Published Articles: Constantly being updated!
All of the following articles and editorials were published from 2012 and on, in various online and print
publications, including but not limited to Concierge Preferred, Timeout Chicago, Chicago Sun Times/Joliet Herald News, Times Weekly, SexWrex, and others. All of the following were written by Jamie M. Albert ©
* Highlights / Favorites
* Film / Theater
* Local History
The Old Town School of Folk Music: Upholding Chicago’s Folk Music Culture
Aside from being the blues capital of the country and the home of electronica, Chicago was also home to the folk music revival that began in the late ‘50s and lasted, for the most part, to the early ‘70s, along with Greenwich Village. Many of the integral artists who went on to national notoriety were from Chicago, like Steve Goodman, John Prine, Bonnie Koloc as well as Fred and Ed Holstein, and the largest new folk music scene was here, centered along Lincoln Avenue, beginning in Old Town (as well as scenes in Hyde Park and Oak Park). There were many popular clubs at the time like the Earl of Old Town, The Quiet Night, and of course, the Old Town School of Folk Music - the only one of these still standing today and a folk music institution.
Sadly, in the mid ‘70s interest began to fain and the folk revival became a footnote in music’s history, until more recently, as folk is generating more interest, players and fans. The Old Town School of Folk Music has lasted through it all, however…
The Old Town School of Folk Music: Then and Now
Although there are now many other folk clubs in Chicago once again, the most enduring folk venue which has now become more than just a club is The Old Town School of Folk Music. As before-mentioned, The Old Town School of Folk Music is Chicago’s folk music institution, and the longest surviving establishment dating from the days of the folk revival which was very much centered in the Old Town neighborhood but stretched far up Lincoln Avenue. The school and music venue has an incredible rich history. Frank Hamilton, one of the original creators of The Old Town School, had previously studied under Bess Lomax Hawes, daughter of folklorist and music legend John Lomax. Both then and now, the school has embraced the values of folk music, such as community, collaboration between musicians and fans, and the inherent history of folk songs evolving and taking on their own life over time.
Today they technically have two locations. What is now their secondary venue but older location still standing from the heyday of the folk revival; located at 909 W. Armitage Ave. in the Old Town/Lincoln Park area continues to host some small shows and children’s music lessons. They moved here as the folk movement continued to rise in the late 1960s from their very first location, a small space opened in 1957 at 333 W. North Ave in Old Town.
The other current location is a much larger establishment at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. The building not only houses a giant 400-seat concert auditorium hall, but classrooms for lessons of all ages for practically all instruments (where some legendary Chicago folk musicians such as Ed Holstein still teach), a resource center/lounge which offers access to archived concerts and radio shows and an impressive library, a music store largely considered as the best stringed instrument store in the city that also offers rentals and lots of sheet music, a hall for rotating exhibits, events and gatherings, and many other enclaves and quarters. Occupied in 1998 in a former 43,000 square-foot library under grants and many other efforts as part of yet another folk revival, the new concert hall and folk music center has played an integral role in yet again reviving Chicago’s folk music roots, as the school was once the epicenter of the folk music movement as mentioned previously; thus reestablishing The Old Town School of Folk Music as Chicago’s largest folk music fixture.
All of the greats performed at the school in the ‘60s and many of them return regularly - Legends like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Big Bill Broonzy, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Arlo Guthrie, as well as the before mentioned local acts who helped start that movement and eventually enjoyed national fame like John Prine and Steve Goodman.
Today, the school not only supports the survival of American folk music, but also world folk music. They host a large variety of folk music concerts from the national and local greats to world musicians to burgeoning local talent. A staggering number of classes from guitar to just about every stringed instrument are available from highly regarded instructors. Just about everything else imaginable is also taught including songwriting, theater, chord chemistry, yoga, and dance from belly to hip-hop and more.
