PrologueThis year we got a four day weekend at the Fourth of July. It seemed like an important year for taking part in July 4 activities. If we had been at home we probably would have stayed in, since the Boston
Esplanade scene is such a mess if you don't live right in town. But we decided to take advantage of a good airfare and hotel deal and go to Chicago. We have always wanted to go there, and like Memphis, it has a really good blues scene, so we were sure we could have a lot of fun.
7/4/2002 - Arrival, July 4th at the Navy Pier, BluesCraig's Mom picked us up at 7:45 a.m. and brought us to the airport. The airport was really dead, and it took us no time at all to check in and go through security. We ate breakfast at Burger King and then headed to the gate to wait. Our American Airlines flight departed at 10:02. We really like American these days, as they really do have more legroom in coach than the other airlines.
We arrived in Chicago at 11:15 Central Daylight Time. We took the Airport Express shuttle to our hotel. We bought round-trip tickets so that they would bring us back to the airport when we were ready to depart. The drive to the hotel was about 30 minutes. The highway system was really nice, as there were express lanes that led right to downtown, so that you didn't need to contend with lots of cars entering and exiting.
Our hotel was right on the Magnificent Mile. It was the Omni Chicago Hotel . We ended up staying there because we had gotten a very good deal on the room. Our room was 714. It didn't have a very impressive view, but that was just fine with us. The room itself was great! It had a sitting room with Web TV, a fax machine, phone, two wing chairs, an ottoman, a desk and chair, a wet bar, minibar, and coffeemaker. There were French doors that opened into the bedroom, which contained a kingsized bed, three oversized pillows, a CD player/clock, a TV, and a phone. The bathroom was very spacious and contained a hairdryer. There was also an ironing board, iron, and umbrella in the closet. The layout of the room was very nice, as the rooms formed a circle and we wouldn't get in one another's way. We relaxed and unpacked for about an hour and a half, and then headed out.
The weather was about 90 degrees and sunny, but it felt good, as it had been 97 and very humid back home. We walked down Michigan Avenue. There were tons of tourists on the sidewalks, with shops and resturants lining both sides of the street. On the same block as our hotel we saw Garrett's Popcorn Shop. The place always had a huge line snaking through the small store, and as soon as they could produce caramel popcorn, it was scooped into wax paper baggies and given to the hungry customers. We didn't brave the line on this trip to Chicago, but it's a must for the next time we're there!
We passed the Wrigley Building, which has a beautiful clock tower and some exquisite stonework. Next to it is the Chicago Sun Times building (Roger Ebert's place of employment). It's just a standard generic office building. Across the street is the Chicago Tribune building (where Gene Siskel used to work). It was funny, because I never imagined Siskel and Ebert as working literally across the street from one another. The Tribune building is gorgeous, with lots of adornments. Chicago on the whole has a wealth of beautiful architecture (and this is without even seeing the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings there).
We stopped in at the Rand McNally Travel Store (couldn't resist, with our travel addiction) and bought a map of the city. We browsed around in there and saw a really neat book of photos called Earth from Above. This book contains 365 photos of various countries taken by Yann Arthus-Betrand. The photos were just amazing, and we were captivated by the book. A guy working in the store told us that about a hundred of these photos were currently on display as an outdoor exhibit in one of Chicago's parks. We made a mental note to try keep an eye out for this exhibit during our wanderings.
We started to notice that revolving doors are very popular in Chicago. Our hotel had them, and so did pretty much every store. We wandered around to try to find some lunch. We went to Carson's, The Place for Ribs, which we had read about on the web. It is very unassuming from the outside, and has a sign advertising its "sophisticated carry-out packaging." We went inside and found that the inside was a little more upscale than some of the other rib places we have been to (Redbone's in Somerville and the Rendezvous in Memphis). But it was really nice. The service was fantastic. Craig, always eager to try a local brew, got the Two Brothers Dog Days Lager, and I just got a soda.
