Downtown Sound

To continue my love song to summer concerts and theater, I’m going to talk about Downtown Sound. It’s a wonderful musical program at Millennium Park every Monday night for about two months in the summer. Bands of different genres, like folk, rap, and rock, play a free concert in the Pritzker band shell. People can picnic either on the grass or in the chairs. This is the second summer that I’ve gone but I’m planning on going every Monday for the rest of the summer, regardless of the music.

Last year, I was really excited to learn that one of my favorite groups, Carolina Chocolate Drops, was going to play. They are an all African American folk band that is really trying to celebrate and promote African American influence in folk music. After all, the banjo is an African instrument. The band is incredible and witty. And I always learn more about folk music history. The Carolina Chocolate Drops came to Chicago for Blues Fest and concert at the City Winery this June. I went to both Blues Fest and City Winery to see them. They are just that good.

Last year’s concert was unforgettable. Partly it was because of the weather. A really nasty storm came in just when the warm up band was supposed to play. We were told to evacuate Millennium Park and the concert was cancelled. And then the waterfall came in. We were quite bummed. But we hid in this hallway nearby as the rains pounded down. Then the rain and lightening let up and the staff said that the concert could go on if the artists agreed. And they did. What followed was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. I think the possibility of not having the concert made it even better. The Carolina Chocolate Drops were simply amazing. They played some of my favorite songs. There was even a Scottish mouth song (think Scottish Scat). It was worth it.

The next Downtown Sound that I attended was the Handsome Family. I didn’t know them before I looked at the schedule. I listened to a little a bit of their songs online and decided it was worth checking out. And I’m glad I did. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they sing the “theme song” to True Detective. Their music is folk with a wonderfully dark heart. They also lived in Chicago so they have songs about the wind going up Ashland Avenue. Their last CD was about animals like owls, flies, and frogs. The banter from Rennie Sparks is amazingly weird and worth seeing them live.

Last night, I went to my first Downtown Sound for the season. Other commitments kept me from going. I was keen to see My Brightest Diamond, a band that I only knew of because of the series. But it sounded like my kind of music. I was a bit concerned about the massive series of storms that were going to come in. Even though my weather app said that there was 100% of rain, I went anyway. And I’m glad that I did. Mucca Pazza, the great Chicago marching band, came from nowhere, marching through the audience to go on stage. They played a song with My Brightest Diamond, which was incredible. Then they exited and My Brightest Diamond sang another haunting song…and then we were told we had to leave. My Brightest Diamond said good bye by melodically chanting “I love you… I love you.” It was sublime. Stupid storm. Oh well. Totally worth just the two songs. I’ll have to see her when she comes back to Chicago.

Anyway, if you haven’t gone to a concert at Millennium Park this summer, you should go. And check out Downtown Sound. You might find some amazing new music there.


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