Every year the organization orchestrates the annual Old Town School’s Folk Festival during the summer, usually July or August, in Welle’s Park; which offers folk, country, bluegrass, world music, sing-a-longs and more on multiple stages as well as free dance lessons from clogging to polka to square dancing to salsa and more - not to mention the endless folk art, clothing and jewelry vendors.
Preview to above, also Published May 2015
Chicago’s Folk Music History and Venues
Chicago is home to endless music venues featuring endless genres from hole-in-the-wall underground clubs to famous theaters and everything in between, with international acts to a giant local music scene. Almost every bar, club and café in the city features music on some level.
Aside from already having a rich musical history in jazz, blues, rock ‘n roll, electronica and more, Chicago also has a storied folk music history dating back to the early 20th century when the labor movement – which Chicago was an epicenter of – used folk music to spread its message. About a half century later, Chicago was the home to the folk music revival that began in the late ‘50s and lasted, for the most part, to the early ‘70s. Many of the integral artists were from Chicago, and the largest new folk music scene was here, centered along Lincoln Avenue, beginning in Old Town with scenes in Hyde Park and Oak Park as well.
The folk scene during that time was also tied to politics – it was part of the massive counter-culture movement that centered around Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the events that characterized that age, like the ’68 Democratic National Convention protests, which also occurred right here in Chicago.
Musicians who helped start this revival and went on to national notoriety like Steve Goodman, John Prine, Bonnie Koloc as well as Fred and Ed Holstein were all from Chicago. Other acts that contributed to the folk movement were artists (and activists) such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Arlo Guthrie and many more. The popular clubs, to name just a few, were the Earl of Old Town, The Quiet Night, Holsteins, and the Old Town School of Folk Music.
Sadly, in the mid ‘70s interest began to fain and the folk revival became a footnote in music’s history, until more recently, as folk is generating more interest, players and fans, and thus clubs…
Chicago’s Folk Scene in 2013
The tradition of folk music in Chicago still carries on today in the form of new clubs and bars that support the folk and singer-songwriter scene and two annual major folk festivals. Here are just a few of the places you can support both your local folk scene and see widely known acts perform on a regular basis, some of which also host open mics if you are a burgeoning folk musician yourself or a supportive local fan…
The Heartland Café
The Heartland Café is much more than just a restaurant and bar with live music. It is very much a community centered gathering place that reflects the lifestyle of its patrons. When you enter, you can sense the artistic and communal spirit and immediately take in the colorful atmosphere with plenty of local art, like something out of Berkeley right in Rogers Park. Each Saturday, a live social justice/political/art independent radio show is streamed from Heartland to WLUW 88.7, and Heartland frequently hosts benefits for many non-profits that work towards social justice and peace.
Located at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave., Heartland is right off of the Morse red line stop, and from the food and environment to the people and music is very reflective of the folk muic spirit. The food menu is very new age oriented and vegan/vegetarian friendly (some meat items are available), and they are not surprisingly very conscious about who they purchase their natural, fresh ingredients from; such as local organic farmers and co-ops. The chefs have a fabulous knack of creating vegetarian fare as comfort food. Even meat lovers will love their hearty veggie selections. There is a bar and a shop with a very indie/folk art feel that sells baked goods and all sorts of free-trade wares and art, along with many local independent publications and zines available complimentary and for purchase
The main dining room is where live performances are held, and although the Heartland hosts rock, jazz, Latin, open mic poetry and other music and events, they center on more acoustic, singer-songwriter and folk music artists – many of them local. And right around the corner from the main entrance is Heartland’s theater, where many local talented playwrights, actors and directors have displayed their talent. For all of these reasons, The Heartland Café keeps the spirit of the Chicago folk movement alive while remaining modern enough at the same time.
The Old Town School of Folk Music
The non-profit Old Town School of Folk Music is Chicago’s folk music institution, partially because it is the longest surviving establishment dating from the days of the folk revival which was very much centered in the Old Town neighborhood but stretched far up Lincoln Avenue. As the name suggests, it is both a school and a music venue, not to mention one of the prime resources and research centers for American folk music in the nation, with incredibly rich history of its own. Frank Hamilton, one of the original creators of The Old Town School, had previously studied under Bess Lomax, daughter of folklorist and music legend John Lomax. The school continues to stand for the core, folk values like community and collaboration between musicians and fans, and, similar to blues tradition, embracing the evolution of song and lore.