They brought us a basket of various hot fresh bread and rolls. Next we got our cole slaw, which is served as an appetizer. It was the kind of cole slaw we really like, all green cabbage, and very juicy. Very delicious, and generous portions. Craig got a full rack of baby back ribs. I got a half rack of baby backs and a pork chop. This was served with a double baked potato and a decanter of warm barbecue sauce (even though there was already a liberal amount on the meat). Everything was delicious. The pork chop was about an inch thick and was so tender. And the ribs were wonderful. The barbecue sauce was kind of tangy and smoky. We wore Carson's plastic bibs for the messy endeavor (yet they were squeaky clean once we finished eating, so we were proud of ourselves- especially me!) and were given hot moist towelettes to clean up afterwards. I had a little piece of pork chop left over so we decided to utilize thir "sophisticated carry-out packaging" to take it back to the room.
On the way back to the hotel we walked down the street to find the Blue Chicago club. Some good blues was scheduled there over the weekend, and we wanted to see if we could find it. Blue Chicago actually consists of two clubs which are a couple bocks apart, both on North Clark ("Blue Chicago on Clark" is at 536 N. Clark St., and "Blue Chicago" is at 736 N. Clark). They charge a $7 cover and have a 2 drink minimum, but one cover charge will get you into both clubs, and you can come and go as you please.
We went into Walgreen's and bought Craig a Chicago hat, since the sun was so strong, and some bottled water. We brought all of the stuff back to the hotel (putting the pork chop leftovers into the minifridge) and we cleaned ourselves up a bit. We walked down Michigan Ave. to the Chicago River. We headed down the Riverwalk. It was a nice place to walk, and we passed the Centennial Fountain and a Water Arc that shoots water across the river for the first ten minutes of every hour. The fountain is constructed so that you can stand inside of it, behind the wall of water.
After we reached the end of the Riverwalk, we headed to the Navy Pier (on Lake Michigan), where the 4th of July fireworks were scheduled to take place. There were lots of people there, just walking around on the pier, buying food and drinks, etc. We caught the sunset over the Chicago skyline. It was very beautiful. You can carry alcohol around within the confines of the pier, and Craig got a Honey Weisen and I got a Doc's hard lemonade. We sat down near a building (out of the way of the crowd) and people-watched. It was a lot of fun, and we saw some interesting stuff.
The fireworks took place over the lake and lasted for about 15 minutes (9:30-9:45). They were accompanied by patriotic pop music, as well as "Stars and Stripes Forever" and the National Anthem. Everyone was very enthusiastic, and it felt special to be a part of 4th of July festivities this year.
We walked out with the rest of the mob at 9:45, and headed back to the hotel to change our clothes for a night on the town. We then walked down to Blue Chicago (736 N. Clark), where Willie Kent and his Gents were scheduled. Willie has won a bunch of Handy Awards for best bassist, including the year that we went to the Handy's in 2001. He is 66 years old and used to be Muddy Waters' bass player. Now he fronts his own band, Willie Kent and his Gents.
The club was very nice, with a bar in the center and a stage on one end. There were tables with stools and a couple booths around the perimeter, and tables with chairs in the center. There was a dance floor right in front of the band. We found stools to sit on at a table off to the side of the venue, near the stage. While walking to our seats, a guy (who later truned out to be Kenny Barker, the keyboardist) said "House rules, if you sit up front you have to dance."
Willie and the guys hit the stage around 10:55 (ten minutes after we arrived). We had missed their first set, but that was ok. Craig drank Goose Island Honker's Ale (another local brew) and I had some margaritas. We had a great view, and I was able to get some photos. During the intermission, we bought one of Willie's CD's, and he signed it for us. The wife of James 'the Marlboro Man' Wheeler (the guitarist) was selling the CD's, and always made sure that people were dancing. There is a song that we had heard Shemekia Copeland sing which makes reference to the ghetto. Willie sang a version of it tonight, and I asked him "What's the name of that song you played about the ghetto?" He perked right up, and said "That's the name of it!" He has a million-dollar smile, and when he flashes it, the room just lights up. I asked if we could get a photo with him, and he said no problem. A nice guy in the audience took a photo for us.
