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Tom Schraeder Talks Exclusively About His Upcoming "Chicago, I Love You" Festival

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 16, 2012 6:00PM


Local songwriter/workhorse Tom Schraeder believes Chicago is in the midst of an unparalleled artistic renaissance. To pay tribute to this cultural resurgence, he spearheaded a 30-day, entirely free music, arts and culture festival called "Chicago, I Love You." Starting Sept. 1 at Lilly's in Lincoln Park, where Schraeder got his start, the festival will feature a host of comedians, artists, musicians, filmmakers, all curated by Schraeder. In addition to Schraeder, participants include Pat Sansone from Wilco, indie-rockers Volcanoes Make Islands, Brighton, MA, and more. The festival is free, but half of proceeds will go to the artists themselves, and half will go to three different local charities.

Chicagoist spoke with Schraeder on Wednesday evening for exclusive details.

Chicagoist: How did you come up with the idea of the festival, and how did you ultimately put it together?

Tom Schraeder: I originally wanted [the festival] to be a weekend, or maybe a week-long thing. I’d been focusing so much on touring and discovering other cities and scenes, and I felt like I needed to do something more Chicago-oriented. We basically have a record we’re calling Chicago, I Love You, so it was originally going to be just a CD release show, but then I realized it could be something much larger.

So I contacted Lilly's, cause I used to work there, and I just brought [the idea of a music festival] up to her. I didn’t think she’d be interested in hosting anything like that, and somehow she was. She gave me an entire month. Somehow, it pretty much went from three days to 30 days overnight. [laughs]

Chicagoist: So did you have an initial moment of panic before getting to work?

TS: Today, I have. I’m finally realizing—it’s about 12 to 17 hours of work a day, nonstop. I’m pretty good with just coasting through, but now it’s become something where people are writing me emails wanting to be involved. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I’m trying to approach it with pure intentions and just letting the stress go. It’s almost all booked. If anything could go wrong, it’s probably already gone wrong. [Laughs].

Chicagoist: This seems to be a music festival with a thesis—that Chicago is in the midst of an artistic renaissance.

TS: Absolutely. In the last six years, in discovering other music scenes during that period, I have no doubt that Chicago right now has the best music scene in the country. It’s diverse—from hip-hop all the way down to electronic all the way down to folk. It’s really well versed. It’s really strange, but, sonically, it all has an element to it, and it has everything that every great scene in history has had.

But because the city is so segregated—together, if everyone gets together, and gets to know each other, and networks and really comes together, I think that, overall, it would just be something that is unique and would last hundreds of years. Or maybe five. [laughs].

Chicagoist: One year at a time, man… [laughs]

TS: [Laughs] Let’s do it!

Chicagoist: You mentioned segregation, and I agree with you, the city is killing it right now with musical diversity. But in additional to racial segregation, I think the city is musically segregated. People who go to psych-rock shows don’t go to hip-hop shows, and vice versa. Is integrating these musical scenes part of your goal with the festival?

TS: It is, but there’s a lot more than music. We have comedy, literature, art—I think there are a lot of different scenes, and honestly, in the past two years, I’ve kinda dropped off the map from [music] venues. I’ve found scenes where there’s no segregation, and it’s all in lofts. I think that’s the strongest part of Chicago—that the musicians are putting shows on in unique ways.

Chicago’s doing that a lot right now, more than any other scene. It’s pretty great, because they’re be a hip-hop band, and then after that a hard rock band, and then there’s an electronic band, a disco band. And I think that’s all I’m trying to do, is to bring this unique underground scene into one place, and unite, from Pilsen, to Rogers Park, to Logan Square, and putting it into a venue where we can expose everything.

Chicagoist: I have to confess, I’m not familiar with all the acts on the press release, but I don’t see any names that might be familiar to readers of Fake Shore Drive, or to fans of local electronic music. Can you talk about the more non-indie acts on the festival?

TS: There’s this band Natureal—they’re for sure the next big thing. I’ve been playing with them for years, and when I try to keep up, they just rip. They’re one of my top five bands in general. They come from Pilsen. And then there’s Microphone Misfitz, they’re real honest, and they represent Chicago really well.

Those are my two real favorites, but in the electronic scene, there’s this band Glass Lux. It’s just really poppy dance music, like something from London. So it’s bands like that that a lot of people might know, but they’re not going to be booked at some festival, like Wicker Park Fest or whatever it is. They play these places where you can’t really disclose where it is, otherwise the cops would come and shut it down.

Chicagoist: So how did you pull the comedians and writers into the festival?

