Saved by rock 'n' roll | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Saved by rock 'n' roll 

The Arts of Life Band shows that being developmentally disabled doesn't stand in the way of rocking out

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One night last March at the Hideout, Wilson ordered a nonalcoholic Clausthaler and asked a bandmate if his mom would take them to go see the film Little Red Riding Hood. Then she broke into a howl—her stage name is Jean the Wolf. The band was out to celebrate the release of its second album, Around and Around, and premiere its music video for "Shark Attack." Filmed at the 31st Street beach, it features Wilson and Krueger taking turns wearing a shark costume and attacking people in the water. There's a lot of fake blood.

I asked Wilson why she wasn't performing in the shark costume. She said, "David tore the eyes off and tore my fins off. What am I gonna do now for Halloween?"

Local mixed-ability band DHF Express—part of the arts-based Project Onward—were the opening act, and the Arts of Life musicians were the first ones on the dance floor. During a cover of "Down Home Blues," David Krueger got down on one knee and started headbanging.

When the Arts of Life Band took the stage the dance floor filled and began to sway. Wilson pounded hypnotically on a drum and chanted, "Let's get this band going." The keyboards came in, then crashing guitars. The bouncing of 12 bodies made the Hideout stage seem even tinier than it is.

"As a live music fan, I won't be able to see things the same way again. And I mean that in a good way," said Chris Charles, who came to see headliner Bobby Conn and knew nothing about the Arts of Life Band. "And I also just started to play music, so to see them up there and have joy and support and doing it for the purest reasons—it's pretty invigorating."

As for Conn, he took home a picture of him that Krueger and Shuquem had painted and brought to the show. "They really captured me," said Conn. "That's what's so disturbing about it." He sauntered off singing, "Puppies and babies . . . Puppies and babies . . ."

Like any band, the Arts of Life Band has dealt with creative differences and the kind of personal issues that affect performances. Kelly had a seizure the day of the record release show, and another member was dealing with a change in medication, battling voices in her head in the bathroom. But she was good to go come showtime.

Michael Dutka, who was at the Hideout show, got to know the Arts of Life while looking for places in the midwest to screen the Heavy Load documentary. He's also technical director at the dance company Momenta, whose dancers with full use of their legs perform alongside those in wheelchairs—but he admits that it took him a while to get comfortable talking to people with disabilities. "Growing up, we were always told, 'Don't look at that person,'" says Dutka, 59. "But in time you realize that we're all different, and we're all human.

"This movement is picking up momentum. It's 10:30 PM, and we've got people from group homes out enjoying themselves. This is a success."

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