During the next set, Eddie Shaw (a sax player fresh off tour with George Thorogood) sang with them on a song called "Sadie". He was very animated and fun to watch. People started to dance, and a guy asked me if I wanted to dance. Craig, not too fond of dancing, was happy that I would be able to dance, so I hit the dance floor with this guy and we had a lot of fun. The show ended at 1:30. Kenny (the keyboardist) told me that I had to pay to get out because I hadn't been dancing. I told him that I had been, and he said "Just because I wear dark glasses don't mean I'm Ray Charles". When Craig corroborated my story he said that he knew I had danced, and that he was just messing with me.
Jake "the Snake" Dawson (guitarist) told Craig that we have to come back again over the next couple nights. We said goodbye and thanks to the band, and walked back to the hotel. We watched some TV (saw the Boston Esplanade 4th celebration on the news) and I wrote in the journal. We got to bed around 3:00.
7/5/2002 - Earth from Above, Taste of Chicago, BluesWe woke up at around 10 a.m. and made some coffee in the room. We had a leisurely morning, and ended up leaving the room at around 1:15. We went to Giordano's for stuffed pizza. You put your name in for a table, and while you wait, you can submit your pizza order. We ordered a sausage and pepperoni stuffed pizza, which was a layer of crust, a layer of pepperoni and sausage, a thick later of gooey mozzerella, another layer of crust, topped off with a layer of sauce. We were seated after about 15 or 20 minutes and got our pizza soon afterwards. It was at least an inch thick. We were surprised at how light it tasted; it looked like it would weigh a ton in your stomach. It was heavenly. Craig had a Goose Island Honker's Ale, and I had some pink lemonade. We had two pieces of pizza left over, which we took as a doggy bag.
We dropped that off at the hotel room and then walked to Millennium Park on the other side of the Chicago River to see the Earth from Above exhibit. There was a large world map on the ground, and thumbnails of each photograph were placed on the map in the location in which they were taken. The photos were 3 feet by 4 feet, and were lined up in several rows. Lots of people were viewing them, and everyone seemed to be quite intrigued. The photos were all taken from a helicopter, and offered a unique perspective on today's world. We spent about an hour and a half wandering among the 121 photos.
The day was gorgeous. It was around 80 degrees and sunny. We left the exhibit around 5:00. We had planned to go to the Adler Planetarium's Far Out Friday, but that only runs from 5:30 to 10, and the planetarium was still a bit of a walk from where we were, so we decided to skip it.
Instead we went to Grant Park, where the Taste of Chicago food festival was underway. There were so many people there it was unbelievable. The deal is that you buy tickets (11 for $7) and then exchange them for food from various local restaurants. We just walked around, because we were not hungry following our pizza lunch. We walked through and went to the Buckingham Fountain, which we recognized from the intro to Married with Children. We then crossed Lakeshore Drive and sat on the shore of Lake Michigan. If we looked to our left we could see the Navy Pier, and to our right we could see the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. Both of these places (as well as the Museum of Science and Industry) are supposed to be excellent, so we'll make it a point to see them on subsequent trips. Somehow the weather was just too nice to spend the day in a museum.
The weather was beautiful and breezy. We got a drink and I got an ice cream (since this was outside of the park, you could use money instead of tickets). We then walked back through Grant Park. There were small stages with bands, and a free main concert was taking place each day of the festival. Today's bands on the main stage were Survivor and Foreigner. We decided to check out the stage area. There are a limited number of seats near the stage, available for free on a first come first served basis. Behind these there is a chain link fence, and behind the chain link fence there is a grassy area where people can spread blankets and listen to the music. We sat dfown for a few minutes and listened to a few Foreigner songs, but tired of it quickly.
We walked back to the hotel. On the way, we passed the Earth from Above exhibit again. We stopped in and bought the companion book (which contains 365 of the pictures).
