Words by Chris Newton :: Images by Adam George

Wicker Park Festival :: 07.30 & 07.31 :: Chicago , IL

Street festivals are a summertime staple in Chicago. Every weekend, the city's unique neighborhoods take turns showcasing the best music, food, and art they have to offer, displaying diversity amongst all the subcultures that coexist throughout this beautiful city. The last weekend of July was certainly no exception as the hip artistic area surrounding Wicker Park played host to two full days of summer bliss.

Marco Benevento diggin' on Zak Najor
Wicker Park 2005
The festival was set up through several blocks of Damen Avenue at the "Six Corners" intersection in the heart of Wicker Park. Two stages anchored the festival boundaries with several dozen local food and art vendors set up in between. Subterranean and House Call Entertainment presented all acts on the North Stage, where a number of rock and indie bands played to fans and new listeners alike. The South Stage was presented by Silverwrapper, who brought in a number of extremely talented acts familiar to fans of this scene. For a mere $5 donation, festival-goers were treated to sets by Future Rock, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Motherlode, Benevento/Russo Duo, and MOFRO on Saturday, and Pünsapaya, Mocean Worker, Kaki King, Tortured Soul, and Everyone Orchestra on Sunday. But the party didn't stop there; Silverwrapper also organized late night events each night. On Saturday night things got electronic at the Metro with "FREAKuency Alignment," featuring The New Deal and Conspirator. "Bustle in your Hedgerow" closed out the festival activities Sunday night at Subterranean where the Duo and members of Ween and RANA rocked Led Zeppelin songs all night.

Like any festival, it was hard to catch everything. The following is a review of SOME of the highlights from this incredible weekend in Chicago:

SATURDAY, 7.30.05

Future Rock, an electronica trio from Chicago, kicked off the festival Saturday afternoon. Future Rock has been hitting it hard around Chicago for the past two years and is beginning to gain well-deserved national attention with shows and festival appearances coming up from New York to Colorado. Their music is very groove-based, clearly inspired by the Chicago House scene as well as by textural electronic producers such as Amon Tobin, DJ Shadow, and Aphex Twin (who Future Rock covered). The late July sun helped make their set a sweaty dance party in the middle of the afternoon - a perfect way to kick off what was sure to be an onslaught of delicious music all weekend long.

Reed Mathis - JFJO :: Wicker Park 2005
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, a new-jazz trio from Tulsa, followed. While the instrumentation (drums, bass, piano) may be standard, nothing else about this group is. The musicianship displayed on stage was nothing less than brilliant. Bass virtuoso Reed Mathis played many of the leads and melodies, often several registers higher than a normal bass tone, while keyboardist Brian Haas held down the low end with his left hand. JFJO wound their way through a few improvisations and exceptionally beautiful versions of Bjork's "Isobel" and The Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun." One song that really stood out was "Slow Breath, Silent Mind," introduced by Haas as "a song written by [drummer] Jason Smart about personal evolution." There really is no better way to describe this epic piece of music; all the transitions evoke serious feelings of epiphany as the previous section leads into the next. And while each section of music was unique, they all made sense strung together as one piece - a perfect musical metaphor for life. The set ended with a few old school requests from the front row.

Joe Russo - The Duo :: Wicker Park 2005
Like JFJO, the Benevento/Russo Duo is amazing to watch. Consisting of lifelong friends Marco Benevento on organs and Joe Russo on drums, the Duo pushes the envelope as to how much sound two people can create. Besides being incredible musicians, their recent notoriety has stemmed from a slew of shows with legendary bassist Mike Gordon. Their set on Saturday consisted mostly of songs from their excellent new album Best Reason to Buy the Sun. Sometimes it was swinging jazz, sometimes funky, and sometimes heavy metal-esque or chill-out electronic. Towards the end of the set, true to festival sit-in form, JFJO's Brian Haas joined the Duo during "The Three Question Marks" to create the double-headed keyboard monster of Benevento/Haas. Joe Russo was no stranger to sit-ins himself, playing later that night with Conspirator, The New Deal, and the next day with the Zeppelin project "Bustle in your Hedgerow." If the festival had a mascot, it would have to be Russo. The Duo's music is a wall of fresh sound welded around lovely chord progressions and slick, offbeat rhythmic accents. They are a great band to lose yourself on the dance floor to or to sip a cocktail while you watch and learn.

