 7 to 12.

Chicago, which first opened on Nov. 14, 1996, now has the distinction of being the longest-running musical revival playing on Broadway, the second longest-running musical production currently playing on Broadway and the fifth longest-running production in Broadway history.

This production stars award-winning actor John O'Hurley, who can be seen weekly on the television show "Family Feud," in the male lead of Billy Flynn.

Tickets range from $30 to $95. For more information, visit www.chicagothemusical.com or www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Travis Barker, Mix Master Mike coming to Chicago's Enclave club in April



Travis Barker and Mix Master Mike will energize the Enclave, 220 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, during their appearance at the club on April 1.

Barker is best known as the drumming force in such bands as Blink 182, The Transplants, +44, and Box Car Racer. 

He has also remixed renowned songs with musical talents such as Drake, Eminem, Kanye West, and the late DJ AM. 

Mix Master Mike has worked with the Beastie Boys to create two Grammy award winning albums.

RSVP in advance for free admission before 11 p.m. For more information or to RSVP, go to www.enclavechicago.com.


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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blues legend Buddy Guy, Robert Cray headline this year's Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora

 

Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy along with Robert Cray will headline this year's Blues on the Fox festival in downtown Aurora as the festival celebrates its 15th anniversary in June.

The festival, presented by the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, will take place June 17 and June 18 at the North River Street Park on the banks of the Fox River.

An entry fee of $5 per day will cover the cost of admission and a wristband for the consumption of alcohol at the festival.

Blues on the Fox has featured many blues legends over the years, including Pinetop Perkins, who died this week at the age of 97.

This year's festival will kick off with festival favorite Eric Lindell taking the stage at 6:30 p.m. June 17, followed by Cray at 8:30 p.m.

The lineup on June 18 includes The Hix Brothers Junior All-Stars, featuring local students of the blues, taking the stage at 2 p.m., followed by Chicago-based Billy Branch and the Sons Of Blues at 3 p.m.

Louisiana native Kenny Neal will take the stage at 4:45 p.m. and Charlie Musselwhite will perform at 6:30 p.m. Guy will close the day when he plays from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

More information is available at www.bluesonthefox.com.

Each year, the festival celebrates the rich music history of the RCA Bluebird recordings that were in made in the 1930s at the Leland Hotel (now Fox Island Place) in downtown Aurora.




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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stars of "Thor," "Walking Dead," "True Blood" speak at Chicago expo






By ERIC SCHELKOPF

There was plenty of star power at Saturday's Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.

Fans were able to get up close and personal with stars like Chris Hemsworth, who plays "Thor" in the upcoming movie, Jon Bernthal and Laurie Holden of "The Walking Dead" and Sam Trammell, Kristen Bauer and Brit Morgan of "True Blood."

Here are a few highlights from their question and answer sessions with fans.

Chris Hemsworth "Thor" Q & A:

Q - Will "Thor" be portrayed differently than the comic book character?

Chris - I think it follows it pretty closely. We did as much research as we could.

Q - What were you feeling as you got into your costume?

It was like being a kid, dressing up as some kind of superhero.

Q - Do you have any hints about the movie's plot?

I couldn't say anything without being kicked out of the film. It's exciting and epic.

Q - What should we expect from the "Red Dawn" remake?

It's very similar to the original. It follows more the personal relationships with the kids.


"The Walking Dead" Q&A:

What can we expect from the new season?

Jon - Shane is a guy who's really lonely when the new season starts. He is right with the people he loves, but he cannot be with them the way he wants to be. You will see the worst of him, but also the best of him in season two.

Laurie - She's lost everything and she has no love in her life. I think there will be a lot of resentment toward Dale. I'm very excited about Andrea getting stronger in season two.

Jon - I really like this guy. I think he is actually a good guy, he's a loyal guy. Things happen in a zombie apocalypse.

Q - We've already seen Andrea as a tough character. Where do you draw that from?

Laurie - I'm very excited about her character's journey. I love what she stands for. I think she is avenging her sister, avenging her family. She is making a choice to be a survivor, not a victim.

Q - How do you feel about zombies?

Laurie - We are really explaining the humanity of the zombies. They were once people. They are not just evil monsters. Our zombies are complicated in terms of what they evoke in all of us.

Jon - I just want to say for the record that I hate zombies. It has been inbred so much in me to kill them. My job is to kill those things.

Q - What would you guys do if zombies actually attacked?

Laurie - I would find my family and hold them tight. 

Jon - I'd call my friend's wife and see what she was doing. Just kidding. I would do the same.

Q - Did you read the graphic novel before you started working on the show?

Jon - I hadn't read it beforehand. I started reading it after I got the job.

Laurie - When I read it, it was so not what I expected. I didn't expect these rich complicated characters. I stayed up for four nights in a row and found myself crying. It was so unbelievably special, so I signed on right away.

Q - What kind of statement is "The Walking Dead" making?

