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I came late to the zombie genre but just like everyone and their flesh-eating mother, it's got me by the entrails now. 28 Days Later was my turning point, my zombie awakening if you will; images of that chittering priest amid a church full of zombies still accelerates my pulse when I head for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Jason Geis, Co-Artistic Director of pH Productions knows what I mean. A fast-zombie aficionado himself, (“Why? Because they can catch you and eat you.”) Geis is responsible for the much anticipated annual Zombie Pub Crawl. A benefit for pH Productions, the crawl started on a lark and has grown exponentially with each passing year. Below, Geis discusses all things zombie.

Our Town Zombies have been around for decades; what’s behind the recent cultural resurgence? 
Jason Geis There are a lot of theories on this. Obviously shows like Walking Dead help push the zombie meme harder. But my favorite theory is that we can relate to zombies. They aren't hard to kill, they aren't particularly sneaky, but they can overwhelm you pretty fast. In this day and age with all the emails, and Facebook and everything else - if you don't keep up with it all you feel overwhelmed and can fall prey to the zombies. Zombies as a metaphor for modern society - how's that for brainy? 

OT What’s the Zombie pub crawl origin story?
JG A former cast member came to us and told us that Minneapolis had done a Zombie Crawl and wouldn't that be a funny fundraiser. I immediately thought - not funny - downright awesome. So now we do it every year. The cast looks forward to it as much as the zombies. 

OT Why Andersonville?
JG I'm actually not sure why we picked Andersonville for the first crawl. I think we were trying to think of an unexpected location that might go for something quirky like this. We have since kept it in Andersonville, because that is where we want to move our comedy theater permanently. It's an amazing neighborhood, with amazing people, amazing businesses and amazing leadership in the alderman and chamber of commerce. Did I say amazing enough? I think I did. 

OT How do you go about enticing neighborhood bars to participate?
JG After the first year it was easier. Bar owners saw how many people came out. On a non-Cubs Saturday afternoon there's a pretty nice potential to make some profit for your bar. Plus, we try and get a beer sponsor to give cheaper beer to the bars so they turn more of a profit that day. It's a win-win for everyone. Oddly, there are still bars that will not participate; they are skeptical that they won't make any money or they think we are going to destroy their bar. Simon's and Hamburger Mary's have been on from the beginning - and I'm sure they could tell you otherwise. 

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Abraham Levitan’s show compels me, which is why I’m writing about it, but it also confuses me so I’ll let him explain.

Our Town So what's the show's premise?
Abraham Levitan I'll try to explain this as simply as possible, which is a little tricky in the case of Shame That Tune. Each show features three contestants, who come onstage one at a time for about 10 minutes each. First, they spin a Wheel-of-Fortune-style wheel, divided among various musical sub-genres. (Recent categories include R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet", Dixie Chicks, Twisted Sister, and Glenn Miller.) Then the contestant spends 3 minutes telling an embarrassing anecdote -- the best contestants usually read straight from a junior-high diary. Then my co-host, Brian Costello (who's a novelist, Reader contributor, and drummer in a great band called Outer Minds), interviews them for 4 minutes. And at the end of the interview, I perform a song about their anecdote, in the style chosen by the wheel. At the end of the whole show, the audience votes for its favorite contestant, via a Human Applause-O-Meter.

OT How was the show conceived?
AL I have a little bit of a history doing these instant-response songs -- I used to do them for a reading series at The Hideout called The Dollar Store, and I've done them for a few WBEZ events too. Meanwhile, Brian used to have his own live talk show at the Empty Bottle. So, it's kind of a fusion our backgrounds. We wanted to make it a game show because we feel like there are already a large number of awesome reading series in Chicago, and this was our way of doing something distinctive.

OT You have a number of regulars—what does each person bring?
AL Aside from Brian and me, we have two regulars onstage at all times. Our intern is played by Jeanine O'Toole (The 1900's, Bare Mutants, and a host of other bands/projects). In her other projects, Jeanine is confident and charismatic. But on this show, she plays a bumbling intern, incapable of adjusting a mic stand without turning it into a huge physical-comedy event. She's excellent. It's basically a non-speaking role. Our other regular, a new addition, is Nick Rouley, a Chicago stand-up. He plays the Life Coach, who guides our contestants with some very West Coast-flavored self-help shtick. He also lights incense sticks when the guests are running long with their stories -- sort of our version of the orchestra starting to play at the Oscars.

