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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 05:09 pm

Bigger is bigger, not always better

Get up close and personal at the Washington Street Jazz & Blues Festival

Untitled Document I was recently in Chicago, playing a bar show on Friday with Micah Walk, a coffeehouse open mic on Sunday, and a theater-group spot on Monday and Tuesday. In the middle, on Saturday, I attended the famed Chicago Blues Festival — you know, the one they call the largest outdoor blues festival in the world. It’s truly a spectacular event, but its size is advertised above all else, and actually that’s my least favorite part of the world-class shindig. For my money, the fest was all OK — it was free — but it took wandering around the more intimate side stages to generate any real excitement for me. For the most part I like live music where I can freely observe and participate (one exception was seeing Led Zeppelin in 1977, in Chicago, where I enjoyed myself with about 30,000 other stoned spectators). I want to feel the music, see the performers sweat and play off each other, and detect the actual emotion of the musicians.
We watched the acts on the main stage in Chicago by means of a monumental video screen and felt nothing in waveform but electronically transmitted sounds from far, far away. The bands could have been stationed in Hoboken or Ho Chi Minh City or the North Pole or Magic Slim’s living room, for that matter. I even made a point of looking at the stage now and then, but my aged eyes could see no band at all. Maybe that was why it was so difficult to participate with the stage commands of “Put your hands together” and “How y’all doin’ tonight?” that each band felt required to yell. All this (and some tasty Spanish wine) got me to thinking how fortunate we are in Springfield to have wonderful musicians and terrific bands playing within seeing and feeling distance at local festivals. Granted, we don’t have Lake Michigan in the background or a panorama of world-class skyscrapers to gaze at between songs, but what did you come to a music festival for anyway, the scenery or the tunes?
So this weekend, as you head to out to see the local stars gracing the stage at the 21st annual Washington Street Jazz & Blues Festival (or in two weeks, on July 7, at Taste of Springfield), take a moment to thank your lucky stars for the opportunity to get up close and personal with your live music.

The Washington Street Jazz & Blues Festival, showcasing six local bands, will be held from 6 p.m. until midnight Saturday, June 23, on Washington Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. Admission is $10. Seating is limited, and lawn chairs are welcome. The event ends with fireworks.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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