Chicago Blues

Saturday, April 25, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments


CHASING THE BLUES, CHAPTER 28:  Chicago, IL

The rain promised in today’s forecast materialized, so we left the Homewood in a taxi this morning on the way to Harold Washington Library, Chicago’s main branch, which opened in 1991.  As in our previous experiences with Chicago cabbies, we found the driver quite professional and friendly.  At $6 and change, we thought the fare very reasonable.

Lobby of the Harold Washington Library
As soon as we entered the library, Monica, a friendly staffer, asked if we were there for the big poetry celebration.  Huh?  She gave us a schedule and briefed us about the activities of the day, including the opportunity to have a custom poem written for you—free.  Now, that’s an offer we haven’t heard for a while.

When Monica learned we were tourists, she shared a bit of history on the library, which had been an initiative Harold Washington began before he died in office in his second mayoral term.  With 756,000 square feet spread over ten floors, the library has been called the largest public library building in the world.

Winter Garden
Architecturally, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the library’s interior until you reach the ninth floor and the spacious, light-filled Winter Garden.  Rising more than 100 feet through the tenth floor to a glass roof, this large public space can be rented for events.  Four lonely olive trees in planters comprise the only greenery in this magnificent space, which seemed like a missed opportunity.

As we exited the elevator on the ninth floor, Logan and Paul—two of the volunteer poets on duty for the day—were seated at a table with ancient portable typewriters.  They inquired whether we’d like a personalized poem.  Who could turn down such an offer?  Logan took on our case and conducted a five-minute interview for background information.  He asked us to return in 20 minutes.  When we did, he presented us with this poem.

IN SEARCH OF TRUE BLUES
Sorbet sunrise framed
by fields of corn
somehow feels country;
is the opposite of blues
an amiable roadtrip?
With traces of ebola
from New Orleans,
smatters of Nashville
dust dancing on
the windshield of your eyes
I confess I’m drunk
in love’s wobble,
blue as a sky dribbling
grits of cycle.

Poets at work (Logan on L)
He seemed very pleased with his work, and we appreciated his effort on our behalf.  (We still haven’t figured out the origin of the ebola reference.)

Once we picked up our poem we walked to Buddy Guy’s, just a quarter mile away.  Not realizing it was quite so close, we arrived 15 minutes before opening.  About that time, the rain, which had held off during our transit, began to fall.  So we walked to the Hilton Chicago in the next block and ended up having lunch at their 721 South Bar and Grill—much healthier fare than the meal we’d eaten at Buddy’s yesterday.

When we returned to the blues club, Mike Wheeler was performing with his acoustic guitar.  A Chicago native, Mike has been playing blues for 30 years and has an eponymous band that is well known in the area.  Today he seemed to be enjoying the solo gig, playing traditional blues as well as songs by such artists as Smokey Robinson and the Beatles.  He mixed it up well, and his skillful guitar playing was a good match for his mellow baritone.

Waiting for the train
When Mike finished his set at 2:00, we departed, intending to return to the hotel.  Following the advice of our taxi driver this morning, we walked over to State Street and took the subway red line to Grand, just a hundred yards from the Homewood.  As we were trying to decipher the ticket machine and determine which ticket to purchase, a middle-age female CTA employee was quick to offer assistance.  In the process, we got into an interesting conversation with her about Atlanta, where her brother moved and her son will be attending college.

Back at the hotel, we rested and did some planning for the next few days.  After another in-room dinner, we walked over to the House of Blues for the 6:30 performance by the Windy City Duo—Rich Reminger on harmonica and guitar and Dave Steffen on guitar.  At our request, they sang “Messin’ with the Kid,” an up-tempo blues standard we have heard in every city we’ve visited.  It was originally recorded by Chicago’s Junior Wells in 1960 with Buddy Guy on guitar.  Rich and Dave gave it a good run tonight, and both were pleasant when we chatted with them during breaks.

Windy City Duo
When their set was done, we stayed to hear what the Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings were offering.  Their band included sax and trumpet as well as guitars and drum.  As soon as they began blasting out their first song, we realized they weren’t playing what we were looking for, and walked back to the hotel for our last night in Chicago.

Tomorrow we’ll drive to Indianapolis as we head eventually toward south Alabama, where we plan to attend a meeting next Saturday.  In Indy, we’ll check out the Indiana State Capitol and look into the local blues scene.

SATURDAY, 25 APRIL 2015

Our Last Chicago Blues (for this trip)


Mike Wheeler


Windy City Duo: Stormy Monday 


Windy City Duo: Messin' with the Kid

More Photos from Today

Harold Washington Library (from Chicago Public Library web site)
Lincoln bust at the library.  What is the obsession with rubbing his nose?
Our library poet, Logan
Mural at Buddy Guy's Legends:  Mount Rushmore of Blues
"Jake" and "Elwood" showed up at the House of  Blues.  Ken helped out on their photo op.