Interview: Tom Schraeder, On Year Two Of 'Chicago, I Love You' Festival

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 11, 2013 9:05PM

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Ahead of his second annual free arts, music and comedy festival, "Chicago, I Love You," organizer and local singer-songwriter Tom Schraeder talked to Chicagoist about the fest's expanding lineup, logistics and how he's working on delegating. Last year, the festival was a month-long event at a single venue. This year Schraeder expanded the fest with the help of Do312 and several other tastemakers. The ten-day fest kicked off yesterday, and continues through Oct. 20th

Chicagoist: I'm curious about your feelings and thoughts after the first fest ended and how did that guide the planning of the second year?

Tom Schraeder: Last year it was overwhelmingly positive throughout the fest. But I didn't appreciate it as much until afterwards, just because I was so exhausted. After a month off it just seemed kind of right to expand it and just showcase all the art city-wide. It became easier for people to get out [to festival events] like that, and I thought the city really needed something that showcased a citywide free fest as opposed to all these events happening in just one place [like last year.]

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This year I knew that--I don't have a lot of networking in the hip-hop and house worlds, so I went and got a tastemaker named PhunkOne.

He actually booked a lot of the hip-hop acts and house acts, and I continued to get other people and their tastes involved with it. I would say this year was easier because I finally learned how to delegate a little better. It was an easier fest because of all the support. In truth, I can't even say it's my fest anymore. I hope more people will come on board and it will just become the city's fest.

And I would like to get there in a few years but my main goal was to try and get it on the South Side, as far as possible. Next year I would like to get a lot more representation on the South Side. I think it would be a good way to...the music scene, right now, I feel it's represented on the South Side, but all the venues are on the North Side.

C: Right. Music wise there is Reggie's, the Shrine and Jokes and Notes. Did you try to reach out to any of them?

Schraeder: You know, actually I didn't. Those would have been good! All we've got on the South Side is Harte's, which I believe is 95th and Artesian, Simone's, Honky Tonk Barbeque and then Reggie's. I should have asked you before! (laughs)

C: (laughs) Well, this can be stuff for next year.

Schraeder: Absolutely!

C: You talked about house and hip-hop. You got Natureal and Microphone Misfitz to return. Tell me more about the other house and hip-hop acts.

Schraeder: We got this hip-hop artist named Itylyon, who is absolutely great, and Doomsday.

Nothing seems more fitting than to call Itylyon the alternative hip-hop artist. He does it his own way, with his own sophistication of melody, beat and more. I'm really proud to have both of those acts on. But then as far as House goes, we're having a "Chicago Loves House" night where we have 20 House DJs mainly spinning the history of the genre. It has expanded a lot, but I say it's still indie-rock heavy and even more singer-songwriter heavy. So it is a little different but still pretty similar.

C: I noticed that you got Psalm One though. How did you hook up with her?

Schraeder: I threw a "Chicago, I Love You" barbeque at South-by-Southwest this year and she came. I met her through Casey at Chicago Mixtape. I just reached out and she was on-board right away. I feel that Psalm is just overall a beautiful human being. We're sharing the bill with her on Thursday and it's a real honor.

C: Tell me about Tom Dundee. Why was he important, both to Chicago music and to you on a more human level?

Schraeder: I'm glad you asked that. Years back while working at Lilly's I had the pleasure of befriending Tom, a Chicago native and songwriter who became a principal member of the Chicago folk scene in the '70s with John Prine, Steve Goodman, Mick Scott, Bonnie Koloc and many more. Tom recorded over 300 songs - the song “delicate balance” was always the one that got me.

At that time the Lilly's folk/songwriting scene had Tom host "Dundee Sundays" at Lilly's. Tom believed in the power of songs, friendship and in blending a mixture of charm or comedy during his sets. At that time [in 2006] our own songwriters group started to take fruition: Curtis Evans, Jeremy Miller, Joe Pug, Mike Musikanto, Jai Henry and Inchworm.

While both of those songwriting scenes were going strong at Lilly's, it didn't last that long. While working at Lilly's I received a call that Tom had been in a motorcycle accident and that he had passed.

Lilly had been best friends with Tom for years; they had a very beautiful relationship which caused me to meet many of his other friends and family members: Mike Fleming, Donna Adler, Josh Seigle, Jim Tulio, Earle of Old Town and many more. Having a brief friendship with Tom made me realize at an early age that the scene is about friendships and sharing songs, nothing less and nothing more.

Last year while booking the festival I wanted to do this and was unable to. This year Lilly, Mike Fleming and Donna Adler helped book a "Dundee Sunday" in honor of a man who single-handedly inspired more songwriters of all ages than many of the greats.

C: How did you approach the art and comedy aspect of the festival this year?

Schraeder: Last year, I thought because we were having it all at one venue we were trying to mix it all. But it didn't get the response from comedians and artists thought I thought it would. This year, we got Laugh Factory involved and then the Comedy of Chicago, a really great blog. His name is James Kamp. He ended up booking all the comedians this year. He's really well-respected. That's what I was saying earlier, we got all these bookers and tastemakers to come on board and really try to get the best of the best.

C: Delegating things to people.

Schraeder: Which I'm still terrible at. (Laughs.) I have so many different people helping. I'm so attached to the artist community, so it was very beneficial to the growth of the festival to meet with other people. I do this all as an art project. I think I'm sick or something. It's just a big fun old art project.

C: Which bands do you think will melt the most faces?

Schraeder: Stoop Goodnoise is a great representation of the current Chicago sound - in fact, they inspired me to trade my acoustic in for the electric. They're playing 10/17 at LiveWire. Natureal remains a favorite group of mine. Their latest record, Everything will be their breakout record this coming year. It blends chill-wave, hip-hop and rock nicely. I'd go as far as to say they have successfully created their own genre.

Shiloh seems to be Chicago's closest call to a young Replacements, minus the childish bickering. As you know, Westerberg is up there with Jordan for me, so, that's high praise that is greatly warranted. Umbra and The Volcan Siege creates atmosphere amongst rock. Frontman and mellotron player Jim Licka's songwriting over the last five years has grown to another level. Bob Rok has a voice that needs to be heard. In a city as segregated as Chicago, we all could learn from the prolific truth he speaks.

C: What are you most excited about this year's festival?

Schraeder: I'm really happy with the diversity this year. We have a lot more hip-hop this year and that makes me really happy. Overall I think this year the artists have this positivity and love for this scene. I think what I'm really excited about is just showcasing it.