Part 4: Studs Terkel Festival

I’ve been spending the past few days talking about the Studs Terkel festival at the University of Chicago. This is the fourth and final post about the festival.

After the wondrous Ira Glass, there was the “Let’s Get Working – The Concert”, a joint collaboration with the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and the Hideout. Six bands were given classic labor songs about the eight hour day and they were charged to reinterpret them. The concert was really unique because there were six bands with very divergent styles, ranging from rap to folk music. It started with hip hop by Psalm One & Fluffy who were vivacious. They had a poignant song about working women. Then it went on to folk music with Sally Timms & Janet Bean. For the folk music, one of the ladies played an accordion that I’d never seen before. I’d call it “a suitcase accordion.” It fit in a small wooden suitcase box and she would push one side of it. It was really neat.

Then we got some awesome soul from JC Brooks. He was full of charm and glee. It was a joy to watch him. After him was the Eternals who combined rock and synthesizers. After the Eternals, there was rap by Che “Rhymefest” Smith and then the concert wrapped up with folk singer Ed Holstein. Mr. Holstein knew Studs Terkel and talked a lot about him while strumming on his guitar. He sang one song called “Passing Through” that moved me. It’s a witty song about making the best of the small time we have on earth. Good and bad things happen, we are just passing through. Beautiful.

The following day ended the festival with an episode of Studs Place at the Hideout. There have three prior shows in the past year and a half. The show ran from 1949 to 1951. Back then Chicago developed a lot of its own programming. Studs Terkel was a TV star before his radio shows and the books existed. There were four actors, including Win Stracke, who worked off a one page script so most of the show was improvised. Episodes centered around Studs character acting a bit of a jerk, then realizing the error his ways. Then Mr. Stracke would bring out his guitar and sing. You can watch episodes here.

So this was this was the final episode of Studs Place. The show followed the same format as the original show. There were four actors with an improvised script. They discovered in previous episodes that the Hideout was the site of the former Studs Place. In this episode, changes happen to the band of regulars. It’s a time of new beginnings. It was charming and a wonderful conclusion to the entire “series.”

Afterwards, Steve Dyja read from his book The Third Coast. The book looks at Chicago after WWII. It draws together architecture, jazz, social movements, civil rights, Studs Terkel, and more. It’s the way I like my history. I hate artificially segmenting it. Everything impacts one another. He read about the romance of Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir. It was haunting section about their ill fated love. I haven’t read the book but I would like to read it.

The last act of the night was a band that played songs from the 1920s up to the 1940s. The idea was to play songs that Studs Terkel would have heard in his childhood and would have inspired him. I love that era of music. I’m partial to horns and a good bass in particular. The trombonist had an amazing voice and sang classics such as “Summertime” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” What an end to the entire festival!

It was a magical weekend in memory of the Great Studs Terkel. I don’t know how it could have been done better. Congrats to Paul Durica and Leigh Fagin for a magnificent festival. I think Studs Terkel would have been proud.

That’s all!

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