The Chicago Blues Festival on a Budget
You want grit and bravado as your background for blues music, so check out the Chicago Blues Festival, an annual free 3-day music presentation in downtown’s Grant Park held the first full weekend of June. This is a great site for visitors: you’ve got the lakefront to the East, the Loop to the immediate West, and the beautiful city skyline to the North. And to the immediate South, the museums and the end or beginning of the Illinois Central, the rail line that brought the emigrating blues man from the rural States of the South to the industrial North for increased opportunity, equality, and freedom. This is the center of contemporary Blues music.
Event. All the music on five stages is free and begins daily at 11 AM. Dates are June 6-9, 2013. The first festival day, Thursday, consists of a performance in the evening in Millenium Park. Please note that Millenium Park is a recently-built, beautiful outdoor auditorium within Grant Park. The subsequent Friday through Sunday headline acts will be in Grant Park and occur at the Petrillo Music Shell; the lineup includes Irma Thomas, Bobby Rush, Otis Clay, Eddie Floyd, James Cotton and many others.
For me, afternoon performances are best in that the crowds are reduced but enthusiastic, and you can get close to the musicians. Performances are continuous throughout the day; you can catch lots of great music if you happen to be on that day with your comfortable shoes and attire and the weather permits. There will be lots of Soul food, too. A future blog entry will include a review of this event. Visit the City of Chicago web site for more event information. http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_blues_festival.html
Flight. To get there, my choice is Denver’s own Frontier Airlines. The cost of my tickets, purchased two months in advance, is $227. You could choose Southwest Airlines (Dallas) or United Airlines (Chicago); but Frontier, although no longer owned locally, employs the most Coloradoans relative to the total employ of any of these competing airlines. Purchase early for best price and flight departure time—you don’t want to be rising at 4 AM to get to DIA 1.5 hours in advance if it is not necessary. Arriving at DIA, the RTD AF route drops me off in front of the Frontier desk where I use a kiosk to print my boarding pass and walk the indoor pedestrian bridge to Terminal A. As always, give yourself ample time to proceed through security.
When you arrive at Chicago Midway, a walk through the airport will take you to the origin of the Orange Line, the train that will take you to the Loop in a 30 minute ride through the South side of the city. Your destination is the HI-Chicago Hostel at 24 E. Congress Expressway, a short walk from the train stop.
Lodging. The Hostel atmosphere is bluesy. You will be roughin’ it a bit here, but the location is an easy walk across Michigan Avenue to and from the music stages. At $34 a night and ample continental breakfast included, the price is terrific; get an annual membership online and your second night is free. Attend to details—reserve a bed in a dorm room that has bath and shower rooms within your suite, and bring a lock to secure your things in the lockers provided in the dorm room and lobby areas. You do not want to go down the hall to use the toilet or shower if it is not necessary.
The hostel concept is to provide inexpensive housing to those travelling alone or with a youth group that does not want to break their budget on motel/hotel prices. Enjoy meeting other hostellers from all over the world to share travel tips. My chief complaint of hostels throughout the world is that the bed mattress is not firm, but always saggy; apparently, young people are forgiving of this condition.
Common-use areas include a computer lab, travel book library, and WIFI accessibility. The one large screen TV is unobtrusive and avoidable. A great cost-saving tip is to use the spacious kitchen for meal preparation; the dining area is very community-oriented where you can meet and dine with other travelers. Cafes are plentiful in the neighborhood.
In Chicago, the Hostel is open 24 hours; respect your sleeping dorm mates when entering late by minimizing light and noise. You will probably agree that the European-style of lodging is not the first choice of a travelling American, but Blues and Jazz fans are a special breed of cat. Opt for practicality. Visit the web site of Hostelling International Chicago for more information. http://www.hichicago.org