Chicago, you’re loved

By Alex Stedman

What started as a simple, weekend-long CD release show for a local musician escalated into a full-blown 30-day arts festival highlighting a variety of Chicago acts. Hence the name, “Chicago, I Love You.”

Performances started Sept. 1, and free nightly acts will continue through Sept. 30 at Lilly’s Bar, 2515 N. Lincoln Ave. Organizer and singer/songwriter Tom Schraeder originally planned for a music-centered event to promote his new album, but decided to recruit a variety of other performers. The festival now includes literature, comedy, film, photography and art produced by local talent.

“I figured that it could become something larger than making it about me,” Schraeder said. “It’s just gradually becoming something much larger than I intended.”

Schraeder is no stranger to arranging events and festivals. In addition to three years of hosting parties at the South by Southwest Music Festival, he’s also been the coordinator of the Ultra-violet Petting Zoo Festival, an event held July 1 to celebrate Chicago bands.

“Chicago, I Love You” has become the largest event Schraeder’s ever thrown, and it didn’t happen overnight, according to him. He said he’s been working 12 to 17 hours per day to put it all together. Even so, he maintains that Chicago artists are “pretty on top of their game,” making the fest easy to put together.

Schraeder said he brought the idea for “I Love You” to Lilly’s manager Mike Fleming three months ago. The bar is known for featuring local artists and has played a role in the Chicago arts scene for more than 30 years, Fleming said, and this festival may conjure nostalgia for several performers who have personal connections to the bar

“What I think is great about it is all the energy Tom’s bringing to it and all the connections he has,” Fleming said. “He’s the kind of person that really can make this work right.”

Schraeder said he is promoting two goals: offering a better look at the local arts scene and working to end the artistic segregation in Chicago. He gave the example of a Pilsen act performing on the same night as a Logan Square act.

Fleming said Schraeder wants to add “a little more unity” to the local music scene and that the acts have been organized to introduce different groups of people to various musical genres.

“We should play with anybody, anytime,” said Bela Farkas, bassist and vocalist for the alternative rock band Stoop Goodnoise that performed the festival’s opening night. “I think everyone learns to respect everyone’s style, and it turns out to be pretty cool.”

How the Chicago scene will react to the variety of performances remains unknown, but both Schraeder and Fleming agreed that they have only received positive feedback thus far.

“I think the city’s really been waiting for something that focuses strictly on local arts,” Schraeder said. “I just truly feel like everyone sees that this is exactly what we need.”

“Chicago, I Love You” runs nightly at Lilly’s Bar, 2515 N. Lincoln Ave., through Sept 30. For more information, call (773) 525-2422.