TS: I interned with the Chicago Comedy Festival all through high school. I interned for about three years—I was really young, and I just kind of threw myself in it. And when I was done with my obsession with wanting to be an actor, I just lost that. I went back to a couple of people who I was friends with early on—Jason Folks, who’s a comedian—he just told me who the best stand-ups were in the city. It’s just reaching out to people. I probably looked at 50 and 60 comedians, then picked which ones I wanted to see the most. Which is kind of how I did the entire festival.

Chicagoist: Can you talk about what the day-to-day of the festival will be?

TS: Basically, each day, we’re going to be doing something different. Saturday’s going to be a collection of all these genres of music, and Friday will be as well. Comedy will be on Thursday. We’ll be starting off with a band, and then the comedians will go on. Wednesday’s will be jazz night, which will be sort of free form jazz nights, with trios and quartets, and open mics. Tuesday is more open-mic, and then it will be a songwriting circle. That one will mean the most, because it’s the same place that me, Joe Pug, Baliff, we all got our start. Monday is a mixture of film, literature and music video, short film. Sunday is more of a celebrity DJ night, with probably one band. It’s a mixture throughout the week, but the entire fest, we’ll have artists and photographers switching up art for each day. We’re going to have art that matches the line-ups throughout.

Chicagoist: What is the significance of having the fest at Lilly’s?

TS: I think Lilly’s—it’s a strange place. It’s beautiful. For 31 years, she’s stood by local music, and I think that’s something to applaud. Especially in a city where the majority of the booking is bringing in touring bands, and the bigger Chicago bands get to open for them. It’s an entirely different approach, and I think it should be respected for what it is. It feels good to bring it back to a place like Lilly’s.

Chicagoist: In the press release, you have a quote about how touring bands can leave local music as an afterthought. In what sense do you mean an afterthought, and how do you think the festival will remedy that?

TS: I think that there are a lot of restrictions with getting in venues, playing in venues. I think there’s a problem throughout the country. I don’t think venues treat the bands like they should. It should be about local talent. We end up bringing up 75-150 to a show, and we get paid a hundred bucks. A touring band will bring 40 people to a venue and get paid 800 bucks. I think that’s a real problem. I’m grateful for the bigger shows, but I think something needs to change. Especially to where everything is going to where we have more festivals, with more contractual restrictions. Something should change, and something needs to really bring a collective, artistic approach to festivals.

Chicagoist: Do you think the government should be more involved with the local music scene, like it is in Austin?

TS: Absolutely. I think Austin—there’s a free week in Austin that I really respect, where every venue has free music for local venues. That doesn’t get respect nationally because of South-by. If Chicago took that approach, the whole world would take notice. We need to stand up for our scene the way that Nashville and Austin does. If the mayor or the city step up, and make a really make it something large, it would be great for our city. Every artist I’ve approached about this has been really excited, and that shows that this is something people have been waiting for.

Chicago, I Love You runs from Sept. 1 through Sept. 30. Here's the line-up so far:

Music Tom Schraeder / Mars Williams (Liquid Soul) / Pat Sansone (Wilco) / Brighton, Ma / Amy Saraiya and The Outcome / Moritat / Derek Nelson / Jeremy David Miller / Nick Miller and The Neighbors / ZiPS / Sleepy Kitty / Gia Margaret / Natureal / Glass Lux / Microphone Misfitz / Matt Ammerman / Rambos / The Kickback / Little Light / Edgars Legzdins / Rego / Gabe Lebowitz / For All The Sweet Children / Audience / David Singer / Grandkids / The Canoes / Sarah Holtschlag and The Crosscuts / Kellispell / Bears of Blue River / Volcanoes Make Islands / Julie Meckler / Istavan and His Imaginary Band / Shelley Miller and The BCC's / Glad Fanny / His Ego / Nick Broste Trio / Will Phalen / Corbin Andricks /1991 / Y La Bamba / Bob Rok / Weeping Willows / Matthew Kerstin

Comedians ~ Jason Folks / Junior Stopka / Danny Kallas / Adam Burke / James Fritz / Seth Martin / Natalie Jose / Joe Kwaczala / Megan Gailey / Putterbaugh Sisters / Bob Palos / Joe McAdams /Stan Morrow / Matt Riggs / Charlie Bury / Joe Fernandez / Anthony McBrien / Caitlin Bergh / Liza Trager / Alex Sherman / Jacob Williams

Films ~ 92 Tales / Bailout Pictures /Letterblue Productions / Act Naturally / Big Dog Eat Child / Herman Asph / J.P. Riley / Felix Pineiro / Windy City Story Slam Writers / Alex Bonner / Isidro Hurtado / Artists and photographers hand picked by Black Cloud Gallery will be announced August 20 - Second announcement of acts to be released August 30: