For the second time this year, Star Events and Silver Wrapper teamed up on a street festival and knocked it out of the park. The first one was Taste of Randolph, this time it was Boulevard Festival in the heart of Logan Square. Unlike Taste of Randolph which was confined to concrete-covered areas, Boulevard was nestled into a beautiful Chicago boulevard area and had the luxury of the strips of lawn within the boulevard for areas to sit down and relax. This also a much smaller festival than Randolph, with only two stages and a scant three minute walk from end-to-end. This festival was actually divided into the separate fests: Silver Wrapper on the West end and a Brazilian festival on the East. So essentially there were two completely different groups of people at Boulevard and each pretty much stayed on their half of the festival.
The festival was spread out over three days, with a day of electronic music sandwiched between two days of rock & funk. Silver Wrapper did a great job of mixing things up while also attracting different groups of people. Not surprisingly the most popular day was Saturday, but there were gems sprinkled throughout the weekend. The highlight on Friday was Chicago-based funk band The Heard. I swear every time I’ve seen these guys was better than the last. It seemed like the crowd wasn’t even quite ready for the funk rage these guys unleashed — they once again proved to be a extremely good at making people dance. With Lucas Ellman (saxophone) soon moving onto a life-changing new music project, this might be one of the last times I’ll ever see this project. Though it was short-lived it was also powerful, The Heard shot up like a funk rocket and impressed me with their explosives every time.
Thanks to a smorgasbord of live electronic acts, Saturday at Boulevard Fest was a crowded & rowdy affair. I began my day with IndigoSun in the hot sun, catching the last few minutes of their set. Not enough to get immersed but enough to remind me why I love that so much. Up next were The Floozies who were the unsung hero of the day. Their juicy electro-funk had the crowd hyped and Matt Hill’s outrageous dance moves completely won the crowd over. Fewer people were aware of The Floozies than any other group on this day, so it’s safe to say they ended up gaining a bunch of new fans.
Cosby Sweater was next and they did what they always do: kick ass. But this show was a little different, the drummer Sleepy Floyd was caught in traffic and they had to start the show as a duo. Luckily the deft hand of David Embry guided the way through a re-work of “Get Lucky” that made everyone go nuts while creating a perfect space to segue into Sleepy’s arrival. I’ve never seen a drumset set up so quickly in my life and I’ve definitely never seen a drummer get dropped into the middle of a show like that. In what could have been a disaster, Cosby Sweater turned it into an impressive display of ‘improvise, adapt, overcome.’ Those guys are good.
Three sets great sets down, two to go. Eliot Lipp had the second-to-last timeslot and for this set he brought a drummer and a guitarist with him. I’ve only ever seen Lipp perform by himself, so this was a really cool thing to hear. More than anything the addition of live instruments brought an element of weirdness that isn’t always present in his studio work. Whether it was the synths or the guitar, there was always this sense of distortion in the sound, like some piece of every song was a little bit warped compared with the album version. The set started off a bit too trap-ish for me but as it went on he played more familiar/older songs that everyone recognized. Hearing the tracks from Shark Wolf Rabbit Snake, one of my favorite albums from 2012, fleshed out with live instruments was a really cool thing. I’d love to see Lipp do even more shows like this in the future.
Up until this point all of the music at Boulevard Fest was pretty awesome, especially on this Saturday. So it pains me to report that the headliners, BoomBox, were a complete letdown. This was honestly one of the most flaccid sets of music I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen two people do less on stage than these guys. Now, I will give them a little credit for their ‘improv,’ but it’s not like that was much good either. When a band launches into improv it’s supposed to engage and/or bewilder you. But when BoomBox improvised it’s like they faded off into the background, reducing themselves to little more than elevator music. I even plunged myself right into the middle of the crowd to try to find the epicenter of energy and was woefully underwhelmed. I looked around and hardly anyone was moving. I don’t know how these guys can stand on the stage, look out into a crowd of lifeless people and think, “Yeah, we’re doing a good job here, let’s keep doing all this nothing.” After being charged up all damn day, I left Boulevard after this set completely devoid of energy. Granted, seasonal allergies had also begun to kick my ass, but BoomBox did absolutely nothing to help the matter.
Luckily, the highlight of the weekend was on Sunday night: Snarky Puppy was closing out the whole damn thing. Yup — Snarky Puppy in the middle of a street in Logan Square. I almost still can’t believe how perfect that sounds. And it was every bit as amazing as I expected. Then again, every time I see these guys is a mind-blowing endeavor. For the first time ever, percussionist Nate Worth wasn’t in the Snark-estra. Instead it was Marcelo Woloski behind perc world and he filled in quite well. It was yet another classic Snarky Puppy set; of course they played “Binky,” and this version was wildly spaced thanks to Sput teasing the drop of the hip hop jam at the end like three times before finally hitting it. Then Sput teamed up with Woloski in a treacherous percussion call-and-response jam in “Flood.” I was shocked at how well these guys seemed to know each other considering this is the first time I’ve ever seen Woloski. Then towards the end of the set they threw down my new favorite song: “Shofukan.” The vocals! The crowd participation! That evil bassline! My god man… “Shofukan” is what every song ever written should aspire to be — it’s instantly at the top of the Snarky Hierarchy along side of “Binky” and “The Good Man Delivered.”
Overall, Boulevard Festival was a great event. It was a very low-key street festival, especially compared with Taste of Randolph, and was probably the most comfortable street fest I’ve ever been to in Chicago. With a few more food vendors, a few more restrooms, and Silver Wrapper having access to both stages (ideally), this street festival could become a cornerstone of summers in the city; this year felt more like a seedling than a fully-grown plant.