This weekend's African/Caribbean International Festival of Life showcases more than 70 reggae, calypso, funk, hip-hop, R & B, and gospel acts on two stages. Today's performers include Andrew Tosh (son of Peter), White Boy, and Roots Rock Society. The festival also features craft and clothing vendors and a carnival pavilion for kids, and runs through Monday from 10 AM to 10 PM in Washington Park, 51st and Cottage Grove in Chicago. Admission is $10, $5 for seniors and children 7 to 12, free for kids under 7; a weekend pass is $25. Call 312-427-0266 or see the Fairs & Festivals listings for a complete schedule.
Part soft-core porn provider and part online community for punk, goth, and emo kids, the three-year-old SuicideGirls.com is one of the few postbubble Internet success stories, claiming 500,000 visitors a week. Earlier this year a half dozen of the site's pierced and tattooed models hit the road with the Suicide Girls Live Burlesque Show (which came through Chicago in February) and now they've spun off into even older media with SuicideGirls, a coffee-table book of color pinup photos and diary entries by the girls. Tonight at 7 cofounder Missy Suicide and eight of her cohorts will be signing copies at Quimby's, 1854 W. North in Chicago. It's free; call 773-342-0910. Later, at the Double Door, they'll wriggle out of their clothes in bump 'n' grind vignettes inspired by Reservoir Dogs, The Graduate, and Peaches's "Fuck the Pain Away." The newest version of the burlesque show starts at 10 at 1572 N. Milwaukee; Lying in States and Bloom open. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door; call 773-489-3160. There's also a show at 9 on Thursday, July 1, with Sluts of Trust in the opening slot.
Three couples--college students, thirtysomethings, and empty nesters--deal with the awesome prospect of parenthood in Baby, opening tonight at Steel Beam Theatre. Not all of them are married, not all want to be parents, and not all will be, but they sing their hearts out while they worry about it in this episodic 20-year-old Broadway musical. Directed by David Belew, with music direction by Jeremy Ramey, the production features a cast of west-suburban actors. Performances are at 8 Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 on Sundays through July 25 at the theater, 111 W. Main in Saint Charles. Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors and students; call 630-587-8521.
Every month the Chopping Block cooking school offers a free wine tasting, and for July the varietal of choice is beer. "Just as wine is a natural pairing with food, beer can do the same thing, but be lighter," says instructor John Fuente. Today he'll introduce students to a citrusy white ale from Canada's Unibroue brewery. It's at 5 at the Chopping Block, 4747 N. Lincoln in Chicago; call 773-472-6700.
As ever Chicago jumps the gun by 24 hours with its free Independence Eve fireworks display. The 20-minute extravaganza starts tonight at 9:30 on the lakefront in Grant Park; the Grant Park Orchestra, under the direction of Christopher Bell, plays along with the pyrotechnics. i Stiff from all those Sousa marches? Tonight's Chicago Samba July 4th Celebration offers a chance to let your hips go crazy. The band, Chicago Samba, will play batacuda, bossa nova, and other Brazilian styles; choreographer Edilson Lima will offer dance lessons during the break. It starts at 10:30 at Hothouse, 31 E. Balbo in Chicago. Admission is $12 and you must be 21 or over; call 312-362-9707.
The Chicago Historical Society's old-fashioned Star-Spangled Independence Day includes a reading of the Declaration of Independence, appearances by Uncle Sam and "visitors from the pages of Chicago's history," and a parade. The free celebration starts at 10:15 AM at Uihlein Plaza at Clark and North in Chicago; call 312-642-4600.
If errant bottle rockets are working your nerves, you can enjoy some more refined entertainment today with tango lessons and dancing as part of the free Chicago SummerDance series. At 4 Bob and Penny Urbon will demonstrate the basic steps of the sensuous Argentine form, followed at 5 by two hours of music from the Steve Cooper Orchestra in Grant Park's Spirit of Music Garden on Michigan between Harrison and Balbo in Chicago. SummerDance continues with lessons in everything from rumba to the hustle Thursdays through Sundays until August 29. Call 312-742-4007 or see the complete SummerDance schedule at www.chicagoreader.com/music.
Tonight musician Mark Nelson, aka Pan-American, celebrates the release of his new CD-DVD Quiet City, which includes a full-length music video shot and edited by Nelson and local visual and sound artist Annie Feldmeier. Kranky Records co-owner Bruce Adams describes the project as a video essay in which "the landscape, the isolated and seemingly abandoned structures and vehicles are transformed into metaphors for the human condition." You can listen to the music and watch the pretty pictures on a big screen as part of tonight's record-release party; Nelson and Adams will also DJ, as will Karl Meier and fellow Kranky honcho Joel Leoschke. It starts at 9 at Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago in Chicago; call 773-539-6270. There's no cover, but you must be at least 21 to attend.
As the obnoxious host of the Annoyance Theater's Big Lovely Bingo, Dick O'Day (aka Reader contributor Richard Knight Jr.) used to read snippets from bizarre books and celebrity-authored embarrassments. Now he's expanded the concept into a weekly show, Dick O'Day's Big Lovely Liberry, in which Annoyance vets act out scenes from trashy tomes such as a book on how to pick up chicks and Angela Bowie's memoir of life with David, as well as found text like the deposition of a writer suing the staff of Friends for sexual harassment. "It's a summer reading program for lazy people, for gossipy and petty people who'd rather have a drink and laugh while somebody else does all the work," O'Day says. Each week he also welcomes a guest; this week it's Melissa Hellstern, local author of How to Be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life. The 21-and-over show runs tonight and next Tuesday, July 13, at 7 PM at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway in Chicago. Admission is $6. The run may be extended through the summer--see www.annoyanceproductions.com for updates.
Today, as part of the Field Museum exhibit "Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong," Princeton University historian Susan Naquin will talk about the religious habits of the imperial family in the years of Qianlong's reign and put some of the religious objects in the exhibit into historical context. Religious Traditions of the Forbidden City starts at 6 PM at the Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. in Chicago. Admission is $16, $14 for students and educators. Registration is required; call 312-665-7400.
The Women in the Director's Chair Garden Screening provides an alternative to the wholesome offerings of the Chicago Park District's Movies in the Park. Today they'll show new short works by local filmmakers, including Rebecca Spencer's Crush, Sara McCool's Fatty Dance Party, and Kirston Fortune and K.J. Mohr's Five Alarm Muff, about an unemployed woman who decides to go for a career in lesbian porn. It starts at dusk in the garden at 2457 N. Fairfield in Chicago. Admission is $6 to $10 on a sliding scale; call 773-907-0610 or see www.widc.org.