The temperature was 90+ degrees in Chicago Wednesday. Our time at a rap concert outside at Grant Park that night was hot — in more ways than one.
I wrote a post earlier this week about my quest to understand what young people are listening to these days. If the musicians we heard in the Petrillo Band Shell Wednesday night are any indication, those kids have very good taste! The Taste of Chicago concert was free if you stood on the lawn, and thousands upon thousands of teenagers and 20-somethings gathered there peacefully — and happily — to hear Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, The Roots, and … Chance the Rapper, a last minute addition. My disability status allowed me $25 seats in the shell. We opted for those. It wasn’t long before Mike guided me to a walkway behind our seats, though. I needed to stand up — and dance!
Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment opened the show. Donnie’s real name is Nico Segal, he’s a good friend of my friend Chance the Rapper, and he plays, guess what? The trumpet. A lot of people were there Wednesday to see Chance the Rapper, but if you ask me, it was The Social Experiment’s time to shine. The band features three trumpets, a trombone, two sax players, two keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and … vibes. I really, really, really liked The Social Experiment.
Before Wednesday, I hadn’t quite taken to this rap thing. I’d assumed rap was more talk than music. I have trouble understanding what they’re saying. I can’t see to watch them do their cool moves. But The Social Experiment changed all that for me. It’s horns, back-up singers, and rap — all in one.
The band’s performance was a 21st century variety show. Donnie brought one young performer on stage after another, boasting over and over again to the audience that “These musicians are all from Chicago!” I especially liked Michael Golden, one of many rappers who came out to perform with the band. He had his Go lyrics choreographed, so sometimes, when he’d repeat a phrase, like, say, “Don’t Go, don’t go” the guys on stage would chorus along, often in harmony. Like Motown! Female singers in the background were doing harmony, too — beautiful.
I read up on Donnie Trumpet a.k.a. Nico Segal a little bit and learned that he has Cuban background. That might explain the band’s Afro-Cuban sound. The music The Social Experiment played Wednesday also combined gospel, doo-wop, Motown, rhythms like Prince used, jazz like Miles Davis played, reggae and even … marching band. You couldn’t help but dance to it.
Mike and I were so sweaty it was gross to hold each other. Whitney the Seeing Eye dog stayed home (she doesn’t like crowds) so I unfolded my white cane and danced with it instead. About half an hour into Social Experiment, Chance made his entry, the audience went ballistic, and the exhiliration left Mike and me laughing — with joy.
It wasn’t all fun, though. Many of the lyrics I heard Wednesday touched on violence and chaos. A Chicago Tribune review of Chance the Rapper described his Paranoia trac “as incisive and moving a perspective on Chicago’s poverty-stricken killing zone as any piece of art.” In the article, Chance talked about growing up on Chicago’s South Side. “You have to be around it, you get sensitive to the sound and sight of a fight, the way a gun sounds — it doesn’t sound like the movies,” Chance told the reporter. “The idea of having friends who passed before they were 16, 17, you realize other people who aren’t from here aren’t like that, and they fear us.”
The concert was on Wednesday, the night before this week’s shootings in Dallas. Alton Sterling had been killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge the day before, and after the crowd took a moment of silence to ponder that, Donnie Trumpet stepped back up to the mike. “Moments of silence should be followed by moments of joy.”
Chance and the band responded with a version of the song “Blessings” and its refrain, “I’m gon’ praise him, praise him, ‘til I’m gone.” It was moving — and exhilarating — to be in the midst of thousands of happy, peaceful fans enjoying music together.
And so, with this post today, I’m gon’ praise Chance, Donnie Trumpet, The Social Experiment, the fans, the Chicago Park District, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the security staff for providing such an eye-opening, ahem, night to this middle-aged blind music lover.
I’ll leave you here with another Chance the Rapper quote from the Chicago Tribune, this one about his track called Paranoia.
”In Chicago people are afraid too. So to say, ‘I know you’re scared,’ it’s a kid speaking to an adult, to anyone who is outside this. He’s saying, ‘I’m in the same position, I’m scared too.’ I can’t be inattentive or unprepared. Because they could pull on me at any time. It’s fear of the next step. That song is saying if everyone would stop and say how they feel, we might realize we have a lot more in common than we thought.”