Rock 'n' Register
Last week organizers announced the core lineup for the Interchange Festival, a combination concert series and get-out-the-vote drive to be held in August at several Chicago venues and record stores. The festival is hardly the first effort by indie musicians, promoters, and activists to light a fire under disillusioned or apathetic fans, but this one has a shot at reaching more potential voters than most: acts already confirmed include Tortoise, Sage Francis, Charles Bissell of the Wrens, and Diverse.
The nonpartisan, volunteer-run festival began to take shape this past spring, when jazz drummer and promoter Mike Reed, who'd been looking into organizing a similar series of concerts within the local improvised-music community, discussed his idea with a friend, freelance rock critic Anders Smith Lindall. Lindall had already heard that the Hideout, Schubas, and the Metro were kicking around plans for a political festival. (Schubas has since launched a monthly debate series with the unwieldy title "GOAt: Globally Occupying the Attention of Chicago's Untapped Audience.") Reed "wanted to find a way to get involved and get his community involved," Lindall says. "Pretty quickly, we decided to combine forces and expand the idea."
Lindall enlisted the help of his wife, Julie Sampson, legislative director for public-interest advocacy group Citizen Action/Illinois, which registered 23,000 Chicago-area voters in the six weeks leading up to the March primaries and has added 8,000 more in the months since. "We wanted to get a group involved that was nonpartisan and was reputable in what they do," says Reed. "Citizen Action is the largest and oldest organization of their kind in Illinois, and they've done great work getting the vote out in communities in the south side and west side." The Interchange planning committee--Lindall, Sampson, Reed, cornetist and promoter Josh Berman, Citizen Action program director Amanda Eichelkraut, and reedist Dave Rempis of the Vandermark 5--settled on a multiple-day music festival that would span several genres and a number of venues.
Clubs, artists, record stores, and bookers quickly jumped on board. WLUW and WNUR, the campus stations at Loyola and Northwestern, have both signed on as media sponsors. "Everyone from radio stations to clubs is dropping their competition or their rivalries," says Reed. "It's really been cool to see people agree to do stuff that they normally wouldn't do in the spirit of this whole thing."
The Interchange Festival kicks off Wednesday, August 18, with a show on the Hideout's outdoor stage featuring Tortoise, Diverse, Town and Country, and David Singer & the Sweet Science. The August 19 concert, at Schubas, includes a rare solo appearance by Wrens singer Charles Bissell and a set from Ken Vandermark. On Friday, August 20, Stephen Dawson and Diane Christiansen of Dolly Varden play a free lunchtime show at the Chicago Cultural Center, and later that night the M's, Bobby Conn, and Sam Prekop share a bill at the Empty Bottle. The series closes Saturday, August 21, at the Metro with a hip-hop show hosted by Slug of Atmosphere, with acts including Sage Francis, Eyedea & Abilities, and the Swiss Army (a rock band on Slug's fledgling Women Records). Beginning August 14 and continuing throughout the festival, several local music retailers, including both Reckless locations and Jazz Record Mart, will host free in-store performances; though that lineup has yet to be finalized, the organizers are trying to book bands that aren't already playing one of the five marquee shows.
Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Citizen Action/Illinois' get-out-the-vote initiatives in the Chicago area, and at every Interchange event booths will be set up where attendees can register to vote or volunteer to help with registration drives. (The record-store booths--including several at shops not hosting shows, like Hi-Fi, Dusty Groove, and Hard Boiled--will remain up for the entire week of the festival, if not longer.) Tickets at Schubas and the Bottle are already on sale for $10 (they'll be $12 at the door), the Metro has yet to fix a price, and the Hideout intends to request donations.
The Interchange group is also helping local public-interest organizations around the country set up concerts of their own--16 and counting. "We've got Oneida playing in Knoxville, the Wrens in Denton and Austin, and Marah in Tucson," says Lindall. "We're really acting as more of a connector or a clearinghouse for people who want to do those shows in other states."
Updates to the Interchange Festival schedule can be found at interchange2004.org; for more information about Citizen Action/Illinois, visit citizenaction-il.org.
Back in May, Chicago hip-hop label Galapagos4 moved its headquarters to California, and now venerable punk imprint Thick Records is heading west too. Thick owner Zak Einstein, a Detroit native who launched the label here in 1994, split for Los Angeles in early July, but he says his reasons had little to do with the business. "You just can't beat the weather out here," he notes, "especially in the winter."
Though Einstein will be handling most of Thick's operations from LA, its warehouse will remain in Chicago and its Web site will be maintained here. The label's PR arm, Negative Publicity, is now run out of Hot Springs, Arkansas, by Blue Meanies singer Billy Spunke, who recently moved there with his longtime girlfriend. "Chicago, LA, Hot Springs, we're taking over the country one region at a time," says Einstein.
Thick's next two releases are scheduled for September: Singer and guitarist Brian Moss of the Ghost will make his full-length solo debut with We Are All Natural Disasters, under the name Hanalei. (Moss put out Hanalei's Hurricane We EP himself last year.) And Gasoline Fight, whose lineup includes former members of the Traitors, Small Brown Bike, Peralta, and Sweep the Leg Johnny, will release its debut EP, Useless Piece of Weaponry. The EP has been on hold for nearly a year while bassist Francisco Ramirez, who's battling leukemia, recovers from a second bone-marrow transplant. A Gasoline Fight full-length is slated for early 2005.
Champaign indie vets the Poster Children are getting into the political spirit too, releasing a special election-season EP of protest-song covers. Due September 21 on Hidden Agenda, an imprint of Illinois-based indie Parasol, On the Offensive will include renditions of Fear's "Let's Have a War," Heaven 17's "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang," and cuts by the Clash, X, Husker Du, and XTC.
Last week I misidentified Chali 2na, Jurassic 5 MC and former Chicagoan, as "Charlie Tuna." I sincerely apologize--and I hope that Mr. 2na, who's six foot eight, took no offense.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/C. Taylor, Frank Swider.