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A music district in Chicago? Rahm Emanuel talks tunes

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He likes the Stones, Lucinda Williams and Smashing Pumpkins. He even gets off the couch to go see the shows -- and wants to create a district for live music in Chicago.
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel talked serious policy and personal reflections about music during an interview that aired Wednesday evening on WXRT-FM (93.1).

In the taped chat with morning hosts Lin Brehmer and Mary Dixon, Emanuel tried a few jokes that didn't exactly fly ("This XRT crowd's a little stiff," Emanuel quipped) and waxed nostalgic about some of his favorite Chicago concerts, including Laurie Anderson at the Vic (he remembered it as 2006; her only Vic show was in 2004) and "the highlight of my life" -- catching the Rolling Stones' performance at the Aragon in September 2002.

He's not mayor yet, so he's still got time to paint the town. Emanuel claimed he saw three shows just last weekend: singer-songwriter Susan Werner on Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music, "a wonderful play about Chicago at the Wit" on Saturday ["A Twist of Water"] and Irish balladeer David Gray on Sunday at the Chicago Theatre. He spoke of the latter like a true fanboy: "I saw him at the Riviera in 2000 or 1999 when he had just broken off from David Matthews as his opening act. He's bought a suit since then."

During the interview, Emanuel gushed about his excitement for the new Lucinda Williams album, "Blessed," released on Tuesday. The DJs also played two songs selected by Emanuel: "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins and "I'm a Wheel" by Wilco. Emanuel has stated his love of both bands repeatedly.

The one nugget he dropped about a vision for the city's music community was his suggestion of creating a targeted music district, similar to the downtown theater district. He didn't declare, he merely posed a question.

"You have the Riv [Riviera Theatre], you have Aragon, you have Double Door. ... We have a downtown theater district. Should there be an Uptown music district, given our history with labels as well as the club scene, which is truly, truly unique around the country?" Emanuel said. "Take the Old Town School of Folk Music. On Lincoln Avenue, prior to that entity, it was not a place that was growing economically. The success of an institution is not because there's more restaurants and bars. Yet it anchored that community."

The downtown theater district started to come together in the early '90s when Mayor Richard Daley targeted the area with tax increment financing dollars to lure theater projects to the Loop. In 2010, Daley reported the city had invested $86 million in TIF funds that have yielded $233 million in private investment.

A comparable investment in concert venues would be of particular interest to Chicago's two biggest music promoters, Jam Productions and Live Nation -- depending on which part of "uptown" Emanuel is referring to. The Broadway-Lawrence intersection in the Uptown neighborhood that includes the Riviera and the Aragon also includes the Uptown Theater; all three are operated by Jam, though the Uptown Theater is still closed and being laboriously rehabbed. (The Double Door is in Wicker Park, not Uptown.)

Emanuel's brother is music mogul Ari Emanuel, who's on the board of Live Nation. The mayor-elect received campaign contributions from Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino, who lead the now-combined Live Nation/Ticketmaster.

The mayor-elect has previously mentioned that his mother, Marsha Smulevitz, once owned a club in Chicago. In Wednesday's interview, he mentioned which one -- the Daisy Patch, a bar and music venue that was open early in the 1970s on Broadway just north of Granville.

"It was a club for up-and-coming, aspiring bands," Emanuel said. "You'd walk in and there was the bar. Down the hallway is where the bands would play, and there was dancing."

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A music district would be awesome. Since moving here I've been totally in awe of Chicago's music scene, and how knowledgeable Chicagoans about it. Even though L.A. has a scene of its own, the Chicago vibe is just different, and definitely seems more responsive to talented indie and lesser known acts.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on March 2, 2011 7:27 PM.

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