Old Town has two locations. The smaller of the two dates back to the ‘60s revival, located at 909 W. Armitage Ave. in the Old Town/Lincoln Park area. They continue to feature some small shows here and use the space for children’s music lessons. This was their second space that replaced the very first school opened in 1957 at 333 W. North Ave in the Old Town neighborhood.
The other and much larger current school located at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. which was occupied in 1998 in what was originally a 43,000 square foot library is home to a beautiful 400-seat concert auditorium hall. Thanks to generous donations and grants, the fully operational space features lesson classrooms for all ages and instruments (as well as courses such as songwriting and chord chemistry, yoga and dance) along with an unsurpassed folk music resource library and lounge with access to archived concerts, radio shows, books and sheet music. The new Old Town School also has a highly regarded music store offering sales, rentals and an amazing selection of sheet music, and a hall for exhibits and special events.
Not only do some legendary Chicago folk musicians teach at the school, but many of the renowned folk singers that performed at Chicago’s folk clubs during the 60s revisit regularly, such as the likes of Pete Seeger, John Prine, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Also supported is local and national burgeoning folk talent of today, and many world folk musicians.
The annual Old Town School’s Folk Festival normally takes place in Welles Park every summer, in July or August, which includes multiple stages for folk, country, bluegrass, world music, sing-a-longs and free dance lessons and vendors of folk art, clothing and jewelry also offer their wares. This year because of conflict with little leagues, the fest in Welles Park will not occur but will be unofficially replaced by the Square Roots Festival July 12-14 in Lincoln Square
PUBLISHED APRIL 2013 CONCIERGE PREFERRED
Possible Last Chance to Patron Two Beloved Rush Street Night Clubs
Rush Street, which runs from Chicago’s River North neighborhood through Near North and the Gold Coast and into the beginnings of Old Town is a historic strip for more reasons than one. Just a few of those reasons include its architecture, some which even predates the Great Chicago Fire, the 1960's civil rights and folk music background of the strip as it enters the Old Town area, and its history as an epicenter of culture, the arts, music and food where people have gathered throughout the years to celebrate life. Rush Street continues to offer great entertainment, dining and attractions.
Speaking of entertainment, two long time Rush Street clubs that have served as music venues and bars for years may both close under a development proposal from the building's owner, pending city approval. The Rush Street institution Jilly's, which has long been known as one of Chicago's premier piano bars, is rumored to close at the end of September, according to the Sun Times article about the closings, with no word about any relocation plans. If you are a fan or have never enjoyed a night out at Jilly's, the next week may be your last chance to visit the popular club.
The development proposal involves replacing the current building with a two-story structure which would have a single retail or commercial tenant, which would mean that The Back Room, also in the same building at 1007 North Rush, would be displaced as well. The Back Room, however, already has plans to relocate just down the street to 939 N. Rush. This premier jazz bar has a VIP and showcase lounge and has always offered a full calendar of popular acts and local talent.
Carmine's, part of the famous Rosebud restaurants chain which lies on the same block of North Rush at 1043, is also rumored to close to make place for the opening of a new hotel. A new restaurant – possibly a smaller Carmine's – is also rumored to open inside of the hotel.
If it's on Rush Street, all the areas it passes through, or in any other neighborhood, you can always count on Concierge Preferred for the latest information on the venues, restaurants, and all other attractions that make Chicago's night life.
Chicago’s Best Independent Book Stores
Chicago truly has everything to offer in terms of the arts, and literature is no exception. There are plenty of commercial, franchised megastores throughout the city, but one of the best and sometimes more fun ways to shop for books are at independent book stores. It’s amazing what you can come upon in the nooks of cozy used book shops: early presses, out of print gems, and plenty of eclectic reading that is often only available otherwise (if you’re lucky) on the likes of eBay.
