Bleader | Chicago Reader

Friday, September 30, 2016

Venezuelan spot Bienmesabe is a hit with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and other expat baseball players

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 04:36 PM

Patacon - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Patacon

There isn't much about the drab interior of the Ravenswood Venezuelan restaurant Bienmesabe that commits itself to memory. At least that's true until you make your way toward the restrooms at the rear of the dining room, where you'll be confronted by a wall of fame bearing the signatures of 18 Venezuelan-born Major League baseball players (and 2013 Miss Venezuela Migbelis Castellanos).

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WFMT boss Steve Robinson signs off today

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 02:34 PM

Steve Robinson - BILL RICHERT
  • Bill Richert
  • Steve Robinson

After 16 years at Chicago's classical music station, WFMT 98.7 FM, Executive Vice President and General Manager Steve Robinson is leaving, today. On the eve of his departure, which was announced last month, Robinson answered a few questions about the station, his long run there, and the future of the business. 

You've been at other stations. What's unique about WFMT?

Four things: We're a non-profit; we run commercials; all of the commercials are read by the announcers; and we're listener supported. There's no station in country that I know that combines all four.

How has it changed over the time you've been there?

I inherited a healthy station. But I increased the amount of live broadcasts that we do. We're now doing something like 250 a year. Why? Because you can't get it on Pandora, Spotify, satellite.

I also inherited the WFMT Fine Arts Network. I changed the name to the WFMT Radio Network, and increased the programming. For example, we did a live broadcast from Quebec City of Mahler's Symphony No. 8. There were a thousand performers and it was in a hockey rink. On Mozart's 250th birthday, we broadcast from Salzburg, the city of his birth. The Vienna philharmonic performed with a guy named Muti conducting. And from Durbin, in 2002, we broadcast the world premier of Princess Magogo, the first indigenous South African opera, in the Zulu language. We had 4 million listeners.

Is there a future for classical music radio?

It's such a challenging time for the whole radio industry, but at the same time, a future that's never been filled with more promise, because the digital revolution offers limitless opportunities in what we can do online in combination with our over-the-air signal.

There are stations that feel that digital will save them should the audience dwindle. They have to be very careful because the competition is so great. A single station is going to have a hard time making up lost over-the-air revenue online. Over-the-air radio isn't going away for now, and this is not a head in the sand view—over-the-air is still the mainstay.

For FMT, it's more than just streaming. For example, Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin [which Robinson created] went on the air in 2003 and now is on 65 stations just in the U.S. It's also on in Australia and the Philippines and Guam, and it's heard everyday in Beijing, in English.

Over the air in the U.S., Exploring Music reaches 400,000 listeners a week. But in 2013 I put the entire archive online at exploring We have a pay wall, which people questioned, but I've always felt, when it comes to the web, that if you have something of value and no one's willing to pay for it, maybe it wasn't quite as valuable as you thought. So for Exploring Music, it costs you $60 a year to have access to 212 weeks— over a thousand hours of fantastic material. And it's doing well. We're grossing close to $50,000 a year from that.

We're also building the Studs Terkel archive at You'll never have to pay to get it, but eventually we'll have all 5,500 hours online, and it'll be very interactive. That's another example of where online can be a vital component to a radio station, but not just by streaming and crossing your fingers.

Why leave now?

It was totally my own decision. I had a significant birthday a couple weeks ago. Sixteen years is a good run. David Polk, the program director, is a terrific, bright, young guy; Tony Macaluso, who's running the network day to day, is the same—a fireball of activity—so it's in good hands. I hired them both, I'm proud to say. It was time to pass the baton and try some new things, and I've got lots of things up my sleeve. I'm leaving, but I'm not retiring.

Which birthday was that?

[Pause.] If I was a woman you'd never ask me that. Seventy. Never felt better.

What'll you be doing?

I'll be a producer/entrepreneur. Radio will be part of it but we no long think just about radio anymore. I just had a meeting with a virtual reality producer. You're going to buy a ticket to an event, put on your headset, and you'll be sitting there in the audience. I'm very interested in the podcasting business; even though the train has kind of left the station, it's still in its infancy. I think streaming, both video and audio, has a life that still needs to be exploited.

You started out as an on-air personality. Do you have a hankering to go back to that?

Yeah, I do have a craving to be on the air.

Anything else?

It's a wonderful team here. I've never done anything by myself.

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Guitarist John Scofield visits country on his new album

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 02:18 PM

  • Nicholas Suttle
  • John Scofield

A few weeks ago guitarist John Scofield performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival with one of his greatest bands, his recently reconfigured quartet with the sublime saxophonist Joe Lovano. That project showcases his deep engagement with postbop, but over the last couple of decades the guitarist has repeatedly shown interests ranging far beyond that. He's explored funk in collaborations with Medeski Martin & Wood, surveyed New Orleans-style R&B, and exploited his chops for the jam-band crowd, whether leading his own Uberjam project or working with Gov't Mule. Last week Scofield dropped a new album that pivots in yet another direction: country music.

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LOL! Chicago Tribune tells its readers to vote for Gary Johnson

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 02:16 PM

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson - MOLLY RILEY/AFP/GETTY IMAGE
  • MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Image
  • Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson

One of the handiest things about ideals is how they offer an easy way around an impossible choice. That's the big reason I'm suspicious of them.

