Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blown Away

Today was the last day of the Tony Fitzpatrick exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. Earlier last week I stopped by to see Tony’s work in person for the first time. To be honest, I was probably more familiar with Tony from his brief stint as radio talk show host here in Chicago than his work as an artist. I remember winning a double live CD of the Police on his show as he invited listeners to give him the best reason why we should win the CD. I described the time I purchased a bootleg version of this concert and that someone must have sneezed on the vinyl because I heard a “pop” on a couple different songs every time I played it. My tale of woe gave Tony a brief laugh and I won the CD. I digress.

I knew Tony’s art had won him critical acclaim and that his artwork has graced the last few Steve Earle album covers. For some reason, though, his work never connected with me. Until last week. The exhibition is a tribute to Chicago, the city he grew up in. As a lifelong Chicagoan, myself, I felt connected and blown away by his work. Especially the piece that features Joe Crede. Fitzpatrick really hit the ball out of the park (pun intended) in the work and I flashed back to Crede's emergance as a star in the 2005 World Series run. In seeing Fitzpatrick's work in person, I was able to really see the 3D elements of his mixed media work - and I was amazed. I walked out of the exhibition with a new perspective and a giddy feeling of really seeing and understanding something for the first time.

Like all works of art that resonates with me, I feel motivated and inspired to create my own artistic statements. I think all good art has the ability to challenge and inspire us to express ourselves creatively. Thanks, Tony for the inspirational kick in the butt!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Future King of the Blues?

The largest free blues festival in America (the 25th Chicago Blues Fest) took place in Chicago last weekend and as usual, it offered visitors a mighty good time. It has been a tradition for me to take a day off of work and head down to watch some of the greats perform. Deep down, I am a huge rock and roll fan, and I realize that without the blues, it might just be “Roll.”

As a music fan, I have been around the block a few times, but I always discover “new” musicians that catch my attention at the Chicago Blues Festival. This year was no exception. Walking toward the Front Porch Stage, I heard a soulful voice beckoning me. As I got closer, I discovered one of the most expressive and gifted singers that I have heard in a while in Jo Jo Murray. He had the ability to sing an emotional, soulful ballad and follow that up with a down and dirty rockin’ blues tune. Why had I not heard of him? He was simply amazing.

The evening, though, belonged to Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, one of Chicago’s unspoken blues heroes. Yes, Buddy Guy is “the man” in Chicago – and deservedly so. But Mr. Clearwater showed the crowd that he deserved some attention. With the recent release of his first Alligator CD, “West Side Strut,” Clearwater’s set included a handful of special guests that appeared on the CD. These guests included Lonnie Brooks, Billy Branch, Otis Clay, Jimmy Johnson and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Clearwater started his set playing three songs with his touring band and it was clear he was in good form. Later, Ronnie Baker Brooks took over with his band while Clearwater went backstage for a costume change. Brooks played with fiery abandon as his more distorted tone rocked the crowd. After a costume change, Clearwater re-emerged to the stage with Indian headdress to the explosive version of “They Call Me the Chief.” What grabbed my attention was Ronnie Baker Brooks’ blistering lead licks. The sight and sounds of old school and new school co-existing with such musical harmony was magical. Yes, I admired Eddie Clearwater for the blues wisdom that he brought to the stage. But, suddenly, Ronnie Baker Brooks had captured my attention with his magical playing. I was mesmerized. Later, Ronnie was joined on the stage with his father Lonnie, Billy Branch and Otis Clay. Together, these all-stars put on a musical clinic. It struck me how magical these moments were. I haven’t been blown away by a blues performance for a long time and last Friday's performance was a pleasant surprise. I could not help thinking that I was seeing one of the “early” performances from a future blues legend in Ronnie Baker Brooks. Could we be seeing him headline an evening at the Chicago Blues Fest in the future? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Graduation Season

It was one of the happiest, most satisfying moments I have had in my life – it was my college graduation day. I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment, growth, and hope as I looked forward to my future. I had arrived. Recently, I attended my cousin’s 8th grade graduation, and while listening to the commencement address, I was once again transformed back to this time of hope in my life.

Truth be told, I have always enjoyed listening to commencement addresses. Good ones can motivate, entertain, inspire and teach. I’ve sat through commencement addresses of several friends and even though I was not graduating that day, I felt motivated by their messages. The addresses I sat through reminded me of my own big day. They remind me that I still need to dream big. Scouring YouTube, I ran across an excellent commencement speech by Steve Jobs. Regardless of whether we are graduating from school or graduating to a better place in life, I think all of us could learn from listening to some of these speeches. Let us celebrate all those graduating this season – may these graduates, in their own way, make this world a better place.