We walked over to the Jazz Record Mart (recommended by our friend Tom), but by now it was after 8:00. Most shops close early, and this was no exception. We did find Virgin Records to be open, though, and we stopped in to look at their blues selection. We saw a CD by Johnny B. Moore, and Craig mentioned that he was playing at Blue Chicago on Clark that night. We had thought that we might see Willie Kent again, since he was so good, but Willie would be playing the next night as well, and we thought this would be our only opportunity to see Johnny. We bought one of his CD's that had been recorded live at Blue Chicago.
We went back to the hotel to change, and then walked to the club. We arrived toward the middle of the first set. Johnny B. Moore and the band were playing, and Bobbye King was singing some low down, dirty, raunchy blues. It was great. The place was busy, and we couldn't get a table. We wound up standing against the wall, directly to the side of the stage.
This Blue Chicago (536 N. Clark) was smaller than the other, and it was hard to fit everyone in (especially because the bouncers would only let you stand in certain places). But we did ok. We liked the atmosphere of the other club better, though. This one's decor was kind of sparse. We had read that this was the Blue Chicago with the "good ambiance", but we both preferred the ambiance the previous night. Still, we gad a great time. Craig drank Honker's Ale and I had margaritas. Our waitress tonight was Jessica. We were standing next to a table of three guys from Michigan, whom we spoke to sporadically throughout the evening.
It was announced that Bobbye and Johnny were each selling/signing CD's. Because we had bought a Johnny CD earlier, I asked him to sign it. He seemed very shy, but nodded and signed it for me. I went over to Bobbye and she was selling a compilation album of Mojo Mamas from Blue Chicago. I purchased it and she autographed it for me. When I got back to Craig, I opened it and realized that she isn't even on the CD! But that's because she was filling in for someone else, and she is still considered a mojo mama at Blue Chicago.
The second set started up, and Johnny B. Moore fronted the band, singing as he played guitar. Then about halfway through, Bobbye King came back onstage and joined them. She launched into "Walkin' the Dog" and got a girl and her husband to demonstrate. She heckled them and then called me up front. I danced in front of everyone. She heckled me as well. It was funny, and the Michigan guys were hooting and hollering. Later, they asked Jessica which one of them had ingested the most alcohol. After the set we spoke to the Michigan guys some more. They were estimating their tab. Their guesses ranged from $60 to $109. Actual tab was $150. When they left, they let us have their table, so we were able to sit. We joked with Jessica about them for a while.
The band came back on. Johnny sang a couple songs, then the other guitarist took lead vocals. He sang "It Hurts Me Too", and Johnny played a mean slide guitar. Then Bobbye came back out to finish off the set. The show ended at 1:30. We said goodbye to the band and singers . Bobbye pointed and said "I got you!" We got back to the hotel at 2. We ate some of our leftover pizza and I wrote in the journal. We were in bed around 3:00.
7/6/2002 - Taste of Chicago, BluesWe woke up at 10 a.m. and had a leisurely morning. We listened to our Johnny B. Moore CD and our Mojo Mama CD. We left the room around 12:30. We stopped at Walgreen's to drop off two rolls of film. We bought a StreetWise newspaper from a blind man for a donation. StreetWise is an organization that helps the homeless by teaching them how to help themselves.
Then we walked to the Jazz Record Mart. We got a couple Willie Kent CD's to take to the show that night for autographs. There was a StreetWise vendor outside. He saw that we had the newspaper, but asked if we had any change we could donate. We did, and he was very appreciative.
One thing we want to do the next time we are in Chicago is to take the Not Your Mama's Bus Tour, which is a tour led by former StreetWise vendors through some of the parts of Chicago in which homeless people live. It is supposed to be a very entertaining and informative tour taken from these people's life experiences. It operates in the summer each year on Fridays and Saturdays. We were unable to do it strictly because of the timing and the fact that advanced reservations were required. It is a good thing for next time though.
