I had not been to Navy Pier in a long time. So an invite from journalist/writer/documentary maker Dave Hoekstra to a reception for the popup version of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s “The State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois” exhibit there was enough to get me out of the house.
Being suburban by nature, Best Fest Buddy Tom’s brother Mark and I arrived a half hour early. Hey. It’s hard to judge traffic these days. As it is, it took 75 minutes to get downtown.
We parked by entrance 10 in the east parking lot. All parking on Navy Pier is on the north side of the pier. East just means it’s further into the lake. At least they don’t use nautical terms. That would be even more confusing.
That entrance puts you right by the exhibit. This free to view attraction runs through Aug. 27. It’s worth a visit.
Hoekstra interviewed performers featured in the exhibit and provided the text. He’s also one of the hosts for podcasts about it. In conjunction with the Navy Pier popup, those include episodes about way back in the day when Navy Pier hosted ChicagoFest, which was supposed to rival Summerfest up in Milwaukee.
I vaguely remember attending ChicagoFest at Navy Pier once. All I can recall is rain running off of buildings and how decrepit the place was. I am looking forward to having my memory refreshed by the podcasts.
The Navy Pier version of The State of Sound brings back memories, too. I may have forgotten that a good many performers have to Illinois in various genres of popular and semi-popular music.
For instance, Strauss composed a waltz for the incorporation of Chicago in 1837. Ok. I made that up – just to muck with ChatGPT.
As one example, I learned that bluegrass/country fiddler/singer Alison Krauss is from Champaign. That town also let REO Speedwagon loose on the world. I knew that. I heard it from a friend. Who heard it from a friend. Who heard it from a friend.
Legends on display include Louis Armstrong, who lived here for a bit; Chicago natives Benny Goodman, Herbie Hancock, Chance the Rapper and Chaka Khan; Alton’s Miles Davis; Maywood’s John Prine; Liz Phair, who grew up in Winnetka, and (current) Orland Park resident Buddy Guy.
Other acts covered include Earth, Wind & Fire, Smashing Pumpkins, Ministry, Cheap Trick and the late polka king Eddie Blazonczyk, to name just a few. Per the polka, there’s a panel about a variety of ethnic acts hailing from Chicago, including the Celtic-tinged The Drovers.
There are items on display from performers in cases next to the text and photos painted on walls. To find out more and to hear brief interviews and music samples you need your smartphone to access that information through QR codes.
That’s not such a bad thing. When a similar exhibit came to the library in Elgin, the toddlers in my charge enjoyed pushing the buttons to hear songs way too much.
If some acts are missing (Chicago, Styx, et al) it’s because of space limitations making for a truncated version of what was offered at the museum in Springfield. As an example, Hoekstra said Peoria native Dan Fogelberg’s widow, Jean, had provided items that had been on display in Springfield which didn’t make the trip.
Elephants not in the room: neither Kanye West nor R. Kelly is mentioned. Go figure.
Performing at the reception was expat Welshman and longtime Chicagoan Jon Langford. Langford’s performed at the Chicago Scots Scottish Festival and Highland Games as well as at the summertime fest on the grounds of the Irish American Heritage Center. (I had to tell you that to add some Celtic/Irish to the mix.)
In case you don’t know, Langford is an original member of The Mekons, one of the great underappreciated bands to come out of the UK in the late 70s, and The Three Johns. Here in Chicago he helped found the alt-country Waco Brothers.
Along with taking in the exhibit and learning a thing or two, Mark and I took a walk inside and outside Navy Pier.
It reminded me of Woodfield Mall. Sort of. But instead of an abundance of stores, there are quite a few restaurants now (better than the ones I remembered from years ago), a beer garden at the end of it, a hotel, meeting rooms, graffiti artists, a guy writing instant poems on a typewriter, good people watching (for interesting hairstyles) and not too big of a crowd.
That’s not to mention Chicago Shakespeare, the Ferris wheel, a tall ship, cruise ships and nice views of the skyline.
On the night of the reception, there were teens in prom-like outfits boarding one of the cruises, like a scene from whatever a John Hughes movie might look like more than 30 years since the last one.
Tourists are fun to watch as they take in places locals might take for granted.
Lest you think I’m turning into this guy, while sightseeing the sightseers, I had this London-like idea: Navy Pier would be a great place to bring Tom’s grandkids.
It would be perfect for training adorable little pickpockets. Consider yourself warned, in a show tune sort of way.