Chicago may not be anyone’s idea of a big bluegrass town, but like any large US city (Chicago in 2019 has roughly 2.7 million people), there will be a good number of folks playing and learning to play the music, as well as a decent audience for performances from touring artists. With the outlying areas included, the metro Chicago region is home to nearly 10 million people in total.
Since the metro area is so spread out, it has been tough for bluegrass lovers in Chicagoland to easily get together, other than in their own part of town. But a recent transplant from Nashville had an idea that has turned into the new Bluegrass Chicago web site to help Chicagoans find jams, lessons, and live concert venue that are bluegrass-related.
It all started when Jeff Burke relocated from Music City to the Windy City 3 years ago. Jeff reports that when he was in Nashville, he found it to be a simple thing to meet other pickers with similar interests. He worked at the time at The Station Inn, where Nashville’s local grassers meet to listen to music and drink cold beer, so he quickly fit himself into the scene there in town. But up in Chicago, which he recognized pretty quickly had a vibrant bluegrass scene going on as well, things seemed to be located all over the region, and word of mouth didn’t travel far enough to reach him all the time.
Burke had also set himself up as a Wernick Jam Class instructor in his new home, in addition to offering private lessons on banjo, guitar, and mandolin. He soon realized that his many students also missed out on a lot of events since they weren’t widely publicized in the local media. Jeff started maintaining lists of jams and picking sessions to give his students to keep them in the loop, and one day, while discussing this question with several of his students, Andrea Arnold, Scott and Susan Caudell, the idea of keeping a central list online came up.
Bluegrass Chicago was inspired and modeled on an existing resource called Chicago Honky Tonk, set up and run by a group of Chi-Town musicians who are passionate about traditional country music. Their site kept a detailed calendar, along with a list of local resources for people interested in the music.
Fortunately for the new bluegrass site designers, Andrea Arnold is a graphic artist, and she donated her time to get things started. Jeff and the rest of the crew reached out to all the bluegrass organizations and clubs in the region, and all the local pickers they could think of. They all agreed that such a site would benefit them collectively, and help spread the word about bluegrass in their home town.
And now the site is up and operational. A calendar shows dates and times for open jams, concerts at Chicago area restaurants and concert venues, plus dances and other events of interest to bluegrass lovers.
Working with organizations like The Northern Illinois Bluegrass Association, ChicagoBluegrass, The Handsome Ladies, Down Home Guitars, and the Old Town School of Folk Music, Bluegrass Chicago seems set to provide a valuable service to those living in the greater Chicago region, as well as the many thousands of visitors who come into town for both business and pleasure throughout the year.
Hats off to Jeff, Andrea, Scott, Susan, and everyone else involved with providing this free resource to the bluegrass community in Chicago!