Check out Square Roots

chill night, right?I know the best place in town to hear music and try literally dozens of beers, and it is not Taste of Chicago. Tonight, I checked out the Square Roots Festival in Lincoln Square, and it was awesome. The Square Roots Festival runs from Friday, July 11 through Sunday, July 13, and you (yes, you) should check it out. Despite getting there shortly after 8:00 p.m., music was pumping out of the north stage and there were hundreds of people in the street between Montrose and Wilson on Lincoln Ave. Most of the vendors were still open, including an amazing line up of food trucks, tents, and…oh, right, the beer: Fifteen primarily local breweries each with at least two of their lineup for you to try.

Most street festivals and art shows in Chicago put forth the same line up of art vendors, and this festival isn’t much different, save that a number of local vendors from Lincoln Square have tents offering their wares. A score of local restaurants have food stations lining the street, including Lincoln Square favorites Bistro Campagne, Fountainhead, Gather, and Cheesie’s Pub.

Music, however, is the biggest draw for the festival, proceeds from which will help support the Old Town School of Folk (full disclosure: I take guitar lessons at the school). Tonight,  Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate were creating amazing African/hip hop/reggae awesomeness (that’s a thing, right?) to a crowd of well over two hundred. They were followed by Ivan & Alyosha, a Seattle based group with a fantastic name (any other Literature geeks get the reference?), a remarkably upbeat folk band whose album I’ll be purchasing as soon as my bank account will allow. Tomorrow’s headliner is Bobby Bare, Jr’s Young Criminals Starvation League. You can check out “Valentine” on YouTube.

Folk and World Music bands aren’t the only acts getting stage time. Old Town offers a number of awesome music ensembles and classes. Sunday will feature their Brazilian Folk Ensemble with Paulinho Garcia (5:00-5:45 p.m); visitors can try out their African Dance (1:30 – 2:30 p.m) or Flamenco classes (2:45- 3:45 p.m), or just hang out and watch Aloft Circus Arts (8:00 – 8:30 p.m). If you want to catch up with Travis and me, you’ll find us in the 2nd Half Guitar Jam (1:30 – 2:15 p.m).

There’s always something to do on summer weekends in Chicago. There’s a street fest happening almost every weekend, and this weekend there’s Taste of Chicago to compete with as well. If you want over-crowded places with absurd food prices and too many tourists, go to Taste. If you want a chill atmosphere, great beers, and an amazing musical experience, then go to Square Roots.

Musical String Theory: Richard Thompson in Millennium Park (With Further Downtown Sounds)

The Downtown Sound series on Monday evenings in Millennium Park gives lovers of rock music the chance to hear some of the newest and most innovative sounds, with an old-school veteran or two thrown in for good measure. I have already been privileged to be there for when She & Him and Iron & Wine played outstanding shows, but this past week saw me experience what may have been the best performance to take place there in five years of concert going: Richard Thompson.

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The Grammys Live Blog, 2014, by Andrew J. Rostan and others


Sara Barielles is wearing a magnificent dress of floral appliques. Macklemore beat Kanye West for Best Rap Album. And I’ve been drinking Crown Royal and other concoctions the past 24 hours as a rapidly-organized gathering of Rostans celebrated the life of my Uncle Donald. But I promised I would live-blog the Grammy broadcast, so here it is.

I spent a long time talking to my father and uncles about music, and they mentioned they could not get into modern sounds…and of course I would take the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, ’70s progressive rock Miles and Trane and Monk, over most of today’s music any day…it just sounded better, more organic, meant more. But that is not to say today’s music is worse, for there are always examples of joy, beauty, and wonder. Pure pop that gives the masses a glorious time, social commentary done in clever ways, songs that cut to the heart of human emotion. And the best writers are getting younger all the time…

Like pop’s newest BFFs. Read the Rolling Stone cover story on Lorde: they help each other interior decorate!

So let’s see what’s the new Sound of Young America (don’t sue me, Berry Gordy) in a continuing series of updates after every commercial break (when I’ll be composing and refining sentences).

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Long Players – Rapping, Confessing, and Two Guys in Helmets

I once said some disparaging things about the Grammy Awards on this site, but while I still think the concept of pitting all forms of music against each other in competition is the most ridiculous of any merit ceremony, I also cannot deny that the Grammys have their place in capturing the diversity and the zeitgeist of American taste, no more so than in the Album of the Year category, in which rock and pop meet blues, country, jazz, classical, and soundtracks on equal terms, and after a somewhat reactionary first decade (three awards, two definitely deserved for Frank Sinatra, but also Vaughan “JFK” Meader and GLEN CAMPBELL (winning over RICHARD HARRIS) taking home honors), the category more or less hit its stride and may, more than the Oscars, give us a reflection of the country’s mood.

