In recent years your live music buck gets you more bang in one Chicago summer than anywhere else in North America. You've got the numerous block parties including several that bring in national acts (Taste of Randolph, the Hideout Block Party); there's the stuff going down at Grant Park - Taste of Chicago, the Blues Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Gospel Music Festival, Lollapalooza; then you've got the fantastic new Pritzker Pavilion and the many free concerts it brings in; plus this year the hipsters get three huge festivals with the Pitchfork Media split from Intonation creating two youthful events and the one old-timer hipster event provided by Touch and Go; add on the garage rock extravaganza Chicago BlackOut sponsored by Horizontal Action magazine and the Stars of the Lyric Opera House event then you're really leaving nobody out. The only trouble is everybody knows it, which means for all of these events you battle the crowd and the summer heat. That's why my current favorite music festival of the season is the Chicago World Music Festival winding down right now.
Instead of crowding a bazillion great bands into one tiny weekend at one venue like the circus trick some of these other festivals have become, the WMF spreads its events across the city and over more than a week plus many of the events are absolutely free. Now I know you might be thinking, "yeah but it's still World Music." Don't worry the good folks at the Chicago Cultural Affairs department are savvy enough to recognize the difference between "World Music" the Peter Gabriel-esque genre and "World Music" the idea of bring musicians from around the world together. They do this cleverly, not by focusing on traditional folky music of bygone eras but by finding active musicians playing for whatever contemporary reason they might have. They also do a great job of mixing things up so that Brazilian ex-pat fans of Otto get an education in Cambodian pop music LA style from Dengue Fever whether they want it or not.
One group appearing numerous times at the WMF this year (and that certainly isn't a folk music museum piece) is the Mexican duo of Rodrigo and Gabriela. These two met as teens in Mexico City where they formed a thrash metal band, Terra Acida. When that band proved incapabable of providing them a living income, they split for Europe and developed a percussive acoustic style all their own which reflects equally their Mexican and Metallica influences. They're on tour and if they come to your town I highly recommend you check them out. If they're not coming to your town you can still watch the video on the front page of their website cleverly viewed through the eye of the serpent. Foc!