OT What’s it like to have to write a song in four minutes?
AL You'd think it would be stressful -- but I actually don't feel that way. The song was written in four minutes -- of course it's gonna be terrible! Any time I start to clam up, I just think, "This is supposed to be really bad," and things start moving again. I also have two cocktails beforehand, which is helpful.

OT How are contestants chosen?
AL Initially they were drawn from our circle of friends -- mostly fellow musician dudes/dudettes, since both Brian and I play in bands. As the show has grown, we've had more stand-up comics as contestants, which is awesome. Whenever we have a contestant on the show, we ask them for recommendations for future contestants.

OT Why tell teenage anecdotes?
AL Most of our contestants are in their 30's, with maybe a little spillover into late 20's, early 40's, etc. By this point in the game, the hope is that we can laugh at our adolescence. Or, if we're still traumatized by it, maybe reading about it in public can be a kind of exorcism. I guess from the pure comedy perspective, adolescence is the most direct shot to embarrassment.

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All Photos by Jill Howe

Scott Whitehair believes in the spoken word. Not spoken word as in a sullen Barnes and Noble cashier’s twenty minute poem about her vagina, although who knows, he might be into that. Whitechair believes in the stories we tell each other, their distinctiveness but also their universality. For three years, his reading series “This Much is True” has compelled enthusiastic audiences to pack The Hopleaf. Our Town spoke with Whitehair about the mounting popularity of reading series in general, and what makes his unique.

Our Town What inspired “This Much is True?”
Scott Whitehair About four years ago, I took a solo workshop at The Annoyance Theater with a wonderful instructor, Paula Killen. Still buzzing from the rush of our performance, a few of us decided it would be fun to continue. We were nomadic at first, just drifting around doing random performances in various coffee shops, some of which would attempt to close for the night before our show was finished. Over the years, we lost some original members and gained some new ones, before landing at The Hopleaf in 2009. Our first shows there were populated by close friends, spouses, and people who owed us money. Currently, we get to standing room only almost 45 minutes before the show starts, which blows our minds every month. A lot has changed, but our goal as a group has remained fairly consistent: tell quality personal stories in an inviting, intimate environment. Also, we love bringing guests in on the fun, and have been blessed with some outstanding featured performers from all corners of the Chicago creative community.

OT What separates yours from other Chicago series?
SW Our audiences make this show special. They are, hands down, the best audiences I have ever been in front of. Not only are they attentive and enthusiastic, but they also have a strong sense of community. We do our part by making the show welcoming and accessible. We want this evening to feel like a gathering of old friends, even if it is your first night joining us.

OT In terms of content, how does a spoken story differ from a story meant to be read alone?
SW There is a huge difference between the written word and oral language. Words are just one element of the told story, arguably no more important than tone of voice, gestures, body language, facial expressions, etc. With the written word, the reader is in control of the experience, alone with the text on his or her own time. However, with storytelling, the experience is much more immediate and collaborative. It is impossible for the storyteller to be absent from the equation in the way that a novelist is. I will say, though, that the written word is definitely easier to bring along to the beach.

OT You’ve studied improv—is there an improv element to successfully articulating a story to a live audience?
SW Absolutely. Storytelling is a conversation, and to ignore what you are getting from the audience is to miss the whole point, in my opinion. The connection and relationship between the teller and the audience dictates the flow of the story. Really, a story should almost never be told the exact same way twice, as every audience is going to have different needs and desires, and a unique energy it brings to the table.

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All photos by Kristine Sherred

In 2008 with the economy tanking, Robert and Sonat Birnecker took a chance and followed their bliss. Motivated to create a family business, the couple gave up academic careers to bring the distilling traditions of Robert's Austrian grandfather to America. The result? Koval, an organic distillery where spirits are made and bottled by hand. Our Town spoke with Koval’s National Distilary Ambassador Meg Bell about Koval’s unique products and techniques.

Our Town What makes Koval unique?
Meg Bell Our products are all made from scratch in the Chicago distillery. Each spirit is organic and kosher and does not contain artificial flavors or colors. Our whiskeys are especially unique since they are single grain.

