Part 2: Studs Terkel Festival

Day Two of the Studs Terkel Festival was magnificent. Congrats to Paul Durica and Leigh Fagin for this amazing festival. I started off the day with Third Coast International Audio Festival and their special work themed Listening Room. I’ve talked previously about the Third Coast and Listening Rooms but I’ll briefly reiterate. Third Coast is “The Sundance of Radio;” they listen to lots of radio and present the best. Listening Rooms are one of their events where people collectively listen to pieces, surrounding a particular theme like “spaces” or “protest.”

For this festival, the theme was “working” and it focused on four pieces. The first was about a singing sanitation worker in NY. He sang beautifully on his route because it helped make people’s days better. Stunning. The next piece was about a family that bought a mill and built a family business in it while other mills were closing down. They made the wool on tennis balls. They were one of two still working mills in Maine. Now, they are one of two mills in the US. Incredible.

The next story was about workers at the Walmart that opened in the West side in 2006. The piece interwove many voices, both genders and many ages, talking about their experiences working there. There was incredible optimism in their voices; these were jobs and opportunities. Many wished that they could be paid more but generally they were happy to have the work. Very interesting. Johanna Zorn, the moderator, wondered what those same workers would say now eight years later. And then the final piece was about jockeys talking about the role of chance in their lives. Some talked about how this was the best job for them. Every day was different. But they also talked about the incredible risks that they take every day.

The next event was a performance called “I Come For To Sing.” Back when Studs Terkel was blacklisted, Studs, Win Stracke, and some other musicians toured colleges and clubs to play folk and other music. There were four musicians who sang a wonderful variety of songs from all over the hemisphere (both the US and Mexico). It was really neat to hear songs from the state of Veracruz and the state of Michoacán and see how incredibly different the music was.

Then it was time for Curious City, a WBEZ radio show, that I have recently became acquainted with. For those of you unfamiliar with this lovely show, they believe in making the entire news process transparent. They ask for suggestions for stories from us and then they work to produce the story based on the questions. They also bring in the person with the question and ask if the answer was satisfactory. It’s lovely. They cover questions from “Is the fish in Lake Michigan edible” to “What is it like to live on minimum wage?”

They presented a few pieces they’ve done. My personal favorite of the ones presented was a general question which I’m paraphrasing, “How does perception of the American dream change with socio-economic status?” They went to four neighborhoods/ suburbs: Albany Park, East Chicago, McKinley Park (I think), and Winnetka. They interviewed people on the street and it was fascinating. The people in McKinley Park talked about how having a home, job, and family was their conception of the American Dream. The people in East Chicago talked about their aspirations for a better life. Interestingly the Winnetka people focused on husbands losing their jobs and wives having to keep it quiet. Not what I expected.

They also answered a question about the “Freedom Wall.” It’s that seemingly random list of names on the side of a building that you can see off the Chicago Brown Line stop. It was an artist who wanted to put together a list of people who personified “Freedom.” He asked people for input and I think he included the person if they were mentioned three times. So you have Elie Wiesel and Rush Limbaugh on the same wall. Curious City is asking for suggestions for a new Freedom wall twenty years later.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow I’ll talk about Manual Cinema’s amazing shadow puppets, Ira Glass (!) and a wonderful concert of working songs.

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