Chicago Tribune: “Greg Kot’s guide to good Taste”

June 26, 2009

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

The Taste of Chicago is like the sun–you can’t ignore it, nor can you stare directly at it. Every year, it dominates this city’s lakefront like no other event. Our friends in Play told you everything you need to know about stuffing your face. Now, On the Town wants to tell you how to stuff your ears.

Taste of Chicago, irrespective of the quality of any year’s music lineup, is pretty remarkable in that you get so much music in one place, for free. You don’t even have to brave the rows upon rows of food vendors and men clutching turkey drumsticks. You can just show up for the music. There are retro acts, reunion acts, cutting-edge indie goodness and everything else. We enlisted Tribune critic Greg Kot to make sure you wouldn’t overindulge. He sorts out the music acts using a three-tiered scale: put down that chicken kebab and pay attention; will not give you stomach cramps; and get a hoagie, head for the washroom, go anywhere but here.

– Put down that chicken kebab and pay attention

Charlie Wilson and Cameo, 5:30 p.m. Friday, Petrillo Music Shell. If it’s ’80s electro-funk you want, you’ve come to the right stage, with the Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson headlining while Cameo is sure to rev up the still-thrilling “Word Up” as the opener.

Andre Williams Trio, noon Saturday, Taste Stage. A day devoted to the riches in the Bloodshot Records artist roster kicks off with the loose, lascivious, completely unpredictable Williams, followed by sets from the Deadstring Brothers, Dollar Store, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and the Waco Brothers.

World music, noon-8:30 p.m. Monday, Taste Stage. A style-hopping panoply of bands steeped in Caribbean, Latin and African sounds. I particularly enjoy the jazz-flavored Afro-funk of the Chicago Afrobeat Project (5:15 p.m.).

Aron Burton and Two for the Blues with David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Taste Stage. Burton is a solid journeyman who can deliver on guitar and with unhurried vocals, plus Edwards is one of the last living links to the Robert Johnson era.

Ne-Yo with Keri Hilson, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Petrillo. Among the latest legion of R&B heartthrobs, Ne-Yo (Shaffer Smith) is a master of the heartbreak ballad. But I wonder how gloom classics such as “Why Does She Stay” and “Fade Into the Background” will go over amid the usual Taste frivolity, or whether he’ll even have the courage to sing them. Here’s hoping he does.

Thrill Jockey Records Day, noon to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Petrillo. An entire day of one of the quirkiest, coolest label rosters in all independent music. Special props to the incendiary trio led by saxophone legend Fred Anderson (3:30 p.m.), the rollicking celebration of 8 Bold Souls (7 p.m.) and a rare Eleventh Dream Day sighting — maybe Rick Rizzo will lay some new songs on us (5:15 p.m.).

Fireworks with the 85th Army Band, 7:30 p.m. July 3, Petrillo. The All-American light show. What more do you need on July 4th eve?

Booker T. and the Drive-By Truckers, with Buddy Guy and Guster, 3 p.m. July 4, Petrillo. Though I’m not a big fan of his latest album, Booker T. Jones is a legendary soul man, and his collaboration with the Southern roots rockers has the potential to rekindle some of the previous night’s fireworks.

Gospel and jazz, noon to 5:30 p.m. July 5, Taste Stage. The hosannas will rain from on high with Arthur Sutton and the Gift of Praise (1:30 p.m.) and the Shekinah Glory Ministry (3 p.m.), capped off by saxophone great Von Freeman (4:30 p.m., at left).

– Will not give you stomach cramps

Indie Rock and Power Pop, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday, Taste Stage. No big names, but I’m a fan of Holding Mercury’s hooks-heavy 2008 release, “Downfall of an Empire.” The band’s set starts at 4:15 p.m.

Lovehammers, 5 p.m. Sunday, Petrillo. The South Side veterans always deliver a bar-band buzz. Their enthusiasm and energy should easily eclipse headliners The Wallflowers.

Broadway in Chicago, 6 p.m. Monday, Petrillo. A shot of “Jersey Boys” will highlight this revue, along with songs from “Mary Poppins,” “Young Frankenstein” and more. Too bad it won’t also include the excellent “Million Dollar Quartet” cast that rocked the Goodman.

Liz Toussaint, 1:45 p.m. July 3 at the Taste Stage. Toussaint bills herself as the love child of Kenny Rogers and Anita Baker, which isn’t a pretty picture. But she has a decent voice in a neo-soul-sister kind of a way.

Songs for Presidents, noon to 3 p.m. July 4 at the Taste Stage. Dozens of indie bands pay tribute in song to the 44 Chief Executives.

Mitchel Musso and Jordan Pruitt, 2:30 p.m. July 5, Petrillo. Second-tier Disney stars should keep the kids occupied while the adults wind down the holiday with some beach-blanket toasts.

– Get a hoagie, head for the washroom, go anywhere but here

Counting Crows, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Petrillo. Remember the mid-’90s? Because that’s where you’ll be stuck when Adam Duritz and company rewind their 15 minutes of fame with “Mr. Jones.”

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