…and here I review the Merchant Street Music Festival (Friday night, 7.29.2011)
Of course this is how it goes: we hook up with friends at their house for pre-fest cocktails, it’s a great time, then we roll over to the Merchant Street Music Fest and it’s awesome, though I don’t have my camera because I planned to just participate, not document, but when we get there I suddenly want to document, but I realize I’ll have to take mental notes and beg for some contributor photos later on…
Made note of how in a few short years the festival has grown from a baby, kid, teenager and this year emerged as an adult. The layout finally utilizes downtown Kankakee effectively. Main stage was huge. It consumed the street space between a towering brick building and a budding urban park. When looking at the stage rather than seeing wall or background obstructions, you could just look past the bands and see a further perspective into Kankakee; genius. Noted that the audience about the water fountain and its encompassing circle represented the multicultural diversity of the city and I felt good being there in a sampling of “all the people,” rather than “just one monotype of people.”
Bought a print from Chicago illustrator and painter John Anthony Giemzik III (of the piece “Mutant Pollution,” which speaks to my concerns about the industrial destruction of the atmosphere). The piece has great upward compositional flow. Talked a bit with Giemzik. He seems to be a busy, motivated and well-spoken artist, and I’ve now got another artist represented in my budding art collection.
We walked along a trail of more artists and got to the smaller stage on the hill that faces Court Street. The hill stage is where the local (and Chicago-based) and more “youth minded” bands play. Diversity helps make a festival great and Kankakee’s festival planners seemed to have an earnest desire to embrace the city’s multihued people, their multihued tastes and encourage a broad spectrum of music.
Saw local band E3PO. I caught them on the hill stage the previous year and was super-impressed, but this year they were out of control good. Eric Swanson leads the band, which is now a four-piece line-up of seasoned musicians who play well together.
I have a hard time describing E3PO’s music, because to say they play rude and engaging reggae with the spirit of punk rockers puts them into “that category” of bands you might dismiss as background music in a friend’s car. Swanson doesn’t stand on the stage to impress people with his vocal stylings or skanky riffs or his quality takes on infectious music; he is the ardent artist who uproots his heart and shares its contents with an audience. The casual beer drinker or general music consumer might not be attuned to E3PO’s sincerity, but the band is blessed to have developed a following of people who came to see them outside the confines of the bar stage; outdoor festival venues tend to encourage maturity in a band, and E3PO picked up on the vibes and rose to the height of those musicians who make sharing music and having a shared experience their highest aim. I’m serious.
And seriously try to imagine a terrific night ending by hearing Talking Heads play in Kankakee, Illinois on a local festival stage!
Honestly, I was confused. Either David Byrne went into his basement, finally finished his combination teleportation/time machine and he beamed his younger self to Kankakee, or lead singer and guitarist Charlie Otto of Chicago’s This Must be the Band traded a fancy new bicycle helmet for Byrne’s soul, so he could still be Charlie Otto but also be David Byrne whenever he wanted (I know, it’s confusing).
I am not kidding when I say This Must be the Band doesn’t play “cover” or “tribute” versions of Talking Heads music but that they literally channel Talking Heads songs in a way that’s impossible to describe. I frickin’ love the Talking Heads. After E3PO’s set finished I had no idea what to expect from This Must be the Band.
Sometimes when I drive to Chicago I make the trip completely fun by listening to The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads turned up so loud it’s like I’m inside every one of those live songs while Interstate traffic does me no harm. And then Otto’s six piece band, which has a constantly rotating line-up of bandmates because Otto “wants to play more shows than anyone else can keep up with,” appears on the Kankakee stage and produces magic for a throng of keyed-in Head’s fans. I implore you to find their schedule online and go see This Must be the Band–even if you’ve only ever heard and enjoyed Talking Heads’ more popular radio songs. And if you have a wider appreciate of Talking Heads’ amazing catalogue, you would truly improve your sense of well-being by seeing Otto’s incarnation. Again, I’m serious.
Ended the night by scoring a delicious vegetarian burrito from the kind folks at Martinez Tacos on the way out. Amanda ate half of it before we reached the truck. Somehow or another a small group of us reconvened at our house, hung out in the backyard, talked too much and probably too loudly (sorry neighbors), and eventually I remember passing out to the alarm clock’s display of 2:47 am…