This year, Chicago cemented its reputation as a center of music. Between Intonation, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, the Folk & Roots Festival, the Hideout Block Party, Adventures in Modern Music and all the City's annual shows, the summer of 2006 saw what seemed to be a non-stop musical marathon. What few breaks we had were welcome respites, opportunities to recharge and gear up before the next wave of indie/folk/rap/alt/jazz/blues hit.
Well, kiss those breaks goodbye: next year there'll be a festival every weekend, as promoters cash in on Chicago's central location and hosting expertise. The Critic has the inside word on a couple of these newcomers, and previews some of what's eliminating your musical downtime.
Pack of Wolves
July 28-29, Wolfe Park
sponsored by SoBe No Fear
It's unusual for a festival of this sort to have all their ducks in a row nearly a year before showtime, but I guess that's the benefit of corporate backing. Pack of Wolves arrives fully formed and fully sponsored by SoBe's No Fear energy drink.
Anyone paying attention to trends in band names recently would notice the shocking number of groups sporting references to wolves. It's not a new thing, necessarily — some of the artists on the bill for Pack of Wolves got their start in the '60s and '70s — but indie rockers Wolfmother, Wolf Parade and the like have brought the lupine genre to the forefront. So what better time to do a show featuring these wolves of many stripes?
The line-up may be nominally monotonous, but there's plenty of diversity in the music: Steppenwolf, Japanese rockers Guitar Wolf and Wolfmother top the bill Saturday, while Peter Wolf, Wolf Parade and turntablist Peanut Butter Wolf lead the pack Sunday. Below these alphas are a wide-ranging set of lesser wolves: industrial-noisers Wolf Eyes, Montreal punks AIDS Wolf, hip hop artists W.O.L.V.E.S., Pitchfork fave Patrick Wolf, Canadian aboriginal blues band Wolfpack, Arizona hardcore punks Hour of the Wolf and experimentalists Wolf Choir. In a knowing nod to the conceit of the theme, Wolf Scrotum, a duo the organizers discovered on MySpace who openly mock the overabundance of wolfen bands, kicks off the show.
But Pack of Wolves takes the theme two steps further, by holding concert at little-known Wolfe Park, 3325 E 108th St. on the city's East Side and by donating a portion of the ticket price to the Lupus Foundation of America; Howling Acres, an Oregon wolf sanctuary; and to the Chicago Park District to help refurbish Wolfe Park itself.
August 3-5, Wicker Park
In the film industry, blockbusters tend to get their opening weekends to themselves. It makes sense to a degree: why release a film the same date as one that's expected to be a juggernaut? On the other hand, occasionally a studio will engage in counter-programming, offering moviegoers disinterested in the major release an alternative.
You wouldn't think that anyone would want to try counter-programming against Lollapalooza, with its dozens of bands over three days, but that's what Neverheardapalooza will attempt to do next summer. Organizers are promising more than a hundred small-time bands worthy of your attention at a three-day fest in Union Park the same weekend as the third annual Lolla — which itself has promised to be even bigger in '07. The result will be as many as 300 bands performing over three days in August.
Neverheardapalooza plans to hold open auditions on its website over the winter to determine the line-up — artists may submit mp3s regardless of whether they're signed to a label — and fans will be able to vote for their favorites according to genre and level of obscurity.
Because the total audience for the festival's eventual line-up is likely to be smaller than the one commanded by any one of the bands at Lollapalooza, the organizers will have their work cut out for them. But Wicker Park is the perfect spot for the sort of intimate shows that are likely to result (there will be three stages, one near each corner of the park to minimize sound bleed), and a planned craft show and "Taste"-style food court will help draw a crowd. Plus, how cool will it be if the next Mountain Goats or Moldy Peaches are discovered at the show? You'll be able to say you saw them when.
Mid by Midwest
July 1-7, Various Locations
On the strength of the long-running South by Southwest music showcase down in Austin, Texas, and past success with a similar concept up in Seattle when that was a hotbed of new music, next July will see the debut of Mid by Midwest.
Rather than start from scratch, the MXMW team has partnered with the folks behind the annual MOBfest to give the new festival the deep experience and backbone necessary to put such an undertaking together. And they've landed Target as exclusive sponsor.
And what an undertaking it is: approximately 64 bands — ranging from up-and-comers to already-theeres — will be showcased at venues including Abbey Pub, Double Door, Empty Bottle, Metro/Smartbar and the Note, as well as an industry conference with panels on such topics as "Is Chicago the Next Seattle -- Again?" and "Tying in the Band: The New Commercial Sound." Steve Albini will deliver a keynote on the state of the industry to kick off the conference, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency downtown.
As with SXSW, locals will get first crack at tickets to shows, which will go on sale in January, before the hordes of people from around the country have at it. If you've got relatives coming in for the Fourth, tell them to make hotel arrangements now, before every room in town is sold out.
The Critic is Gapers Block's occasional series of satirical "real reviews of fake things."