If the Chicago area celebrations for the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots toward the end of June seemed to be epic and numerous, the smaller events and aftershocks in July managed to be just as exciting.
On June 27, Grammy-winning pop star Daya hosted a yoga session and, later, a concert at The Park West in front of a packed house. The all-ages show was crammed with adoring young fans who squealed through her live renditions of "Hide Away," "Words" and "Don't Let Me Down." If you missed the show you can still catch her at Market Days on the Bud Light Stage on Aug. 10.
On June 29, the night before the annual Gay Pride Parade, recent Grammy winner and out singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile played to a nearly sold-out Northerly Island venue. Carlile noted that this was the largest turnout for any of her previous Chicago concerts while cracking jokes about her and musical partners Tim and Phil Hanseroth's history of playing here ( and she gave a shout-out to local spot Schuba's ).
She also joked about how surreal her life had become since winning three Grammy Awards last February. The audience loved her tale of being invited to Joni Mitchell's home and having Hozier, Herbie Hancock and a tipsy Chaka Khan join the two of them for an impromptu jam session. ( Due to health issues, Mitchell has retired from music. ) When she was not cracking jokes about her sparkly jacket she dug into a rich set list, which included "Every Time I Hear that Song," "The Word," "The Mother" and some surprising covers ( Elton John's "Madman Across the Water," Mitchell's "A Case of You" and Queen's "We Will Rock You" ).
On July 10, the 39th Annual A Taste of Chicago opened for a five-day run in Grant Parkand proved to be the queerest edition of the festival yet.
Fast rising out rocker and Grammy nominee Courtney Barnett wowed the restless opening night crowd with her deadpan drawl and slashing guitar licks while ripping through chunks of her two full-lengths: Sometimes I just Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit and Tell Me How You Really Feel ( both on Mom and Pop Records ).
The next night was Latin Night, and opener Cultura Profetica did not disappoint with percolating Latin beats fused with creamy-smooth reggae. A high point of the set had vocalist Willy Rodriguez setting aside his guitar for an intense slow funk cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness." Before co-headliner Bomba Estero played, the Ortega Brothers hit the stage in traditional costumes to tell the crowd about a host of upcoming Latin musical events in Chicago. Moments later, Li Saumet floated onstage like a fairy godmother and incited the packed crowd to start shaking their butts. With all of the Latinx Pride on display and the daily acknowledgement of indigenous cultures rooted in Chicago, this particular show felt like a stiff-lipped rebuke to the impending ICE raids that were reportedly slated to start the following day.
July 12 brought bi rapper Taylor Bennett for a slew of rapid-fire songs and hand-waving that had the near SRO audience engaged and stomping. It was a fiery set devoid of anger, featuring songs like "Hype Me Up," "Know Yourself" and "Better than You Ever Been." Old-school hip-hop icons and class clowns De La Soul headlined the show, continuing Bennett's vibe but also finding time to stop the show and crack wise with the press photographers in the photo pit. The mix of energetic raps and comedy made for a thrilling show.
I did not attend the festival on July 13 so I missed The Strumbellas but the show on July 14 offered the best line-up of the fest. Opener Bilal's tune-less jazz funkwhich sounded like it would have fared better in the old HotHouse venue on South Wabash Avenuestumped the audience, who sat stone-faced through most of his performance. Things changed dramatically once out icon Meshell Ndegeocello and her band got onstage and rolled out a set of intoxicating slow funk that had the crowd on its feet while listening intently. India.Arie closed the festival with parts of her recent album, Worthy ( on Universal Republic Records ); her set included the title song and the controversial song "What If?"
If the big-name attractions at the Petrillo Band Shell didn't offer something for everyone, there was plenty going on throughout the rest of Grant Park. The Goose Island Stage offered a daily dose of some of the best talent in town, with sets from Ode, Nia Kay, Jamiah Rogers and Avantist. The Summer Dance tent featured daily dancing to live musical performances ( the set I saw with Lynn Jordan and The Shivers was particularly celebratory ), while this year the festival spotlighted Chicago theater. Among the spots represented in performance was The Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club, with well-known drag performers Sunny Dee-light, Shantell DeMarco and Lila Star wowing surprised patrons with blasts of class, talent and energy. If all that still was not enough, several squads of hip-hop street acrobats performed pop-up shows all over the festival grounds and there were a host of cooking demonstations. Lastly, of course, there was an awful lot of food, from Eli's Cheesecake to those gargantuan barbecued turkey legs to "Mac and Cheese Day" as well as libations of every type for every taste ( like Goose Island Brewery, Stella Rosa Wines and CH Distillery ).