Sketches of Chicago: Walking into Concerts

I like to be able to walk to places. 

As a kid in Des Moines I could walk or ride my bike pretty much anywhere I needed to go, but in eighth grade I moved to Snellville Georgia, where walking or riding a bike to get from point A to point B was practically unheard of. Sidewalks were rare, and the only things in walking distance to my house were a Baptist church and a cemetery, neither of which were of any use to me. It was quite a shock - after a couple of years I vowed that when I grew up, I'd live someplace where I didn't have to depend on cars to get around.

When I first moved to Chicago, I didn't set foot in a car for months. Almost everything I needed was right in my neighborhood, and I got a great feeling of community - I often walk two or three blocks to the bank and back and see 10 or 15 people that I know by name. 

Today I walked around the block and wandered into the middle of a hell of a rock concert.

My first trip to Chicago, outside of a couple of family vacations, was in 1999, when I flew up to see a Tom Waits concert. I absolutely fell in love with the city, and when he next came to town, in 2006, I made a point of walking the two miles or so from my apartment to the venue.

Walking to a concert is easy enough to do - sometimes I'll walk downtown for a show just because I can. And I always walk to the United Center, which is only about half a mile from here. I usually don't even buy a ticket in advance; I just walk up with 20-50 bucks and see if anyone has a spare they need to drop. It never fails.  I've walked up and bought tickets to Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. It's usually half a mile's walk - two miles, tops.

But tonight I just walked around the corner and ended up at a rock concert for free.

There've been a couple of block parties around here lately. Last week they shut down much of my street for an "Urban Pig Roast," a which they roasted a whole pig, a couple of legs of lamb, and some of the best corn I ever tasted - all for free. 

Today was the "Halfway to St. Patrick's" festival around the corner on Racine Street. It didn't appear to be as much of a hit as the Pig Roast, even though the musical lineup was much better - one of the acts was Local H, who actually played in my middle school in the early 90s (they lasted two or three songs before the principal pulled the plug to stop the moshing). But the Pig Roast was free, and the festival had gates where you were supposed to make a suggested donation to get in. 

The first band sounded good when I walked by, but I just enjoyed it for what it was: free random live music to accompany my usual late-morning hike.

Just now, though, I stepped out for my evening constitutional and found that all of the entrance gates had been taken down, so I walked out to the festival site. There, I found what appeared to be The Concert at the End of the Univese. The vendors, and most other signs of a festival, were gone. It was just 40 people, and a giant, professionally lit stage on the band Sponge was putting on a hell of a show. They appeared to be having about as much as a band playing for 40 possibly people can. 

Ten minutes after I stepped outside, Sponge had finished their rave-up version of "Planet Girls" (much better than the album version), and I was back in my apartment. 

This is why I live in the city.

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Adam's New Book: Sept 2013