The second annual Illinois Cowboy Poetry Gathering takes place this weekend in--where else?--Winnetka. The event includes two evenings of western poetry, music, and comedy tonight and tomorrow at the Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln in Winnetka, and two free daytime shows tomorrow afternoon at 1 in Hubbard Woods Park, Green Bay Road between Merrill and Gage in Winnetka. The evening shows start at 7:15; tix are $18, $6 for kids, less if you buy them in advance. Call Howling Wolf Ltd., the store that's sponsoring the event, at 708-446-0803 for details.
Nearly 30 performance artists, most of them women, have banded together to raise funds for Insight Arts' summer kids program in Rogers Park. Tonight at part two of their Women in Performance Marathon Tekki Lomnicki plays emcee for Nancy Bardawil, Thax Douglas, and others. The show's at 7:30 tonight at the United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 W. Morse. It's $5. Call 973-1521 for more.
An explicit short called The Operation--featuring up-close-and-personal doctor-patient sex filmed with an infrared lens--will be screened at 8:30 tonight as the second annual Chicago Underground Film Fest gets under way. The fest continues with dozens of films and videos through Sunday at the Congress Hotel, 520 S. Michigan. You can pick up a full schedule there or at various bookstores and clubs on the north side. General admission is $5, though a couple of special programs cost more. A festival pass is $40; you can buy a five-film pass for $20. Call 866-8660.
The Art Institute's gargantuan Monet retrospective--the biggest ever of works by the Impressionist master--finally opens to the general public today. Claude Monet: 1840-1926 comprises 159 works, including the stunning Museum of Modern Art water-lily triptych and the usual assortment of train stations, cathedrals, and haystacks. It's also unique to Chicago; the exhibit will be up at the museum until November 26, but it won't travel. Admission is $10 Monday through Thursday, $12.50 Friday through Sunday and includes museum admission. Regular museum hours are 10:30 to 4:30 weekdays, 10:30 to 8 Tuesdays, 10 to 5 Saturdays, and 12 to 5 Sundays. If you're not turned off by a $2.50 per ticket surcharge you can charge Monet tix at 800-929-5800. For general info call 443-3600.
Paddling in the Park sounds like an outdoor S and M fan's dream. Alas, it's merely a kayak and canoe festival happening today from 9 to 6 and tomorrow from 9 to 3 at the Twin Lakes Recreation Area, near Route 53 and Palatine Road in Palatine. Paddling clinics are $10, $5 for kids. It's $5 to test out some of the canoes on display. It's free to watch. Call 777-1489 or 708-934-6050 for more.
The Sheffield Garden Walk outdoes itself musically again this year. Headlining the Webster Street stage this evening are Alejandro Escovedo and the Steve Ferguson Band; on Saturday it's the Bottle Rockets and zydeco great Boozoo Chavis. Besides that, there's the usual: architectural and garden tours, food, drink, and drunk yuppies stretching from Sheffield almost to Racine on Webster. The street fest goes from noon to dusk today and tomorrow. Organizers request a $4 donation. Call 929-9255 for more.
A shot at a John Major pinata is one of the prizes being raffled off today at the Irish American Student Organization's benefit cookout. The group promises barbecue, beer, music, and more starting at 4 in the backyard of 2526 N. Francisco. They're asking $10, $5 for students and the unemployed. Call 296-6277.
Mystery writer James Lee Burke's new book, Burning Angel, continues the adventures of his hero Dave Robicheaux, who fights against demons past (his experience in Vietnam) and present (the mob). Burke gives free readings this afternoon at 3 at 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th (684-1300) and tomorrow evening at 7:30 at Barbara's Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells (642-5044).
The organizers of the exhibit Chicago Portraits say that our impression of Chicago's neighborhoods are skewed by reports on crime. Heroes exist, they contend, and to prove it they've constructed an exhibit honoring 57 individuals and families who've made a difference in Chicago's black, Hispanic, Chinese, Native American, and Polish communities. The pix and accompanying essays are up at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, through September 17. It's open from 10 to 7 Monday through Thursday, 9 to 5 Friday, 10 to 5 Saturday, and noon to 5 Sunday. It's free. Call 744-6630 for more.
David Sedaris returns to town this week for a couple of shows. A much admired monologuist in his time in Chicago, Sedaris has forged a national reputation with his readings on NPR and the well-received publication of his first collection of stories, Barrel Fever. Along with actor Harry Althaus, he performs some new work tonight at the Organic Theater, 3319 N. Clark. Part of the ongoing Stories on Stage series, David Sedaris--Live! is $25; $50 gets you preferred seating for the show and a preperformance reception with the writer. Call 327-5588 for more.
Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, who's drawn some attention for his folk-based, slightly twisted story songs, takes a break from his tour with Sarah McLachlan and the Chieftains to perform for free today at 12:30 in the second-floor cafe of Border's Books and Music, 830 N. Michigan. Call 573-0564.
Your last three chances to see the comedy show Natural Born Lawyers are tonight, tomorrow, and Thursday at Zanies. It's put on by the Public Offenders, a group of local attorneys who've been doing an annual revue since 1991. Tix to the 7 PM shows are $7; Zanies is at 1548 N. Wells. Call 337-4027.
Most junkies shoot up in flophouse bathrooms. Cigar smokers, by contrast, can partake of their unhealthy addiction in public. Tonight about 200 stogie chewers will congregate at La Strada Ristorante, 155 N. Michigan, for a cigar smoker beginning at 5:30 in the restaurant's 38th-floor dining room. For $40, $35 in advance, you get four premium cigars, a cognac, a buffet dinner, and a one-hour open bar. Call 565-1312 for details.
Literary superstar Anne Rice will plug her latest vampire epic, Memnoch the Devil, tonight at 6 at Unabridged Bookstore, 3521 N. Broadway. It's her only Chicago bookstore appearance, and it's free. Call 883-9119 for more.
Poetry slammers Marc Smith and Lisa Buscani and a variety of other writers appear in the Zebra Crossing Theatre's annual revue of staged writings, Lexis Praxis VI: Chicago Writers Taken to Stage. The last two shows of this year's edition are tonight and tomorrow at 8 at the theater, 4223 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $8. Call 248-6401 for more.
Bailiwick Repertory's new show If the Radiance of a Thousand Suns: The Hiroshima Project, a collaborative construct by Anne V. McGravie, Dwight Okita, Nicholas Patricca, and David Zak, runs through August 20; shows are Thursdays and Sundays at 7:30 and Saturdays at 6. Tickets are $15; Bailiwick is at 1229 W. Belmont. Call 883-1090 for more.
Two people were shot one night in Philadelphia in 1981: one was the journalist and onetime Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal; the other was Daniel Faulkner, a Philly cop. Faulkner died but Abu-Jamal lived and was convicted of Faulkner's murder. Though he and his supporters say he's innocent and was denied a fair trial, Abu-Jamal is sentenced to die in August, which explains why he won't be present tonight when local authors and activists, including Haki Madhubuti, Charles Payne, Cheryl Corley, and Sterling Plumpp, read from his book Live From Death Row. A tape of Abu-Jamal's voice will be played at this free event. It's at 7 PM at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5757 S. University. Call 752-4381.