Wicker Park 2005
"FREAKuency Alignment" featuring The New Deal with Conspirator - now this was a late night party. Doors opened shortly before 11 p.m., and Conspirator took the stage as the partying crowd filed into the Metro, located in another of Chicago's famed neighborhoods, Wrigleyville. Conspirator is a project founded by Disco Biscuits members Aron Magner (keys) and Marc Brownstein (bass) with DJ Omen on the beat. All three members have been around the electronica block and work very well together creating a new style of live electronic dance music. Their set at the Metro also included Jake Cinninger from Umphrey's McGee shredding on the guitar all night and appearances by Kim Manning from P-Funk on vocals and Duo drummer Joe Russo. Their trance-induced set got the crowd riled up for The New Deal in a major way.

The New Deal came on well after midnight after a raging drum and bass set by DJ Omen during set change. For those that don't know, The New Deal is a trio from Toronto that plays electronic music, mostly in the House category. Their shows are famous for the nonstop dance party atmosphere, but their performance Saturday night went above and beyond the already high expectations. They segued directly out of DJ Omen's set and into their own blend of bring-the-house-down dance music.

JJ Grey - MOFRO :: Wicker Park 2005
The New Deal's shows are put together like a DJ's, weaving from track to track without ever stopping, and their songs are more like loose ideas that come in and out as the band members direct each other on the fly. After about twenty minutes, drummer Darren Shearer asked the crowd if we were "ready to go all night" and if it was okay that they play two sets, to which he got a victorious roar of approval. What made this show stand out was that although it was mostly a House party — and what better place than Chicago, the House music capital of the world - the tempo seemed to change often and stayed fresh. Sometimes it can be difficult to listen to House music for three hours as the four-on-the-floor kick drum pattern has a tendency to become repetitive, but The New Deal kept the vibe high and the dance floor on its toes all night (morning) with several European and Jamaican-influenced tracks. Joe Russo made yet another appearance, taking over Shearer's drum kit while Shearer played percussion. Russo fit in very well, reading and anticipating the builds and breakdowns as if he'd been practicing with the band for a while. The set break was great as well as DJ Omen threw down another excellent drum and bass set. Many people didn't even bother to take a break and danced straight through DJ Omen as well. The show ended right after 4:00 a.m., concluding a glorious day in Chicago music history.

SUNDAY, 7.31.05

Pünsapaya :: Wicker Park 2005
Pünsapaya, a rock and roll quartet from Chicago, got things started on Sunday afternoon. Another major up-and-comer in the developing Chicago music scene, this band has it all: massive talent, excellent song writing skills, musical control, a sense of humor, and great on-stage presence. Each band member stepped up at different times throughout their set and took the wheel, while the others fell back and let the other guy have it for a while before regrouping as one unit. They have an uncanny ability to rock a crowd to a frenzy, bring it back down for a minute with a Floyd-esque psychedelic ballad, and build it back up again. The energy and emotion Pünsapaya puts into their music is contagious, and judging by the loyal crowd on Sunday (some still wiping sleep from their eyes from the Metro show), the word is out.

Kaki King :: Wicker Park 2005
Kaki King's set was simply beautiful. She is an instrumental solo guitarist whose music molds several traditional guitar styles into one lush, mellow atmosphere. After all the dancing on Saturday and early Sunday, Kaki King provided a wonderful environment to just listen, mingle, and enjoy the day for what it was: a pleasantly warm Sunday afternoon with friends listening to fantastic music in the middle of the street. She plays her guitars as if they were typewriters; each hand is equally important, majestically gliding up and down the fret board together. At times it was reminiscent of a symphonic orchestra. She shyly thanked the crowd and expressed her excitement to be there after almost every piece, and at the end of her incredible performance, she walked off gracefully with dozens of new fans applauding.

The Everyone Orchestra :: Wicker Park 2005
Bustle in your Hedgerow: The Led Zeppelin Experience closed out the weekend's festivities with another late night show Sunday night at Wicker Park's trademark venue, Subterranean. The show featured Marco Benevento (The Duo) on keys, Joe Russo (The Duo) on drums, Scott Metzger (RANA) on guitar, and Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) on bass. From the moment they took the stage and began playing "Song Remains the Same," you could hear a collective "holy shit!" throughout the crowd as minds were instantly blown. The show was raucously raw classic rock all night performed by some of today's most talented musicians, and it was great to see the band and audience really soaking it all in and having fun, celebrating the end of an incredible festival.

Chicago is famous for many things: the food, the skyline, the sports, the pride, the music, the lake, and the wind, to name a few. Wicker Park Summer Fest was a successful representation of all that is great about summertime in the city here in Chicago. Kudos to Silverwrapper for putting together such an incredible two days of music, to all the musicians and artists for sharing a piece of themselves, and to the entire staff for helping to make it such a memorable experience.

JamBase | Chicago
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[Published on: 9/14/05]

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