Laurie - I feel that "The Walking Dead" is a morality tale and a story of the human condition. I feel that our zombies in many ways are a metaphor for how we are all feeling right now - unsettled, unsure.
Q - Where would you like to see the characters go in the new season?

Laurie - It's a constant journey. I look forward to her becoming more a part of the community. I heard a rumor that Stephen King is going to write an episode sometime.

Jon - I just want him to try as hard as he can to win these people back and then screw up royally.

"True Blood" Q&A:

Q - Why do you think the show has hit a cultural nerve?

Sam - I don't know. The show bridges so many genres. It's campy, and it's sometimes scary.

Q - What do you think of supernatural creatures?

Brit - I'm envious of the whole werewolf thing, being an animal. Animals have no inhibitions. They are what they are. Your head doesn't get in the way.
Q - Where would you like to see your characters go?

Sam - I'm happy where they are taking my character. It's a little edgier.

What should we expect from the fourth season?

Sam - We really explore the mythology of shape shifters. There is a new woman I'm having a relationship with.

Q - What's the allure of vampires?

Kristen - Vampires do not have to worry about illness, dying or money. That's pretty much 98 percent of what occupies our thoughts as humans. This is the ultimate escapism.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicago power-pop band Material Issue to return to stage next month



Famed Chicago band Material Issue is returning to the stage.

Remaining members Ted Ansani and Mike Zelenko will perform April 23 at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, Chicago, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band's album, "International Pop Overthrow."

The show is part of the International Pop Overthrow festival, a name that pays tribute to the band.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, available at www.abbeypub.com.

More information about the festival is available at www.internationalpopoverthrow.com.





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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicago ensemble helping to bring world together, putting on a series of shows at Mayne Stage








By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Las Guitarras de Espana (The Guitars of Spain) is a world music ensemble in every sense of the word.

The Chicago-based group fuses together different musical styles such as Cuban son, rumba, R&B, Latin jazz, blues and African percussion to create a sound that breaks down all boundaries.

In the process, The Guitars of Spain has tried to unite music, dance, travel, poetry and culture through its recordings and performances.

Starting on March 26, The Guitars of Spain will present the "Flamenco Collaborations Series" at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago.

More information is at www.maynestage.com, or at www.theguitarsofspain.com. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to The Guitars of Spain founder Carlo Basile about The Guitars of Spain and his vision for the ensemble.


What was your idea in wanting to form The Guitars of Spain?

I wanted to use Spanish guitar forms (classical, flamenco, folk) as a foundation for creating new music.

How did the ensemble come together?

Originally, it started with people who were interested in studying flamenco music and dance; mostly, advanced or professional players who were curious and wanted to learn and perform.

Did you personally pick everyone involved in the ensemble?

Well, people came and went early on. There were some purists who didn't like my original concept. I guess I needed to find "open minded" people with a certain level of musical skill. If you check the biographies on our website, you will see who ended up sticking around!

How do you think the group has evolved since forming?

Really, we have all grown so much through our studies, travels, and performances. I really noticed in recording this latest CD, "Tantas Cosas," that we have gotten much better at putting complicated materials together quickly. 

There are so many influences from our Chicago roots to our world travels that sometimes it might seem a little bit like were are "all over the map!" We are!!

The ensemble fuses together many types of music. How do you go about choosing what music to incorporate in what you do?

That is usually a function of recent travel or personal inspiration. I was recently in Bali so, of course, I had to find a Gamelan ensemble for my last project. Patty Ortega has used personal experiences to influence
many of the compositions on the new CD. So, those choices come to us because we are just "living life" but paying attention.

What should people expect from "Tantas Cosas." Are you building on what you have done in the past, or moving in a new direction?

I think this CD is pretty personal to Patricia. But it clearly builds on our other work. You have African "talking drums," Indian veena, Arabic oud and, of course, Spanish guitar sounds with pop and funk grooves thrown in. 

I think this new CD should not be too much of a surprise; however, we DO have some songs which could actually cross over and get some listens from many different audiences. Some of these tunes actually "rock!"

Tell me about the idea behind your upcoming series of concerts at Mayne Stage.

It's basically a culmination of our years of travel, study and previous collaborations. I feel pretty confident in the line-up because these are all great artists and we have worked together before.

How do you think the ensemble has helped made people more aware of different cultures?

My goal has been to take a more general pop culture audience and turn them on to something cool without taking three hours up on the stage to do it! 

I think people crave something new and "culturally hip" as long as it's not too self-indulgent. We try to have fun and try to vary the intensity of the pieces. I figure you have about 45 minutes to make something interesting happen. 

Then people just want to grab a beer and something to eat. So, hopefully we are an artistic ensemble with a sense of self-irony. Hopefully...

What would you like people to get out of attending a show?

I would like people to be inspired in different ways. Maybe it's just something simple like, "I saw this cool group with a flamenco dancer, violinist, and Indian singer..." 

Or it could be, "I would really like to take a trip to Senegal and see more of that kind of percussion and
dance."