But SERIOUSLY this might be the best Album of the Year nomination ever. Not nominated record. Two different things.

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Caroline (and Jane)

I had to write something about Lou Reed this week. Had to. He not only makes a bit of a cameo in my new book, as I spend an instant musing on how my six year-old self sang along with his father and the radio to “Walk on the Wild Side,” merrily intoning the phrase “giving head” without knowing what that meant. But also, as a wealth of articles and tributes has confirmed, Lou Reed was special. He was someone people cared about perhaps more than society expected.

And this goes beyond the four-piece band who hung out with Warhol and briefly featured a sexy German model with the flattest voice on the planet. If the Velvet Underground no longer seem as strange and daring as they once did, and there are plenty of moments I still find them strange and daring, it’s because everything they recorded was studied and absorbed by rock, pop, even, I would argue, metal and rap. They took the traditional forms of rock music and injected avant-garde experiments which still sounded accessible, mixed in unflinching, coldly real lyrics that read with all the poetry of Dylan, and refused to do anything normal. Even their most conventional songs had tricks in the tails: “Femme Fatale” has a melody worthy of a 70s California soft-rock song, but Nico’s intonation makes it terrifying. “Rock and Roll” mixes its heart-on-sleeve pop feel with guitar sounds I’ve never heard before or since and that piano which comes out of nowhere. And then we have “European Son,” “Sister Ray,” “The Murder Mystery,” “I’m Sticking With You…”

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How Many Comebacks Can You Have? – Elton John’s “The Diving Board”

During the Emmy Awards, a show which was not merely a train wreck but a train-crashing-through-the-walls-of-the-station disaster, one of the most glaringly WTF moments came when Michael Douglas and Matt Damon strained credulity by insisting that Elton John’s new single “Home Again” fit in so thematically well with their film about Liberace. Not that “Home Again” is a bad song.  Far from it. It’s actually a gorgeous ballad with elegant music, strongly impressionistic lyrics, and a haunting arrangement which allows touches of horns and choir to sneak in like the memories of the past Sir Elton sings about. And the performance was superb, as one could expect from one of the world’s premier showmen. It just had nothing to do with anything being honored on stage that night. WHY it was there seems to stem, in my opinion, from a tsunami of positive reactions, mostly from middle-aged critics at all of the major media sources, regarding his new album The Diving Board, released this past week.

I was intrigued by The Diving Board mostly because of the tone of these reviews; over and over again from Rolling Stone to The Wall Street Journal the aforementioned critics declared it “a comeback…his best album since the seventies” and variations thereof over and over again.

This worried me.

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Andrew’s Odds and Ends on the Music of Summer 2013

Last year, our readers may remember my ventures to listen to Bruce Springsteen from my front porch and attend Riot Fest to see Elvis Costello and sundry others. This year, big concerts were not in the budget as I am saving for a lot of book-related activities, and the Wrigley Field free concerts were not on the same excitement level as Springsteen, yet it’s hard for me to pass up the chance to hear terrific A-List music. Armed with a case of Shiner Bock in my cooler, I went out to hear some tunes and also observe the audiences.

The Wrigley Field music this year brought back a lot of nostalgia for my days at the Ohio Department of Transportation, cruising along the Mahoning County highways picking up litter and listening to whatever was on the driver’s preferred station, and our drivers preferred the hard rock/heavy metal and country stations without exception. As a strong proponent for melody in music, I developed an unexpected taste for country during those summers as a type of music which thrives on crafting infectious tunes you can hum, and while I did not acquire a similar love for a musical style that seemed to involve screaming out the words half the time, the modern rock station gave me a healthy appreciation for Pearl Jam: the songwriting without the necessity of rhyme, the roaring emotion of Eddie Vedder’s voice, the way Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitar lines never resolved the way you expected. To this day, “Black” remains one of the most impressive and moving—and excellent—rock songs of my lifetime. So I had high hopes for these two evenings.

How much the audience shared these hopes was revealed only with the passage of time. The key takeaway of my pre-show people watching was how corporate these audiences were: while a significant number were in T-shirts and jeans (including about 70 different Pearl Jam shirts from various tours), there were many men in button-down shirts, and many women in dresses, done hair, full make-up, for outdoor concerts on very warm July nights. There was much complaining about scalping, and much discontent whenever someone saw me writing things down in my pocket Moleskine. These did not seem to be people who were enjoying themselves but people who viewed the shows as commodities, presentations of particular things which they deemed fit of occupying a few hours of their time, and treating them as any other event.

This impression was wrong.


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