OT Robert has distilled in both Austria and the US, how do the two compare both in technique and resulting product?
MB I think the best example of this is how Robert makes his whiskey. From his training in Austria and Germany, he distills smoother and takes a tight heart cut of the whiskey. Since this cut of whiskey is considered the best part of the distillate, it does not need to be aged very long. This differs from the way classic bourbons and scotch are typically made. These styles of whiskey distill lower and take a broad cut (more rustic so the distillate has more congeners and fusel oils), hence need to age their spirits longer to mellow this out. Both styles produce a great spirit, but are done in different ways resulting in dramatic flavor differences.

OT What made Koval decide to offer tours and workshops?
MB As a craft distillery and small business in Chicago, this was really important to us. Giving Chicagoans (and those visiting our great city) the opportunity to see how a distillery works up close only strengthens the business and the community.

OT How is your white whiskey different from say, Jack Daniels?
MB White whiskey is an un-aged whiskey. Since whiskey gets all its color and a lot of its flavor from being aged in oak barrels, a white whiskey tastes very different. White whiskey has flavor from the grain it is distilled from, but not the added flavor of aging in an oak cask. Jack Daniels is also white before they put it into a barrel to age.

OT In your opinion is there a particular grain that makes the best tasting whiskey?
MB That's a tough one. They all have such unique flavor profiles, but my personal favorite at the moment is oat in the heavy char barrel. I love that oat is a grain not commonly used for whiskey, and the way Robert distills it is so delicate. It has a creamy feel on the palette.

OT Lions Pride is a big favorite in Chicago. Can you talk a little about how it’s made?
MB Lion's Pride is our line of aged whiskey. We have a variety of mash bills that make up the line - each mash bill is 100% single grain. When the grain is fermented and distilled, the result is a white whiskey. We take our white whiskeys and age them in new American Oak barrels. Some of these barrels are heavily charred on the inside, and some are just lightly toasted. The amount that the inside of the barrel is burned greatly affects how the whiskey inside ages. The toasted barrels provide more tropical or citrus notes, while the heavy charred barrels provide more caramel, vanilla, and dark fruit notes. Koval distill five different grains: rye, oat, wheat, spelt and millet. Each grain is distilled separately and is available in 3 styles: un-aged or White, aged in a Dark Char barrel, or aged in a Toasted barrel.

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Photo by Patty Michels

The other day my Significant Other spotted something at Brown Elephant.

“Look,” she said, “a time clock.”

“As opposed to a space clock?” I rejoined, showcasing my aptitude for humorous observations. I know, how much fun would I be to date? With me no redundancy goes unnoticed. For every misused word, I supply a superior alternative. If, for example, you are splayed across the bathroom floor, damp with fever and confide you feel “nauseous,” like Florence Nightingale, I’ll nurse your word use back to health: “You mean, nauseated,” I’ll coo.

“No,” SO said, “it’s literally a time clock.”

Hearing the word ‘literally,’ I readied my sledgehammer, but not only had she used the word correctly, the device she referred to was actually an old fashioned time clock used for punching in at work.

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to buy it. How great would that be? Wake up, drink my coffee, change into my work pajamas and punch in? I’d totally make the dog and the werewolf punch in too. Maybe the scooter and the Christmas tree as well. They’re seasonal help, but they still count. But I didn’t, because buying some potentially broken gadget when you have yet to repay your student loans is probably irresponsible. Buying a sequin dress, however? Totally different story, a cautionary one in fact. About the dangers of Seasonal Affective Disorder. And Working From Home. And Whiskey.

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Things you need to know:

1. I don’t drink. Ever notice how when you do drink, no one asks you to justify it? I on the other hand have been challenged so habitually I start shrugging and apologizing even before I’m asked. My reasons include:
-Expense, (see above re student loans)
-Obnoxiously Delicate Body Chemistry (My body responds to substances from sugar to caffeine to alcohol as if the substance were a side-eye and my body were a Real Housewife.)
-A general need to control everything at all times (See above re so much fun to date.)

2. I’m in the midst of some major downtime right now. Lots of deadlines met, and weeks to wait before I begin teaching my mind-blowing Story Studio novel writing courses which promise to make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams and also clear your nasal passages. (Results may vary). In other words, the only things standing between me and a postapocalyptic nightmare of the sort described by Cormac McCarthy are "30 Rock" episodes on Netflix instant.

