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Jim DeRogatis

This weekend: Mike Reed’s new party, Brilliant Corners

Mike Reed (Photo by Jim Newberry)

As one of the hardest-working, most community-oriented concert promoters in town, as well as someone with great musical taste, any new project by Mike Reed is worth celebrating.

So far, the 37-year-old Reed has been best known for booking the annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, and he’s been responsible for most of the things that are great about it (while some of the problems really can’t be blamed on him). He also has worked with Michael Orlove to host some of the best shows at Millennium Park, as well as having a hand in the Jazz Festival and other events in that genre.

Now, Reed is bringing us a new concept, Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements, which takes place this weekend at Eckhart Park on Chicago Avenue at Noble Street, near the Blue Line.

The promoter already has explained the concept in numerous print interviews, as well as in a chat with Eight Forty-Eight on Wednesday. A wide variety of entertainers—many of them circus performers, but yes, musicians, too—will do their things under circus tents. There’ll be carnival rides, a scaled-down Renegade Craft Fair, a farmer’s market, and “pop-up performances” by sword swallowers and jugglers. The event will be open and much of the fun is free. Tickets will be sold for other performances based on what you want to see or hear—a schedule of the ticketed events follows below—and some of the proceeds benefit local not-for-profits.

“It’s not a [music] festival!” Reed told Chicago magazine. “This event is so multi-faceted: There’s a bunch of free stuff, like a farmers’ market where you can buy cheese. If you want to see the Bill Callahan show [Friday, 9/16, at 9 pm], you buy a ticket.”

Talking to PopMatters, Reed added: “I’ve always been more interested in creating unique situations big or small. In this regard the idea is really about bringing together as many ways to be entertained under one umbrella—this is basically an old Vaudeville idea. This goes further in that we can recognize and build communities of art and information by assembling in this unique way.”

Since all of that already is on the record (and Tom Conner also did an interesting write-up in the Sun-Times), this blog wanted to pose a few questions that haven’t yet been addressed as Reed graciously took some time out on Wednesday afternoon from struggling to erect circus tents in the rain. Here are the highlights of that conversation.

Q. Mike, at the end of every Pitchfork Music Festival, you always look like the most tired man in the world. You invariably say, “I don’t want to do this ever again, I just want to play with my band and take a long vacation,” though of course, you do wind up doing it again. But this year you’re back with another big new event in another park just two months after Pitchfork.

A. To me it actually doesn’t seem that big. It’s smaller. That’s maybe the thing that’s interesting. I mean, it certainly is driving me a little crazy right now, because it’s new. But it’s smaller: There are fewer bands, and it’s a bunch of smaller things. It’s not going to be 20,000 people in the park; it’s maybe going to be a couple of thousand during the day. And then there also are just things that you can do at this event that we couldn’t do at an outdoor festival. It just sounds like fun.

To be honest with you, I really didn’t want to do it this close to Pitchfork. It’s just the timing: This is when I could get the circus tents. I was actually hoping to do it next month, in October, so I’d have a little bit more time. This was the only time we could get the tents; everybody said, “It sounds like a really good idea, a fun idea,” so I was like, “Let’s do it.”

Q. To me, it feels a bit like you going back to where you started, with the voter registration festival in front of the Hideout and the Intonation Music Festival—more community-oriented events, and more diverse events. You’ve always had broad interests in terms of the Chicago art and music communities. Do you feel like Pitchfork has gotten away from that?

A.I feel its identity is pretty set. It is a music festival that’s regarded in the same way that all of the U.S. music festivals are, and everybody compares them to each other, so you have to start doing things like they do things. Sponsors approach you and say, “We do this at Coachella,” so it’s like, “Okay.” I don’t know if it’s lost it, it’s just that it is a music festival. Originally I think there was an idea that it’s more than that, and I think at its best it is more than that. And in some way it’s still different from some of the other music festivals. But it’s grown to a maturity level that it’s not as flexible. That’s not a bad thing; it’s actually a really good thing. If it had to change identity all the time, it might be an indication that it’s not put together very well.

But this is different. It’s music, of course, because that’s where I come from. But there are other things that just sound like fun. I’m getting old, and here’s the thing: I’m kind of tired of watching three or four bands in a night. I want a bunch of things that are going to keep me entertained. And since there are a lot of things we’re doing at this event that are free, you can be invested in it in so many different ways and at different levels. There are some really cool variety shows they do around town, like at the Hideout, and I really like that. It’s kind of cool, just little bits of stuff. Maybe some segments are longer than others, but it’s kind of fun to get my night out packaged that way instead of being, “I’ve got to go see my friend’s band and sit through three or four other bands.”

Q. Between the myriad street fairs, and North Coast, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, and the rest, has Chicago finally reached festival glut?

A.Yeah. I guess so. Sure. For a certain type of person, yes. There’s a bunch of them, and they all pretty much take place in a four- or five-mile radius. But there are still tons of people that aren’t addressed by rock street festivals and music festivals. There was some Latino electronic music festival that happened a few weeks ago—it was in its fourth or fifth year—and I’d never even heard of it before. But other things can be part of a festival. Like, maybe I should just do a circus festival! It’s really just about people getting together. But the music thing… you block off the street for a stage, I can see why people are pretty much over it.

Q. As I’ve often said, it’s never the ideal way to hear music.

A. I think it’s the greatest way to see a lot of music at one time in one sitting. I think it also can be done better in a smaller space. But it’s also like a product of Chicago: It’s summer, we finally get to see each other again after all these crappy months.

For [Brilliant Corners], there’s stuff that’s ticketed, three or four bands at a time, and that pretty much is like going to a club show. You could break all of these things apart and put them in five different parts of town. I just collected them and put them in one place.

Q. Do you see this as being a big part of what you do with your promotion company At Pluto in the future?

A.The thing I’d like to do with this thing is maybe do a theater version, like a one-night version. There are a variety of ways it can be presented, and there’s some flexibility. It doesn’t have to be in the same place or the same time period. It’s just kind of cool and it’s fun to do.

Here is a schedule of this weekend’s ticketed shows at Brilliant Corners


Criss/Cross Tent ($20, doors open 5 p.m.)

Bill Callahan

Sidi Touré

Bomba Esteréo


Magic City Tent ($15 each performer)

George Orange, 5:30 p.m.

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, 7 p.m.

El Circo Cheapo, 8:30 p.m.


Criss/Cross Tent ($20, doors open 5 p.m.)

School of Seven Bells

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Charles Bradley

Dark Dark Dark

Magic City Tent ($15 each performer)

George Orange, 5:30 p.m.

The Richochet Project, 7 p.m.

El Circo Cheapo, 8:30 p.m.


Criss/Cross Tent ($20, doors open 5 p.m.)


A Lull

Dan Deacon

Fool’s Gold

Magic City Tent ($15 each performer)

George Orange, 5:30 p.m.

The Richochet Project, 7 p.m.

El Circo Cheapo, 8:30 p.m.

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