Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chicago: Blues and Public Art

Buddy Guy's Legends

I found that over Memorial Day weekend, there were some good deals on flights and hotels in Chicago. When we found out that David "Honeyboy" Edwards would be playing at Buddy Guy's Legends on Saturday night, that sealed the deal and we planned the trip.

We arrived on Friday night and went to the Clark Street Ale House for some drinks. On Saturday we spent the day enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather. We ate our favorite stuffed pizza at Giordano's for lunch (we remembered to order the small this time). Then we wandered around, enjoying looking at the downtown architecture and some interesting public art in Pioneer Court (next to the Chicago Tribune building and across the street from the Wrigley Building).

God Bless America by J. Seward Johnson

We were startled to find a 25-foot tall 3-dimensional representation of the couple in the “American Gothic” painting. This statue is entitled “God Bless America” and was created by J. Seward Johnson (heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune), and it depicts the couple as larger than life, with a suitcase at their feet. The actual “American Gothic” painting is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, several blocks south. It was very surreal to see this rural couple gazing at the big city skyline. Also in Pioneer Court is a statue of a moose made of chrome car bumpers by artist John Kearney.

After that we went to the Jazz Record Mart to check out their incredible blues selection. We could spend all day browsing in there.

Jimmy Johnson

In the evening we got a cab to Buddy Guy's Legends. Our cabbie didn't know where it was, and the hotel doorman was disgusted. "It's WORLD FAMOUS!" he said. "On 8th and Wabash!" We arrived there during a free acoustic set by Jimmy Johnson. He was very enjoyable. After his second set, we ordered food (I got the Cajun meatloaf sandwich with sausage gravy and garlic mashed potatoes, and Craig got a catfish Po'Boy with fries).

David "Honeyboy" Edwards plays with Devil in a Woodpile

Then Devil in a Woodpile came onstage and did a wonderful old-timey blues set. They had a guitarist, an upright bass player, and a washboard percussionist who also played the clarinet. His voice reminded us of the lead singer from Squirrel Nut Zippers. They did a nice half hour set including Charley Patton's "Shake it and Break It", which was a definite highlight. They were then joined by Honeyboy. We had seen him play at Regattabar in 2006. Now he is 93 years old (his 94th birthday is a month away) and still performs - amazing!! He was friends with Robert Johnson, and is one of the few original Delta bluesmen left.

He was excellent. Playing with the band seemed to energize him. He slapped his guitar and played with a Son House twang, and he can really use a slide. We were mesmerized. After his nearly hour-long set, we got to say hello. We had brought our copy of his autobiography with us, and he signed it for us. He also kindly allowed me to take a photo. When his second set was over, we said goodnight and thanked him for a wonderful evening.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards

Then Charlie Love and his Silky Smooth Blues Band took the stage. He played Chicago blues and was a fun and entertaining showman. He sang and played guitar, and we really enjoyed ourselves. In between his two sets, we bought his CD and had a nice chat with him. He was very friendly and told us that we should come to see him play at Kingston Mines the following night. He then played a second set during which he danced with delighted women in the audience, and finished off his second set by wandering the room playing his harp.

Steph with Charlie Love

Legends was a very nice club. There was a display case showcasing Buddy's awards (Grammy's, Handy's, etc.), and there was memorabilia from many blues players displayed on the walls. Hhighlights for us included a Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar, an autographed Clarence Gatemouth Brown guitar, an autographed picture of Johnny Clyde Copeland, and some tickets and backstage passes from when Eric Clapton played a date on his Nothing but the Blues Tour at Legends. (Wow!)

Buddy Guy's Awards

On Sunday we walked to Oak Street Beach on Lake Michigan. Then we walked down the Magnificent Mile and went into a very cool Lego store. We spent quite a while looking at all the Lego sculptures. The employees were really friendly - it was like we were at Disney World. Other than the Jazz Record Mart, it was our only shopping of the trip, as we learned that our favorite Chicago store (the Rand McNally Store) was no longer there. Also absent from Michigan Ave was Garrett's Popcorn, where people used to wait in insanely long lines to buy their fresh delicious buttery caramel corn.