3. I believe feminism is about choices, and I choose to be a disgrace to feminism. Except that it’s not exactly a choice. See, I pretty much exemplify every sexist myth about PMS. Picture the most offensive commercial aired during the Super Bowl concerning the difference between men and women. Hello, my life. The other night for example, in the space of little more than thirty seconds I said this to SO:
“I want chocolate cake I’m so fat I want chocolate cake are you bored of me whatever I’m going to be so famous I won’t even remember your name what happens when we die?”

In other words, I’m not sanity’s poster girl. I’ll leave that to Courtney Love.

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So, although I’m broke, I decided a night out with a friend was warranted. (Read: my SO told me I was upsetting the dog and I needed to leave for a while.) My friend and I went to Mary's Rec Room!, which was awesome mainly because their tables have bottle caps on them. Not like a server didn’t properly clear between customers, but like, the caps are lodged under a layer of laminate. I couldn’t get over it, which might have been because I hadn’t left the house in weeks. Swept up in bottle cap excitement, I ordered a whiskey, the only kind of alcohol I really like. I have a friend who says it makes her feel like a senator, but to me, it tastes like cream soda, so I guess it makes me feel like a small town boy in the 1950’s, the kind of guy who might grow up to become a senator. Whoa. Full circle.

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After dinner, my friend said she wanted to go shopping. (Not the senator friend, the friend I was with. For the sake of simplicity I considered eliding them but we all saw what happened to Vivian Gornick and James Frey.)

“Akira is probably open,” I said. “But you have to be anorexic to shop there. Or Lady Gaga. Or, I guess, both would work too.” Despite the lashing wind I felt pleasantly warm. Clearly, I’d developed the ability to heat my body using the power of my mind.

Down the street at Akira, I instantly found the dress of my slutty, drag queen dreams. Bypassing the navy and champagne version (Navy sequins are pointless, the sartorial equivalent of taking a spinning class while eating onion rings.), I went straight for the red and black.

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I’ve said it before. One of my favorite parts of blogging (aside from getting 2000 emails a day from Sugardaddie.com) is meeting and promoting interesting Chicagoans. I love spotting that talented someone, currently flying under the city’s radar and knowing that even if I don’t write about her, it’s only a matter of time before someone does.
Tuesday night, I had the honor of taking part in Fictlicious, Micki LeSueur’s fantastically cohesive reading series. Not only did the event introduce me to The Hideout, some kind of magical Milwaukee-esque bar set down in the sort of bleak area Frank Sobotka’s ghost probably haunts, but it also brought to my attention one Stephanie Tonnemacher.
A convivial folk/pop singer/songwriter, Tonnemacher wooed the crowd with her lovely voice and sharp lyrics. Recently back from Nashville, Tonnemacher spoke with Our Town about her guitar playing style, her dream audience member and the Chicago music scene.

Our Town When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
Stephanie Tonnemacher I’ve always participated in music related activities: church choir, band, music ensembles, and private guitar lessons. It wasn’t until high school that I realized people actually could do it for a living. I dove in by going to music prep high schools, then majoring in composition and arranging in college. I can’t imagine doing anything else that would be as fulfilling. I’m just lucky enough to have parents that encouraged me to go for it from a young age.

OT Who are your influences?
ST Lyrically, I’d have to say Joni Mitchell and Nashville singer/songwriter Patti Griffin. Musically, I’d say a blend of Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon.

OT Finger style guitar picking is not necessarily the norm, what made you
gravitate toward it?
ST I started out playing classical guitar and finger style was just a natural progression for me when I ventured into pop genres. I want to have an interesting accompaniment for when I sing solo without a band. Finger style is a fun, challenging way to break out of the conventional “chick-singer” guitar playing style that people sometimes try to box me into.

OT Do you more closely identify as a singer or songwriter? If you had to
give one up which would it be?
ST Tricky, tricky! I’ve asked myself this question before, trying to figure out which post-graduation musical career path I wanted to take. I don’t think I could stand going a single day without singing. Songwriting is a much more recent skill that I’ve honed. But it’s also something that I’ve started to do on a daily basis, a great outlet for problem solving and saying obnoxious things that without the artistic license excuse could be considered socially unacceptable. So, I guess I’m not willing to give up either.

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Contributor, Kevin Fink

A website dedicated to quick reads and a reading series called Quickies, sounds like a perfect match, right?