Just the other day I was having an exchange on Facebook with a friend who made it known she was sitting out this presidential election. "My vote is sacred," she wrote, "and I will NEVER cast it in favor of anyone I do not consider worthy of a public office." That meant Trump and Clinton; it also meant Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

"What do we mean when we say our vote is sacred?" I replied. "It's precious and well worth fighting for? But sacred? It seems to me it's just the opposite. We're not simply rendering unto Caesar. We're deciding who Caesar will be—not God. It's a utilitarian decision that calls on our common sense, not spirituality. Common sense can be as ordinary and dispiriting as acknowledging the lesser evil. . . "

I didn't persuade her, and if I'd favored the Tribune with the same reasoning I wouldn't have persuaded it. That paper posted online Friday its choice for president in November. It's not Trump and it's not Clinton and there's no real surprise there—the Tribune said before Illinois's March primary that it couldn't bring itself to endorse either one of them. 

Instead, the Tribune endorsed Johnson. Its logic ran along feel-good lines. "We offer this endorsement to encourage voters who want to feel comfortable with their choice," said its editorial page. "Who want to vote for someone they can admire."

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FX is developing Samantha Irby’s memoir Meaty

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 01:56 PM

Samantha Irby, coming soon to a television near you! - EVABLUE
  • Samantha Irby, coming soon to a television near you!

Samantha Irby
, former Chicagoan, animal lover, and all around hilarious human being, has just signed a deal to develop a half-hour series for FX based on her blog Bitches Gotta Eat and essay collection Meaty. She'll be working with two other hilarious humans, Abbi Jacobson of Broad City and Jessi Klein, head writer of Inside Amy Schumer and author of the memoir You'll Get Over It.

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Logan Square Beer Festival, CatVideo Fest, and more things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 01:08 PM

Felines take over the Music Box at CatVideo Fest on Sun 10/2. - COURTESY MUSIC BOX
  • courtesy Music Box
  • Felines take over the Music Box at CatVideo Fest on Sun 10/2.

Kick off this spooky time of year (the homestretch of election season!) with some of our recommended events: 

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With a strike date of October 11 pending, CTU remains in talks with the Emanuel administration, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 09.30.16 at 06:38 AM

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis announcing the vote to strike - SANTIAGO COVARRUBIAS/SUN-TIMES
  • Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times
  • Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis announcing the vote to strike

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Friday, September 30, 2016. 

  • Weather: Another gloomy day

The weather won't improve much Friday, when there'll be a high of 65 and a low of 60. Expect showers, cloudy skies, and wind throughout the day. [AccuWeather]

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen hope to avoid teachers' strike as CTU sets a walkout date of October 11

On Wednesday the Chicago Teachers Union set a strike date of October 11, but as of yesterday there were still at least some hopes that ongoing negotiations with the union could avert a walkout. "As far as I know, right now today teachers are sitting down with some folks from the mayor's office and with [12th Ward alderman George] Cardenas," 27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett Jr. told DNAinfo Chicago. According to Burnett, the union and the Emanuel administration are discussing possible ways to use surplus tax increment financing funds for Chicago Public Schools in order to reach a compromise in CTU contract negotiations. But Burnett was quick to add that TIF funds offer no easy solution to the pension crisis: "That would take away from a lot of projects folks have planned already." [DNAinfo Chicago]

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Producer and DJ Fess Grandiose on the local beat scene he loves and the hip-hop boom in Logan Square

Posted By on 09.29.16 at 05:30 PM

Fess Grandiose - PEN/CARLSON
  • Pen/Carlson
  • Fess Grandiose

For five straight summers, DJ, producer, and rapper Fess Grandiose helped put on Kimball House Rock, a daylong DIY hip-hop festival he hosted in the backyard of his Logan Square home. Though Grandiose, 30, was raised in south-suburban Hazel Crest, he's completely embraced his new neighborhood: the final Kimball House Rock, held in 2014, offered a snapshot of the alternative-rap acts operating on the northwest side. The bill included rappers Angel Katz, Auggie the 9th, and Rich Jones; DJ Sev Seveer of beat-scene collective Push Beats; nomadic multi-instrumentalist Netherfriends; and now-defunct hip-hop group Hurt Everybody. Grandiose has continued hosting his own events since retiring Kimball House Rock, and earlier this year he debuted Open Beats, a live beat-making showcase on the third Friday of every month at Cafe Mustache.

Grandiose is so fascinated with the beat scene—loosely speaking, a community of producers focusing strictly on instrumentals—that he's made a hip-hop album without any rapping. The self-titled full-length drops digitally and on cassette this Friday, September 30, on local label ETC, which was founded by DJ and producer Radius. I called Grandiose to talk about what inspired the album, his transition away from rapping, and Chicago's beat scene.

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Watch a Sable bartender turn his aunt’s mojo sauce into a Puerto Rican cocktail

Posted By on 09.29.16 at 04:41 PM

While the sauce called mojo originated in the Canary Islands, varying forms of it are popular in Cuba, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico. But for Sable Kitchen & Bar bartender Pito Rodriguez, the truest form is made in Puerto Rico by his aunt Titi. Rodriguez says that Matthew Jannotta, the Soho House Chicago bartender who challenged him to make a cocktail with mojo, visited Puerto Rico with him a couple years ago and got a chance to try his aunt's mojo, which consists simply of cilantro, garlic, olive oil, and salt.

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New Madigan documentary surprises some of the people in it

Posted By on 09.29.16 at 01:00 PM

  • Seth Perlman/AP Photo
  • Michael Madigan

To get the right people to your party, sometimes you need to personalize the invitations.

The party, in this case, is a documentary film on Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan that's being financed by the Illinois Policy Institute. No friend of Madigan's, IPI is devoted to "free market principles," is the sworn enemy of public employee unions, and was, when new, enriched by Bruce Rauner's family foundation. Later Rauner became governor, and in the eyes of IPI he does little wrong.

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