“It sure is hot out,” my body tells me aquatically as I approach the entryway for Logan Square's Boulevard Fest. I do a double take as I get close enough to read.
“A $10 suggested donation?” I say incredulously in a way that only I can hear so as not to offend the young boy taking my money in exchange for my entrance. But, being the appreciator of the arts that I am, I fork over half of my allotted budget for the night.
Things don't look good for me, financially speaking. Even the Bud Light Lime costs $6. Citrus is the new upscale juice, people. Get on it.
I decide to go conservative and avoid the food options in favor of one nice beer.
“I'll eat when I get home,” I say, reasonably. Then I scan the menu options printed on the beer tent.
“Oh, I've never had that one, and it's a big can,” I say, being adventurous.
I acknowledge the nice lady at the tent and indicate that I'm ready to order my beer.
“I'll have the Halcyon Wheat, please,” I say.
“The what?” she asks, like I'm speaking gibberish.
“Halcyon?” I repeat, unsure this time. “You guys have that one here, right? I saw it on the other side.”
“I'm sorry, the what?”
We're getting nowhere. I point and grunt, say something about “the bigger cans.”
“Oh, the wheat? Hal-shon,” she says as my world caves in.
“Yes, please, thank you so much,” I say, red rising in my face. Some writer I am, not knowing how to pronounce big words. Existential angst floods my system. I worry. I call myself an idiot a few times in my head. I give her $8 and scurry away.
A Dictionary.com search a few minutes later reveals that I was indeed correct in my pronunciation, thank you very much. So ha!
Vindicated and cooled by my Halcyon [hal-see-uh n]Wheat beer, I am now prepared to take a gander of my surroundings.
The Boulevard Fest is an intimate thing. It feels like it's only a couple blocks long. It makes sense, given the density of the neighborhood. Where would you put a street festival in that booming neighborhood? They pack in a lot of stuff, though, from taco stands to obscene t-shirt shops to the obligatory street fest spinal health screening tent – there is at least one at every fest I've ever attended.
Given the space constraints, I half expect the bands on opposite stages to create a hideous drone in the middle, a problem I notice the festival tries to solve by staggering their start times. One goes on at 7 o'clock, the other 7:30, and so on. It helps that nobody playing the fest is a sonic boom of thrash or anything. Tonight, Friday, the first of the weekend-long event, features a steady stream of folksy, Mumford & Sons-meets-bluegrass bands doing ironic Eminem covers on the West Stage and Salsa- and other Latino-influenced music on the East.
After seeing a girl in moon boots and a hula hoop just standing there drinking – a poseur in the most literal sense (see part 2.2 here) – I gravitate toward the Latino side.
A nice college age girl walks around holding a chalkboard with “Vote!” written on it. She's cheerful in that desperate way of someone who would rather not be volunteering in 90-degree heat, a way of saying, “Please make this go by faster for me.” Not many people are being very helpful to her cause, whether because they don't want to vote, aren't citizens, or they're interlopers like me who are registered in a different ward. I smile and apologize with my eyes in that way you do to wait staff when your family member says something atrocious. My eye charity probably doesn't actually make any sense to her, despite all my perceived subtlety. But I feel better, which is all that matters, of course.
I sit on a curb to jot my notes, while a couple dances to the Salsa being played onstage. They're sweet. They look like that couple in their mid-thirties who still love each other. I like them, so I watch them with a smile on my face, probably creeping them and anyone else who sees me out.
While writing I get a tap on my shoulder.
While writing I get a tap on my shoulder.
“What are you doing?” asks a middle-aged Latino guy. “Forget to do your homework?” he says with a laugh.
I laugh with him. We talk for a little while. I tell him I'm here doing a story on the festival for a website and he tells me about his plans for the weekend, which are as follows: Drink a lot of beer and make friends at the festival while his wife's out of town for the weekend. I say I can cheers to that.
We clink beer cans as a toast.
“You're dry!” he says, dismayed.
“Here, take this,” he says as he grabs a fresh can of Oberon from his cooler – apparently the same security guard who was dismayed that I brought a water bottle did not feel the same way about him. I say I can't possibly, but of course I do. We cheers again, properly this time, and he introduces himself as Andreas.
My new friend Andreas starts telling me the deeper reasons why he's here. Turns out the band currently doing their tuning, Angel Melendez & The 911 Mambo Orchestra, have been around for three decades or more. Andreas says he remembers the days when he first moved to Chicago from Mexico when these guys, and others like them, would play clubs.
“It's really rare to see live Salsa music now,” he says, lamenting the club music of late.
He used to go out “Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and be up at 5 a.m. [for work].” But when asked if he'd be able to do that just once a week now, he whistles in the negative.
Once Angel and his Orchestra get going, Andreas gets up and starts dancing with everyone. He's having a blast. I really enjoy his cold Oberon. I stick around for a while with my notebook, but I pack up once I decide I have enough for my piece and get going to check out the other, more populated side of the fest.
Of course, on my way out is Moon Boots the Non-Hula Hooping Hula Hooper. Guess what, she's not hula hooping. She is surrounded by a cloud of pot smoke, though. Mr. Dubious of Water Bottles at the entrance doesn't seem to mind, as he keeps angling his head in such a way as to induce maybe, hopefully, just a tiny bit of contact high.
I smile and scoot through the crowd, full of a couple really nice beers and content in the fact that I made a new friend.