Quickies creators Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter seem to think so. This Tuesday, March eighth, they’ll use their monthly literary event to showcase “The Fiction At Work Biannual Report,” a collection of flash fiction culled from website, fictionatwork.com. Published through Caroline Picard’s Green Lantern Press, the book, says Picard, represents “a great opportunity to showcase a wide number of authors working within specific word count constraints. This work is intended to be read in those liminal spaces, a companion for those instances when you're on your way [somewhere] but haven't yet arrived.”

The book’s antecedent, Fictionatwork.com was created by writer Tobias Bengelsdorf. “Work is what inspired the website,” says Bengelsdorf. “Offices. Timesheets. Meetings. Memos. Dress Codes. I never want to read fiction more than when I'm not supposed to be reading fiction. But sometimes a full-length story is too long to read at work, so we publish very short stories. That you can read at work.”

“The Biannual Report” too, can be read at work. Compact, almost postcard-size, the collection is perfect for hiding in a desk drawer, even a back pocket. According to Bengelsdorf, contributors like Jac Jemc and Ira S. Murfin were chosen by submitting work published on the website to a panel of judges, at which point, “a group of stories very quickly rose to the top of the pile.”

One of those stories, Kevin Fink’s “Waiting,” though perhaps shorter than other pieces, is nonetheless striking. Fink describes his micro-fiction as “dramatic and almost stream-of-consciousness, a moment in the mind of someone desperate.” A contributor to both fictionatwork.com and Quickies, Fink believes both encourage the same “exciting challenge,” to create work like “Polaroid snapshots.” He credits fictionatwork specifically with focusing his writing. “I like working within constraints. It can be a challenge to fill a three hundred-word story with emotional resonance, but it's such an exciting challenge.” As for Quickies, Fink calls it “a casual, totally non-pretentious environment. Plus, some guy always sells cheese tamales at the bar where Quickies is held, and who doesn't like cheese tamales?”

Come taste the tamales, listen to select contributors read and maybe buy a copy of Green Lantern’s latest release this Tuesday, March 8th, 7:30 p.m. at the Innertown Pub. You can also purchase “The Fiction At Work Biannual Report online.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Our Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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Chicago singer/songwriter and guitarist Jay Mathes is obsessed. Love, human redemption, inadequacy and forgiveness, are all topics to which he returns, mining his life to create art. Although Mathes got a taste of mainstream approval when he was selected to play at a Wisconsin Gap as part of a nationwide simultaneous performance, he’s still working toward his big break. However, he continues to forge ahead, focused on making his voice heard.

Our Town Describe your sound.
Jay Mathes Guitar-driven pop/rock with memorable melodies and lyrics that resonate with the human experience.
OT Was performing always a goal?
JM I didn't consider music as a career until high school, didn't even know how to sing. On a whim a buddy of mine said, "Hey, let's sign up for choir, that way, we'll have at least one class together. Plus, I've heard there are a lot of chicks." I began writing songs seriously the same week we started classes. [But] the big shift to performing started when my parents bought me my first Harmony-brand electric guitar, for my thirteenth birthday.
OT What inspires you?
JM I try to read a lot, classic literature and poetry. I listen to a lot of music; I get outdoors, rock climbing and camping. Oh yeah, and I drink a lot of coffee and beer, but not necessarily at the same time. I try to write every day, just write about whatever [I’m] experiencing or thinking about. Recently, what has come out has been pretty dark. This has been a period of real struggle for me, particularly pursuing music as a full-time income source.
OT So no day job?
JM Until March of 2010, I taught private guitar lessons. Week in and out, I was telling my students to follow their dreams, pursue their passions, and do something with their lives. It was time for me to take my own advice. Little by little, I'm eating in to my savings account [but] I have to believe all of my investments in my music, not just financial, [but] strain on relationships and time away from family, [will] pay off. In the meantime, my wife is pulling in more cash than I, and we're making it work as best we can. My situation is not common; I have a unique opportunity to put time into my music right now, a real gift from my family.

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A Chorus Line
1 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Marriott Lincolnshire Theater; $45-$55
Kick your way out to Lincolnshire to watch this classic story of 17 dancers trying to make their dream come true. Got the day off? Catch the Wednesday matinee show for a discounted price.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy
7 p.m. at Lincoln Hall; $20
Dubbed an "Appalachian post-punk solipsist," Bonnie "Prince" Billy, otherwise known as Will Oldham, notched his eighth record of folk benders under the "Prince" imprint. He took collaborators the Cairo Gang out on the road to showcase The Wonder Show of The World (Drag City), a rather dynamic sweep through everything from jazz to Spanish guitar, harmonies intertwined by the Cairo Gang's lead man, Emmett Kelley.