We then went to the Blue Chicago store, where we bought some T-shirts, a magnet, and a postcard which features last night's bouncer, Lorenzo (in the postcard, the stone-faced bouncer stands outside the club, with the caption "Lorenzo Welcomes You." It was pretty ironic. Craig wishes there had been a postcard of Jessica, though.)
We felt like eating steak today, so we set out in search of the Kinzie Chop House, which was one of the few steak joints open for lunch. Well, we found it, but it was not open as promised. So we started walking back toward Michigan Avenue, and we ran into Harry Caray's restaurant. The side of the building was festooned with a banner which proclaims Harry's trademark phrase "Holy Cow", and a caricature of him. We looked this place up in our guidebook, and it is indeed a steakhouse, and it was indeed open for lunch. We decided to go there. It was around 2:10. The entrance hall was decorated with autographed publicity stills from actors, athletes, and broadcasting personalities. There was original cartoon art for the comic strip Shoe (one of my favorites throughout my childhood, before its creator Jeff MacNelly passed away). Their was a caricature of Shoe's Perfesser next to Harry Caray, and it seemed that Harry is who the Perfesser was modeled after.
The place was kind of pricey for lunch, but it definitely proved to be worth it. Craig and I split a 32 oz peppercorn-encrusted porterhouse that was so tender you could probably cut the whole thing with a fork. We also shared a serving of meat lasagna. The side dish for the beef was pasta in a marinara sauce. Craig had two Goose Islands, and I had two Doc's lemonades.
Next we picked up our photos at Walgreen's and stopped into the Rand McNally store. We bought some guidebooks for New Zealand and Belize (places we hope to go within the next couple years). Then we headed over to Taste of Chicago. Once again we were too full to eat anything, but we were interested in today's concert (A Walk Down Abbey Road featuring Jack Bruce, Eric Carmen, Christopher Cross, Mark Farner, and Alan Parsons). We sat in the area behind the chain link fence. We got there around 4 p.m. We sat in the warm sunshine and looked at our pictures. There was a great one of us and Willie which we decided we would try to get him to sign. We flipped through our travel books and before we knew it it was 5:00 and the show was starting.
We had seen this show last year in Boston (although there were cooler people in the band then: John Entwhistle, Ann Wilson, and Todd Rundgren, to be precise), and this year's worked the same way: a mixture of Beatles tunes and some of the individual participants' own material. The Beatles stuff sounded great. Even the solo stuff was entertaining (during "Sailing" we were mesmerized by a bubble that stayed aloft for the duration of the song and floated out over the buildings of South Michigan Avenue. After some observation we realized that some kids were making them out of some sort of plastic substance. Still very cool, but it made more sense than a soap bubble floating for that far a distance.
The first set ended at 6:20, and Craig spoke to some guys from Chicago sitting in front of us. We watched the beginning of the second set (which included a great "Norwegian Wood") but then realized that if we stayed much longer we would be late for the Willie Kent show, so we reluctantly left. On the walk back to the hotel, I got a Spongebob Squarepants ice cream from the Good Humor man. We walked back to the hotel and got changed.
We headed down to Blue Chicago (736 N. Clark), and got there at 8:10 (they open at 8). We went in and found a table, and who did we see but Jessica! She greeted us warmly and asked if Craig still wanted Goose Island and if I still wanted margaritas with no salt. She said that if we ran a tab we'd have to guess it before we left. We all had a good laugh. I got the picture out for Willie to sign, and realized that I had forgotten the new CD's we had bought today. D'oh! Willie signed the picture for us and said "Alright!" Craig said "I know it sounds clichéd, but we've been here for three days. We're going home to Boston tomorrow and we haven't heard 'Sweet Home Chicago' yet." Willie asked where we had been last night; he had played it then. We told him that we weren't there Friday night but we had been there on Thursday. He said alright, he would do the Robert Johnson version and then a Chicago version. We thanked him.
Then we talked to Jake "The Snake" Dawson (one of the guitarists). Jessica told us that there would be four sets tonight, ending at 2:30. Tonight Patricia Scott was playing with Willie. Willie and his Gents played the first half of the set, and then Patricia joined them. She was a powerhouse. She is guitarist James "the Marlboro Man" Wheeler's sister-in-law (the sister of the woman who was selling CD's the last time we were there).
