Interview: Tim Tuten Talks (And TALKS) About The Hideout Block Party

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 6, 2013 9:30PM

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Tim Tuten at last year's A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party (Photo credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

This year’s A.V. Fest/Hideout Block party appears evenly split between bands favored by The Onion’s sister publication and the usual cast of characters that call the tavern a home away from home. As Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten told me earlier this week in a phone interview, the two groups are more simpatico than they seem.

“I feel it’s a perfect match,” Tuten said. “Certain acts resonate as a ‘Hideout’ band, like Neko Case, Mavis Staples and Jon Langford. The other acts on the lineup are groups that would be associated with The A.V. Club, but there’s a common ground between us: on any given night there’s a band that plays here that fits perfectly within the framework of this building and what we do.”

“We know we're living in a world of hipsters and trendiness and we wonder if this is some new band or if they have longevity,” Tuten added.

Framing music in a historical context is always on the mind of the former history teacher who now splits his time between Chicago and Washington, DC (Tuten works for Education Secretary Arne Duncan) and it was the recurring theme of our conversation. We also discussed the festival’s beginnings as a simple celebration to honor Hideout’s anniversary to the massive crowds and logistics behind this weekend’s festival to Tuten’s favorite moments in the fest’s history. We also touched base on Tuten's epic stage introductions.

Chicagoist: It’s been 17 years since the first Hideout Block Party. Can you talk a bit about how you and your co-owners came upon the idea?

Tim Tuten: It’s an old Texas tradition, actually. My wife, Katie, attended the University of Texas from 1980 - 85— this was way before South by Southwest—and bars and restaurants there would always throw barbeques for anniversaries and birthdays.

We were already going to Hideout for 10 years before we bought it in October 1996 and we thought it would be a good idea to throw an Austin-style party for a few friends and regulars. Obviously, more than that came to celebrate.

C: How many people did you expect and how many actually showed up?

TT: We thought there would be 100 people but 200-300 people showed. We threw the party in an open lot next to the bar and bands played on the back of a semitrailer. I think we had Groovepushers, Devil in a Woodpile. We cooked our own hamburgers and people brought grills with them. Now we have around 7,000 people show up each day of the fest.

"I like to say Hideout is not of a specific time—we try to be timeless."
C: Did you anticipate the growth moving forward?

TT: Not at all. We had a better sound system in the second year but the party was still largely an informal thing. By the third year we said, “Let’s rent a stage.” We were friends with Bill Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn and he introduced us to a guy named General Patton who said, “I can put up the biggest stage you want. Katie and Jim Hinchsliff handled the details, we received permission to close Wabansia and thought 500 people would attend. We had 1,000 show up.

C: How did events like Touch & Go Records’ 20th anniversary party and Bloodshot’s anniversary celebration come about?

TT: Lots of people in bands on those label, in addition to playing Hideout, visited whenever they didn’t have a gig and they asked if we could host their anniversary parties. And that’s one of the great things about the festival: as it’s grown, so have the bands. I think Neko Case has played the fest every time she has a new album out, like she does this week. Mavis has a new album out. It’s a nice confluence of events and happenings.

C: How is Hideout’s relationship with The A.V. Club in the third year of the partnership between the two?

TT: I feel it’s a perfect match. Saturday’s lineup, with Superchunk, The Walkmen, Young the Giant, resonates more with The A.V. Club’s audience but it’s actually a nice cross-pollination; there’s a continuity between what we do with the newer things they’re bringing to the festival.

It’s like how an old house has a solid foundation but you can build additions to it, or the Constitution has the Bill of Rights and its subsequent amendments. There’s a strong foundation at Hideout but we’re always open to new things.

C: How much of your stage introductions are planned?

TT: Almost none of it. It’s mainly me riffing on ideas. I’m 52 years old, I’ve loved music since childhood and I’m a high school history teacher. I love history and the connections between it and music, like Mavis Staples and how her music was such a staple of the era in which I grew up. It’s unbelievable we have Mavis playing Hideout. The same goes for artists that are no longer with us like Honeyboy Edwards and Fred Anderson. I like to say Hideout is not of a specific time—we try to be timeless. It’s an antithesis of modern pop culture which is of the moment. We try to recognize that by placing music in a larger historical context. Any given night there's some band that fits perfectly within the framework of the building and what we do. Mavis resonates beyond her time. The Block Party tries to replicate these ideas in one weekend. We look at shows as a collection of artists that are diverse that have more than just for the moment. The A.V. Club is like that, too. The Onion is a satirical paper, the A.V. Club is serious writing recognizing at every moment in history something is happening.

C: Can you list some of your favorite moments from the Hideout Block Party’s history?

TT: The first person that comes to mind is Honeyboy Edwards—such an authentic musician who resonated with integrity. Jon Langford plays every year but he always does something different. (This year he may have an extended version of Skull Orchard.)

What I love most is the things we put together. Before Michael Jackson died, we did a birthday salute to him in 2008. Robbie Fulks performed the history of Michael Jackson, we had Hideout regulars dressed up as zombies. Rhymefest did the part of the song Vincent Price narrated. That was one of the favorite things we ever did.

Art Brut had this thing they did where any band could cover their songs for free. It was a manifesto: "We are Art Brut" as performance art. Jon Langford, Sally Timms and some other regulars dressed in costume. I stood on one stage in serious conversation about Art Brut, but didn't tell them this group called "punk band" was scheduled before them on second stage, playing Art Brut songs. When they took the stage, Art Brut was on the main stage saying "What the fuck?" Fans rushed to the other stage. Art Brut thought it was hilarious.

For Andrew Bird in 2011, we talked with Opera-matic about creating something for his set. Andrew was surprised to find a massive whale 75-feet long attached to bicycles rode through crowd. He did whale calls. 6,000 people there.

Wilco headlining last year was a huge thing for me. They kept saying for years they would play the festival and finally did.