Chicago is stocked (no pun intended) with local used, independently owned and specialty bookstores. During these struggling economic times, these stores are the best places to shop for your literature needs. Not only is it lighter on your wallet, but it supports the local bookstores that are also undergoing the same financial plight, and unlike the megastores, you can sell and trade your used books and texts.
Myopic Books located at 1564 N. Milwaukee in the busy, hip and artistic heart of Wicker Park is one of Chicago’s oldest and largest used book stores. Upon entering, you know you are in the right place for literature; with its comfortable atmosphere, towering oak book shelves, local art and friendly staff. They stock over 80,000 editions on average, and they buy and trade.
Located at 1854 W. North Avenue, Quimby’s Bookstore is not just for comic fans. While graphic novels and comics are their specialty, of which they have a virtually endless selection of new and old, they also feature the strange and unusual, “aberrant” periodicals, imported titles, zines from all over the city and elsewhere, and much more. They buy and sell and offer consignment for self publishers.
Powell’s Bookstore is another Chicago local used bookstore institution. With three locations all near University campuses, Powell’s has been “recycling ideas to the world for over 40 years.” Powell’s is located in Hyde Park in the heart of the University of Chicago campus at 1501 E 57th St., University Park/Village by UIC at 1218 S. Halsted, and in Lakeview at 2850 N. Lincoln Ave. Although they are not a textbook store, their primary focus is new and used academic and scholarly books. However, they have an extensive variety of general interest as well as rare publications, early editions, etc. Powell’s offers great discounts, a comfortable atmosphere, and reasonable offers for your used books.
The Newberry Bookstore is located inside the famous Newberry Library, one of Chicago’s greatest independent research centers since 1887. The Newberry stands at 60 W. Walton St. in the beautiful and historical district just north of the Gold Coast, across from the historical Washington Square Park – or Bughouse Square as it is still known today and especially during the early 20th century by free speech advocates and soapboxers of all kind. The Newberry Library is an institution for research, a priceless community resource, and a place for special events, continuing education and seminars. Run by a cooperative, the Newberry Bookstore is patronized by many local residents, students, visiting scholars and professors.
Although it has something for everyone, the Newberry Bookstore specializes in American Studies, Medieval and Renaissance History, Chicago and Midwest History, Literature, Native American Studies, Cartography and much more. There is also an interesting and well selected offering of children’s books, stationary, journals and book related gift shop items. They also carry all the required and suggested texts and readings for the Adult Education Seminars offered at the Newberry, as well as printed copies of almost all Newberry publications.
While these are widely considered four of the best, this list barely scratches the surface of the incredible haunts, nooks and alcoves that constitute Chicago’s extremely wide selection of local, independent used bookstores. For an excellent list and links to each store’s webpage, check out Chicago Now’s page on Chicago used bookstores, or Four Square’s equally resourceful list.
No Reservations Covers Chicago
Chicago is known throughout the world as a metropolitan congregation of almost every culture you can imagine. One of the most wonderful things that accompanies a giant, diverse set of people is, well, food – lots of it! One of the most comprehensive selections of cuisine is accessible to your palate right here in Chicago, and the Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain, host of the show No Reservations, covers Chicago's fantastic representation of fare at length.
In his most recent episode covering Chicago restaurants and food, Bourdain covers Seafood, Chicago's own deep dish pizza, pulled pork, and has an interesting, frank conversation with Charlie Trotter.
Anthony first takes a tour of the Tom Tom Tamales Factory, which began making tamales in the 1930's, and gives us a behind the scenes look at the mass production of this delicious, Latino food – the delightful cylinder of meat wrapped in cornmeal, found at outdoor stands in West Pilsen to Mexican restaurants and neighborhoods across the city.
Bourdain also dines at the Three Little Pigs, and enjoys one of the best sandwiches he claims he has ever had. He visits the kitchen and jokes with the chefs famous for their pork creations, using real pig heads as props. In the "Chef's Duke it Out" clip, Anthony speaks with Chicago's legendary Charlie Trotter about the bar fight of all bar fights – a spat between three legendary chefs that Charlie supposedly had to break up.
In “Dive Into Chicago Deep-Dish,” Anthony visits Burt's Place in Morton Grove, one of the most original, iconic deep dish pizza restaurants in Chicagoland. Between bites, the history of the Midwest deep dish spin on Italian pizza is explored, as he talks with owner and chef Burt about his loyal customers - true deep dish enthusiasts.
Louisa Chu later takes Tony to Chicago's Calumet Fisheries on the Calumet River. Chu refers to the South Side fishery as 'destination smoked fish,' and Bourdain learns that great fish isn't strictly coastal.
Bourdain's also covers more of Chicago eats in episodes such as Cuisine Past, Present, and Future, Hot Dog Paradise, and Chicago Italian Beef War, all available in the Chicago section of Bourdain's Travel Channel episodes.
From gourmet cuisine to Chicago style hot dogs and deep dish, to ethnic fare from Soul Food to Ethiopian and virtually every cuisine fathomable, let Concierge Preferred be your guide to restaurants across the city.
Chicago: America's Best Pizza, Hands Down
It’s a debate almost as old as the cities themselves – Who has the best pizza? The two top contenders are always – you guessed it – Chicago and New York. As one of America’s favorite foods, you can find a decent slice of ‘za at pizzerias in nooks across the nation, but you’d be hard pressed to find a pizza-pie anywhere that can top the best right here in Chicago.
Pizza obviously takes its roots as an Italian dish, and it is perhaps most traditionally crafted as what we know as “white” pizza – a thinner crust pizza without tomato sauce but instead tomatoes as a topping and a typically thin, crisp crust. America has made pizza its own, giving it a whole new identity through its many variants from Chicago deep dish or hand-tossed pan pizza to stuffed, thin crust, twice-baked, brick oven and even grilled, or any of the gourmet creations and hybrids that lie between. It’s because of these reasons that pizza is more than just a week-night take-out, but an institution of American cuisine for ages.
The Age-Old Rivalry
Regardless of how you like it served, pizza is one of Americans most beloved dishes. And thus, the old rivalry still rages on. New York may have claim to being the first to make pizza in the U.S., but only in Chicago can you find true, authentic deep dish along with just about every other type of pizza for that matter according to your taste buds and personal preference. Chicago prides itself as the pioneer of the deep dish variant, and is just as loyal to its counterparts. All rounding out the top ten in a recent America’s Best Pizza contest, the following pizzerias are testament to Chicago’s place as number one:
Gino’s East, which has been a Chicago staple for almost half a century, is one of the most well known deep-dish restaurants with a loyal following, and for good reason. Not only can you carve your name in the wall, but their butter crust, layered fillings, vine-ripened tomatoes and mozzarella topping arguably make for the best deep-dish recipe.
Vito & Nick’s is merely one restaurant among scores that proves we have it all and the best of it. Family-owned for decades, this South Side restaurant specializes in thin crust pizza with thick cheese and a sweet sauce that will make even the biggest deep-dish fan come back for more. Vito & Nicks’s also has a suburban location in Hickory Hills, appropriately named Vito & Nick’s II.
Pizano’s, home of the “Rudy’s Special,” a deeper than deep dish pizza, offers up some of the most delicious pizza pies you can find, and all four locations also serve up a thin-crust style. Each will make your mouth water and have your appetite coming back for more.
This list offers just a touch of the giant spectrum of Chicagoland’s pizzerias that have made the food an art form, and Chicago a pizza institution. As far as we’re concerned, the debate can be set to rest officially – Chicago is America’s Best Pizza.
Concierge Preferred: Your Destination for the best of Chicago Pizza
No matter what style you fancy or where you are in Chicago, whenever you’re craving a piece of the best “pie” across the land, count on Concierge Preferred as your pizza expert.
A New View of Chicago from the Inside and Out
by J. Michael Albert, a local Chicago historian and community organizer
Chicago has countless opportunities for exploration available to tourists and natives alike, from well-known spots on well-worn paths to hidden wonders and off-the-beaten-path treasures. From river tours, to trolley rides, to guided bike, segway, walking tours and more, your choices are nearly endless -- and often difficult to narrow down. Even after reading reviews, choosing from among the many options proves to be a daunting task.
As a Chicago historian and entertainment journalist, it’s my job to find the gems. Recently I had the opportunity to be a guest on several sneak-preview tours, each showcasing a different route, with one of the city’s newest offerings, Inside Chicago Walking Tours, with Hillary as my guide – a seasoned Chicago tour guide and linguist with a knowledge bank of Chicago architecture and history that rivals that of any historian. It made sense when I later learned that Hillary also has over ten years of improvisational comedy training and performance experience, as well as a background in teaching, research, and tour development, as the tour turned out to be the most entertaining, educational, and well-rounded one that I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
Part of Hillary’s inspiration for founding her own touring company came after developing new tours for a major boat tour company in Chicago. She decided to create her own company based on her standards, vision, and passion for architecture, sharing her knowledge and love for the city that she calls home -- characteristics that you quickly appreciate when you meet her.
Hillary’s approachable and down-to-earth nature put me at ease right away, and I could tell this wasn’t going to be the average tourist venture but something more special and engaging.
She begins by putting the wonders of Chicago’s renowned architecture into perspective, noting the sheer magnitude of work and number of individuals that go into erecting the skyscrapers, buildings, and monuments we take for granted each day, and explaining that each has an original story to tell – many of which Hillary reveals over the course of the tour in her characteristically engaging narrative style. The tour balanced both architectural facts and a real understanding of the differing styles and their eras with historical information as well as folklore and interesting anecdotes – setting itself apart from many guided cruises or treks around the city that end up being a overwhelming (and forgettable) list of facts that I may as well have Googled.
Instead, Hillary makes each tour both a fun adventure and a learning experience with her storytelling approach, communicating many historical facts, and adding dashes of humor and candid moments, and you carry home with you the memories of an organic, unscripted, unique tour experience.
Perhaps what sets Inside Chicago Walking Tours apart from other tours the most is the element that lives up to its name: not only are you seeing the historic buildings up front and personal from the outside, but you are often guided through the inside of many of them, giving you an intimate perspective on not only the facades and exterior structures, but also the inner details and design, and indeed the history of these marvels of construction. It’s all articulately narrated by one of the most qualified guides I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. And by the nature of being a walking tour, it provides visitors with a truly multisensory experience of Chicago as they voyage through downtown and hear the roar of the L, feel the buzz of activity, and delight in all the other enchanting stimuli that you simply can’t experience from a boat or bus.
Inside Chicago Walking Tours embodies the spirit of the touring adventure by displaying Chicago’s uniqueness through a mixture of architecture, astonishing facts, and incredible history, with dashes of "insider" Chicago folklore, tales, and traditions that no other tour company can give you. Each of the tour routes covers a combination of both the time-honored and the esoteric, and the Inside Chicago Walking Tours website describes each at length so that you can be the judge as to which adventure you embark upon.
Hillary’s tour left me feeling like I had just gone on an inspiring expedition that gave me a newfound perspective and respect towards the city I write about and call home, along with an enlightened take on its many architectural masterpieces. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or have called Chicago home for decades, you can now take a compelling -- and affordable! -- walk through the city, seeing it inside and out, a walk that encompasses so much more than the average guided sightseeing excursions around the city. Inside Chicago Walking Tours guides visitors on a delightful journey to Chicago's rich past, through its evolving present, and into its fascinating future. It reminds me of the many, many reasons I love this city.
MUCH MORE TO COME (2013 - Present)