Craig at the Cloud Gate

We had toyed with the idea of taking an architecture cruise, but the timing didn't work out right. We walked to Millennium Park to view the public art displays. We were mesmerized by the Cloud Gate. It's really difficult to explain, so I will quote directly from the Millenium Park web site:

"Cloud Gate is British artist Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor work installed in the United States. The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above. A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high."

Where's Waldo? Reflections in the Cloud Gate

It is just amazing. Its elliptical shape reflects the buildings around the park such that buildings which are on perpendicular streets appear to be side-by-side. It reflects an imaginary skyline. Because of its contours, objects are reflected many times, and as you watch people move, a single reflection will split, as if by mitosis, into two. We entered the "gate" and once we were underneath the structure, it got even more amazing. Craig suggested that I try a photo with a flash to see if the light reflected strangely. The resulting image was very cool, with the single flash reflected 35 separate times. It was like a game of Where's Waldo to try to find your own image amidst the reflections. People of all ages were admiring the statue. Craig overheard a man say "If only the artist knew how much joy he was bringing to all of these people." Indeed.

View from under the Cloud Gate

While we were inside the chamber beneath the sculpture, a street performer dressed as Heath Ledger's Joker was running around. It was incredibly surreal to see him reflected everywhere you looked. I must admit that my childhood fear of clowns kicked in and I was a little wary of getting too close too him.

By now it was mid-afternoon and we were getting hungry. There was still more of the park that we wanted to explore, so we ate on-site at the Plaza at Park Grill. After a short wait we were shown to an al fresco table with an umbrella. Craig got a 10 oz kobe burger with gorgonzola cheese, and I had a Cajun chicken sandwich. We had a laid-back, delicious lunch while people-watching.

Southern tower of the Crown Fountain

After lunch we went to see the Crown Fountain, another very interesting art installation in the park. It consists of two 50-foot tall towers of glass block on opposite ends of a plaza. Water runs down each of the four sides of each tower creating a man-made waterfall, and the amount of water and rate of flow vary. Faces of Chicago citizens are projected larger than life on LED screens on the front of each tower. At first you may think that they are photographs, but as you watch, the faces blink and change expression. Then all of a sudden, the faces purse their lips and a stream of water shoots out of their mouths. It is very unique and unexpected. The runoff from the fountains is collected on the ground in a reflecting pool which is only about half an inch deep, and is then recycled through the fountain. Despite the chilly wind, children were walking through the reflecting pool and standing under the shower of water emanating from the fountains. The Crown Fountain was designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

We walked across the newly opened Nichols footbridge to the Art Institute, and then headed back to the Cloud Gate. The wind was very chilly, and I realized it had been rather ambitious of me to wear shorts and a tank top today, despite the warm sun. We admired the Cloud Gate from all angles. We had hoped that we would get to see it at sunset, but we couldn’t hold out that long in the chilly wind.

Clark Street Ale House

We then headed back to the room and put on some warmer clothes. We were tempted to go to Kingston Mines to see Charlie Love perform again, but neither of us had the energy for another night at a club. Also, we needed to get to the airport early in the morning, and had a sneaking suspicion that if we went to Kingston Mines, we wouldn’t get back to the hotel until much too late. So instead we walked around in search of a place to enjoy dinner. Craig suggested Carson’s (“The Place for Ribs”), where we had eaten on our first trip to Chicago. It was an excellent choice. We each got a half rack of baby back ribs and we split a pork chop. The meat was absolutely delicious and their bbq sauce had a delightful zing. They gave us each a mountain of cole slaw. Craig had a twice baked potato and I had sweet potato fries sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Yum!

After dinner (we were the last ones out of the restaurant and they turned off their sign just as I was getting a photo of it) we headed to the Clark Street Ale House for a nightcap.

We flew home the next morning, and I was delighted to be able to buy some Garrett's popcorn at the airport.