Toward the end of the set, Willie said they had some requests. He played happy birthday for one woman, and then Patricia said "There's a couple from Boston that have been here two days and go home tomorrow..." Willie interrupted, "No, they've been here a long time, they've been HERE two nights." "Ok, they've been here two nights, and they want to hear 'Sweet Home Chicago'?" We were afraid people would think it was a real cliché but many clapped. The band launched into a great delta blues Robert Johnson version...it was amazing! And then it kicked into a rockin' Chicago blues with a singalong for the crowd. People were dancing...it was great!
After the set, Willie walked by our table and we thanked him, and he said "So you liked your song?" He talked to us for a couple minutes about Robert Johnson. He was a really nice guy. Then Jake came back and talked to us about the original House of Blues in Cambridge (the relief pictures of great blues artists) and some chair/couch of soda pop caps in the dressing room. He was really friendly. We talked to Patricia and bought a Red Hot Mamas CD (which she appears on). She signed it for us. We wanted a photo with her, and she said "Get him [Willie] to take it." He did. We talked to a couple from California who were seated at our table.
We watched the last set, and as the club was closing at 2:30, we said goodbye to the band. Craig talked to Kenny Barker about the fact that Kenny's Hammond keyboard sounds very much like a Hammond B3. Kenny said Roland has taken the lead and that Hammond ironically has to keep up. We shook Willie's hand and thanked him. We said bye to Jake and Patricia.
We walked back to the hotel and arrived at around 3:00. We ate the leftover pizza and pork chop that we had stashed in the minibar- yum! Then we did some packing and went to sleep around 3:30.
7/7/2002 - DepartureOur wake call up came at 6 a.m. We made coffee while we got ready, and went down to the lobby at 6:30. The timing was perfect as Airport Express had just arrived. It took 30 minutes to get to airport. O'Hare has these great automated check-in machines. You answer some questions and swipe your credit card, and it automatically checks you in and prints out your boarding passes. It was so fast that we were heading to the gate by 7:05, for our 9:30 flight.
We saw on the board that there was a plane to Boston that was supposed to depart at 8:02. We went to that gate and the friendly woman at the desk put us onto the standby list. After a few minutes they called our name, after the flight had begun boarding. Since they no longer serve food on shorter flights, we knew we'd be starving by the time we reached Boston. So I ran to the nearest concession stand and got a bagel for Craig and a muffin for myself, to carry on to the plane. We ended up being able to sit together. And even if we hadn't gotten food, the flight attendant gave us 3 cereal bars each, so we had enough to eat.
As we appproached New England, there was an odor of smoke, and the clouds surrounding the plane were very brown. Craig said he thought it smelled like a forest fire. Soon everyone in the plane smelled it and the pilot came onto the intercom saying "I know you are all smelling fumes, usually the first sign that there is something wrng with the plane..." What??! A collective gasp. "...but I've been in contact with the tower and it seems that there is a large wildfire in Quebec and lots of planes are complaining about it. As we descend, the smell shoudn't be as strong." Phew!
We got to Boston at 11:15.We took a cab to Craig's grandmother's house, and Craig's mom picked us up there. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the drive back, trying to keep ourselves awake after 2.5 hours of sleep. So, we managed to have an excellent trip without using up and vacation days. Chicago is definitely a good long weekend destination, and I'm sure we'll return.
Navy Pier sunset
Willie Kent and his Gents at Blue Chicago
Us with Willie Kent at Blue Chicago
Pizza at Giordano's
Johnny B. Moore, Blue Chicago
Johnny B. Moore and Bobbye King, Blue Chicago
Patricia Scott with Willie Kent and his Gents, Blue Chicago
Willie Kent and his Gents, Blue Chicago
Us with Patricia Scott at Blue Chicago
Patricia Scott with Willie Kent and his Gents, Blue Chicago