Blues and beer in Chicago: Star man takes on the "city of broad shoulders"
CHICAGO — The first time I realized a guitar could sing was at the 1995 Ottawa Bluesfest. The stirring notes came out of a Fender tattooed with polka dots and strummed by the right hand of a nearly 60-year-old man who stood in front of thousands of us at Major’s Hill Park and played “Red House” like you’ve never heard.I was hooked on Buddy Guy right then, and when Star Travel Editor Jim "Three-Putt" Byers dispatched me to Chicago I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see Buddy’s joint. It’s a tribute to all-things Buddy, with loads of guitars and photos through the years. Buddy turns 74 on July 30 but he’s still touring (he was recently at Massey Hall – hope you caught the show). He rarely plays at Buddy Guy’s Legends, turning the stage over to local and visiting bluesmen. Legend’s just moved into a larger, more attractive venue at 700 South Wabash Ave. The headliner when I went was Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, who came on stage with a Native headdress that would violate some folks’ sense of political correctness.
But the Chief is one of those likeable bluesmen who put all their soul into the guitar. It’s hard to begrudge them anything — and it’s Chicago, home of the NHL champion Blackhawks, so the headdress seems fitting. Eddie and the band were great, the atmosphere in the new, spacious site was fabulous, and it was great to see people of all ages and backgrounds in the audience.That means the blues are alive in Chicago. And so is indie music.
I just met up with friends Jim DeRogatis, iconic rock critic and now Columbia College journalism prof, and Carmel Carrillo, poet and Chicago Tribune entertainment editor. Jim is covering the Pitchfork Music Festival for Vocalo.org (blogs.vocalo.org/blog/derogatis) this weekend. More than 18,000 people are coming out each day to see a lineup of indie acts.
We talked about the crazy days of newspapers, past and present. Jim and Carmel pointed out that the Tribune Tower, a beautiful gothic building near the Chicago River, features bricks from around the world. That’s because former owner and publisher Robert McCormick ordered foreign correspondents to bring back a brick from wherever they were sent. So there are bricks from places like the Alamo, the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Berlin Wall and the Taj Mahal. Reputedly, McCormick axed any reporter who failed to return with a brick.
Times haven’t changed much in the biz: You’ve got to follow some people’s orders or else. Yesterday, the boss sent me an instruction from deep inside a sand trap somewhere in the GTA. Have a beer, he said. Being the eager-to-please type, I had three just to make him happy. Turns out rumours of Chicago’s great micro-brew culture are true.
All three beers I had would fit just fine among the best from Ontario breweries. Those great Chicago brews are:
Metropolitan Brewery’s Krank Shaft Kolsch beer, enjoyed on the patio at Lula Café, which lived up to the hype from ABC food reporter Steve Dolinsky. The beer is a sweet, light wheat ale.
Goose Island’s 312, a darker wheat beer named after Chicago’s area code. I had this one at Navy Pier, right there in a cup, walking on the promenade in 40C-degree heat. No badge there to tell me I couldn’t have an open container of alcohol. Wow!
Half Acre Beer Co.’s Daisy Cutter, a strong pale ale consumed at Longman & Eagle, a cool gastropub near Lula Café and Logan Square.