Or, "I am going to study flamenco dance next week!!!" Those are the things I'm hoping for.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sister Hazel still a band of brothers, will play March 18 in Arlington Heights





By ERIC SCHELKOPF

More than 15 years after first forming, Gainesville, FL.-based band Sister Hazel continues to win over fans with its blend of Southern pop hooks and country rock harmonies.

Sister Hazel's 2009 album, "Release," reached #37 on the Billboard album charts, topping even the band's platinum album, "Somewhere More Familiar." The band followed up "Release" with last year's "Heartland Highway."

Sister Hazel, www.sisterhazel.com,  will perform March 18 as part of the Peggy Kinnanes Irish Festival in Arlington Heights. More information is available at www.peggykinnanes.com.

The band will be back in the area June 18 when it performs at Prairie Fest in Oswego, www.prairiefest.com.

I had the chance to talk to Sister Hazel rhythm guitarist and vocalist Drew Copeland about the band's staying power.


Q - It's good that you guys are playing at an indoor venue next week, otherwise your feet would get kind of cold. You still like going out on stage in your bare feet? It feels totally comfortable to you?

I get a vibe from the stage and it's just something that I enjoy. It also was kind of a superstition early on, just because that's how I used to perform when me and Ken were a duo for so long.

Things started going well for us, and the last thing I wanted to do was change anything.

Q - What should people expect from this show? I imagine that you will playing a lot from "Heartland Highway."

We have to mix it up. We can't really make it heavy on the latest stuff, because people that are fans of the band, they want to hear something from a lot of different records.

It feels like we have put out a billion records at this point. There's a lot of songs to sift through. We try to make it a pretty good balance of the songs that people have heard on the radio, and then some favorites from different records. But we will definitely throw in some stuff off the new record.

Q - The group released "Heartland Highway" less than a year after putting out "Release." Did you guys feel inspired after putting out "Release?"

The truth is, the five of us are writing so much that we just have a lot of material. There's no reason for us not to put a record out.

We're a band that's independent. We don't have a major label that's staring over our shoulder, telling us when we can and when we can't.

Our fans appreciate the new music. It just doesn't seem to make sense for us to sit around and not put new records out when we've got songs that we think that people will connect with.

Q - The title of the record, "Heartland Highway," seems to really sum up how it was made. It was recorded all over the country.

We go through a process of picking album titles. As we whittled down through the ideas, that title seemed to sum up what the record felt like.

It felt like something you would put in your stereo and take a road trip. It just seemed to fit the record.

Q - You met Ken at a University of Florida football tailgating party in 1991. What do you think clicked when you first met him?

Ken and I, oddly enough, both grew up in Gainesville. We went to rival high schools and didn't know each other until well after high school.

We had a lot in common being from Gainesville. And when we got together and started singing, people told us that our voices really blended well.

We kind of hit it off and both of us had common interests. We actually became very good friends, and ended up being roommates for a while.

Q - You guys have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of changes in the music business. Do you think it is harder or easier to release music these days?

Well, that's an interesting question, the way you phrased it. It is definitely easier to release music. But it's a lot harder to make a living in the music business these days.

There's a much wider divide between the haves and the have nots. There are so many places where you can go online and get music for free, that making a living at this is really tough.

For those bands that are kind of stuck in the middle, that have committed their lives to it but aren't quite on the level of the more successful bands, it can be a real struggle making a living doing this.

Q - Has the band tried to embrace new technology to get its music out there?

A funny story behind that is when we were first signed to Universal Records in the late '90s, we asked for a budget for our website. They told us that was just a fad and not something they wanted to pour money into.

And so we did it on our own. So we've always tried to stay on the cutting edge, but not the leading edge of technology.

We want to try to stay one step ahead of everybody else, but not get so far ahead that we are hurting ourselves in the process.

Q - What has kept the band together over the years?

We went through a real rough period that I think probably most bands don't make it through.

Everybody was tired, and I think that we probably indulged in the party atmosphere a little too much. People lost their way along that path.

But we held it together through that, and now we are closer than ever. We really are a bunch of brothers out there touring.

We all have similar goals. Four of the five of us are married and have children, and so everyone embraces the fact that family is the most important thing.

Sister Hazel is the vehicle that helps make everything happen, but at the same time, we all have to have the creative freedom to chase down other outlets. It's just a really healthy relationship between the five of us right now.

Q - You released a solo album in 2004. Anything new on the horizon for you? Are you looking to do other solo albums?

I really would like to make a solo record and I've got a ton of songs that I would love to put out, but the band is staying so busy right now, I really don't have time.

Everyone is very supportive of it, but like I said, the master of the whole thing, the mother ship, is Sister Hazel. We have to secure that or all the other stuff doesn't mean anything.

Q - Any dream projects for the band? Anything that you are itching to do?

Something that we've always wanted to do, and I'd love to do before the guy retires, is do a run with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

All of coming from Gainesville and us being big fans of the band, that's something we've always wanted to do.



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