words & photos by John Yingling
Mike Reed's newest endeavor Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement is a great idea. Take the normal music festival in which Mr. Reed is very well-versed in throwing, and scale back a little bit on the music in lieu of...CIRCUS ACTS! Even the most jaded get all glittery-eyed when they see something reminiscent of "The Gravitron". Housed completely in Chicago's Eckhart Park, the neighborhood-y feel of the fest was well received by many.
That said, Friday (9/16), which started in the evening (unlike Saturday & Sunday which stated in the afternoon), wasn't the ideal start to the fest. Food was absent and the weather was mediocre. People seemed a bit confused on what to do. There were rides, a circus, music, but barely any people which made for a strange scene reminiscent of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It was dark and damp. The tents seemed musty. There were no hand-bill schedules - only a list of what was going on. That didn't stop me from having an alright start to the weekend though.
Chicago's CAVE opened the festival. They have a new record out on Drag City titled Neverendless, and it's really good. They played mostly that to a small crowd of around 50 people, most of whom were CAVE fans still reeling off of their record release show the night before at Mortville.
Colombia's Bomba Estereo, who have since played Austin City Limits, got everyone dancing with some skittering tunes that were spat, screamed, and wailed from a very small but powerful front-woman. I had heard very little about this band, but despite low attendance, it was highly enjoyable. Fans were obviously excited to see them in such an environment.
In lieu of Sidi Toure, I headed to the circus tent and caught a good mix of highly intense scenes, jokey performances, and even a short "Lonesome Organist" set! El Circo Cheapo Cabaret is certainly something to watch. They're based in Chicago too, so if you missed it, go check them out.
Smog's Bill Callahan, who remains on Drag City Records to this day, received some of the largest smiles and loudest cheers of the night. He seemed strangely at home, headlining a festival, playing on a stage inside of a big top tent. Perhaps it's the "America" connection with the state fair kind of setup that Brilliant Corners had going on in Eckhart Park. Either way, Callahan is a true performer and played a fantastic closing set.
More about the rest of the weekend coming soon. More pictures from Friday (though none of Bomba unfortunately - I lost them) are below...
Magic City Cent