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Jim DeRogatis

News & Notes: Honoring Chicago’s Musical Legacy, Taking Lollapalooza’s Money And The Fate Of The Double Door

The historic but generally shuttered Chess Studios. (Zol87/Wikimedia Commons)

You’re not wrong if you’ve been thinking that this blog has been unusually silent of late: Your faithful correspondent has been deep in the midst of two all-consuming projects that should (with luck) be published soon. Meanwhile, though, it’s time to crawl back to the land of the living by sharing some links to stories of note that have broken in recent weeks, and which you may have missed.

First up, though Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been talking big about being “Chicago’s music mayor” since first taking office in May 2011 (this hyperbolic piece was typical of his lip service to the music community), he’s accomplished almost nothing in terms of fulfilling promises such as making the long-hyped Uptown Music District a reality (much less coming up with TIFF money for the restoration of the Uptown Theater) or realizing an historic district downtown on what once was Record Row (particularly sad is the fact that Chess Records remains as sleepy and far from the sort of vibrant museum it deserves to be as the Uptown is from once again serving as a busy working venue).

Yes, yes, we all know Chicago has many more pressing problems at the moment. But political crises never are reason to ignore the arts, since as much as, say, ending gun violence, standing tall as a sanctuary city or investing in our public schools, properly honoring Our Town’s musical legacy is one of the factors that will continue to make this one of the greatest cities in the world, as well as a place we’d never dream of deserting.

The case recently was made most eloquently in an opinion piece for Crain’s Chicago Business by veteran Chicago media personality Bob Sirrott (“Why isn’t Chicago’s famed Chess Records a tourist mecca?”). Clearly on a roll with this issue, it followed Crain’s earlier offering by my old pal and veteran Chicago music critic and journalist Mark Guarino (“Blues is Chicago’s most famous musical export. Why don’t we do more to promote it?”). And that piece prompted the publication to reiterate the case with an editorial (“Chicago can’t afford to squander its blues music legacy”).

All of this comes against the backdrop of the 2017 Chicago Blues Fest moving out of Grant Park. Mark Kelly, the city’s new head of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, told the Chicago Tribune, “We are excited to move the Chicago Blues Festival to Millennium Park where fans will be able to enjoy the finest blues performances in a setting that will only heighten the event’s reputation as the world’s preeminent free blues festival.” But it’s hard not to see the change of venue as part of scaling Blues Fest down, just as the Gospel and Jazz fests pared back when those moved out of Grant Park and closer to the Bean.

So, what is the 800-pound musical gorilla that remains in Grant Park? Why, Lollapalooza, of course!

Crain’s has long been skeptical of this blog’s many reports (and this is just one of too many to count) on the nepotistic ties between the mayor and Lollapalooza, and the connection those appear to have to the lock in perpetuity that the concert known here as Walmart on the Lake has on Chicago’s scenic front yard. But on Jan. 19, political columnist Greg Hinz noted that entities connected to Lollapalooza have given some $60,000 to Citizens for Emanuel, the mayor’s main political campaign fund—and that’s just since late December.

Questioning Emanuel spokesman Pete Giangreco about the apparent conflict of interest and the mayor’s broken promise not to accept money from companies doing business with the city, Hinz got the same slippery answer this reporter long has gotten: “None of the entities referred to in this story are city contractors, and as such the campaign committee is adhering to the mayor’s pledge not to accept contributions from them.”

Mind you, the mayor appoints the members of the Park District that actually deals with Lollapalooza, so that is the slipperiest of reasoning. And it proves that Washington isn’t the only place where government these days is offering “alternative facts.”

The Double Door, at the heart of the dreaded Wicker Park.(Zol87/Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, we have the sad and tortured saga of the Double Door. The rock club’s battle with its landlord has had more twists and turns over recent months than the Tour de France, and it ain’t over yet, despite the many obits that have been written for the club. This week, it really did look like the end, with The Chicago Tribune reporting a visit to Milwaukee and Damen from sheriff’s officers with an eviction notice. That is, until the next day, when the paper reported that the fight will continue.

I have done no original reporting here, because I learned long ago that landlord/tenant conflicts are among the most complicated and frustrating stories in journalism. So keep in mind that I’m just offering these comments as a veteran observer of the players and this city’s music scene. But…

While Double Door owners Joe Shanahan and Sean Mulroney should be celebrated for their contributions to Chicago music in general and Wicker Park in particular, and while both are veteran political navigators and street brawlers in the grand local tradition when needed, it seems inevitable that they’re going to lose this one, eventually, if only because the inevitable big-bucks forces of gentrification inevitably overpower any well-meaning cultural operators. And Wicker Park has long since turned into the ninth circle of hell, rife with monied hipsters much more interested in fine dining and trendy boutiques.

A rock club would probably have a better chance these days holding on to a lease in the heart of the Magnificent Mile.

Then, too, the layout of the Double Door itself has never been ideal for a great music space: The stairs in the middle of the room break up the crowd and adversely affect the sight lines and otherwise decent sound, especially when far too many people avoid the stage and spend the night chatting at the back of the room. And though few of those laudatory obituaries that keep popping up mention it, the bookings in recent years have been a far cry from those of the club’s heyday, which, to be honest, was at the height of the alternative ’90s.

Far more exciting was the news the Tribune broke way back in September that the owners are considering a move to the old Logan Square State and Savings Bank building, northeast up Milwaukee Avenue. Ask anyone under 30 and they’ll gleefully tell you that “Logan” is the new Wicker Park anyway, and the Double Door certainly could benefit from a new location, fresh energy, and a renewed commitment. Godspeed to Mssrs. Mulroney and Shanahan with the move, and good riddance, Wicker Park.

Follow me on Twitter @JimDeRogatis, join me on Facebook, and podcast or stream Sound Opinions.

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