Beer School
7 p.m. at Sheffield’s
Learn about beers from Warrenville’s Two Brothers beers with a brewery representative available to talk and answer questions. And flights of six beers are just $12.

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Land of Talk, Suuns
9 p.m. at Lincoln Hall; $12-$14
Broken Social Scene alum Elizabeth Powell’s baby, Land of Talk, broke in '06 with the aggressive pseudo-feminist EP Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, with Powell leading a trio of Dinosaur Jr. grungy guitars through cut-the-skin tales rooted in shaking her tom-boy youth. Montreal prog-rockers, Suuns, lead.

Rock of Ages
8 p.m. at Bank of America Theater; tickets start at $27
Broadway in Chicago serves up a giant flaming ball of cheese. This touring show combines the guilty pleasure of '80s rock with the guiltier pleasure of jukebox musicals and the nauseatingly guilty pleasure of American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis.

Pup Crawl
6 p.m. at Matchbox; free
We’ll spare you a joke about sniffing butts and just tell you to bring your best friend to this weekly pub crawl in West Town, featuring drink specials and a park stop for the pooches. Participating bars: The Matchbox (6 p.m.), J. Patrick’s (7 p.m.) and Mahoney’s Pub (9 p.m.). Don’t have a dog? You can look into adoption with the folks from ArfHouse.

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Margot & The Nuclear So and So's
8 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Hall; $12-$15
Another representative of the orchestral pop genre that has become the flavor of the month, Margot stands out from the crowd by virtue of its quirky, energetic live shows. Though the band's members hail from various corners of Indiana, they've found a second home in Chicago, recording the sessions for their "Animal" and "Not Animal" albums here. The Lonely Forest and Cameron McGill & What Army open.

Lebowski Fest Chicago
Friday-Saturday at various locations
Creedence, bowling, White Russians, purple jumpsuits and lots more will be present at the third annual Chicago fest celebrating the 1998 cult classic film, "The Big Lebowski." The first night of the event takes place at Portage Theater, featuring a special screening of the film with some special guests making appearances. On Friday and Saturday, there will be bowling, trivia, costumes and more at Diversey River Bowl.

Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival and Art Fair
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday at Millennium Park; free
A true fiesta with music, food and art from the Latino community. The art fair will give you an opportunity to bring some love for all things Latin into your home. Local merchants will be selling artwork in addition to jewelry and clothing.

Harvest Jam
Friday-Sunday at Queen of Angels Church (2330 W. Sunnyside); $5-$10 (tickets)
Celebrate autumn at this Lincoln Square fest featuring live entertainment, carnival games (Skee-ball, anyone?), food vendors, dancing and more. The usual suspects on the festival scene (Too White Crew, Wedding Banned) try to make you forget summer is just about over.

Love! Valour! Compassion!
6 p.m. Sunday at Mary's Attic; $5-$10
Get gay-friendly with Harry Osterman, our beach-cleaning, parade-waving 14th District rep. Osterman will host the fourth installment in the "Great Plays of Terrence McNally" reading series: "Love! Valour! Compassion!" This bittersweet look back at summer follows the adventures of eight men over three holidays in one lake house.

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The Airborne Toxic Event
7:30 p.m. at Park West; $25
This LA-based band counts Adam Clayton among its fans, and it's not hard to understand the connection. There's a hint of U2 and a pinch of Arcade Fire in Airborne Toxic Event's anthemic sound and epic tales of love won and lost, delivered with rare passion by frontman Mikel Jollett. (Mike Clark)

Berghoff Oktoberfest
11 a.m.-9 p.m. at Berghoff; free
This three-day German party kicks off today with great food and beer, raffles and live music from Maggie Speaks.

Gay-la 3.0
7:30 p.m. at Mary’s Attic; $10
Cameron Esposito and Ben Lerman headline a night of laughs to benefit Equality Illinois and PFLAG.

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North Coast Music Festival
Friday-Sunday at Union Park; $40 daily tickets
This inaugural festival promises to be "summer's last stand." With a lineup that includes such eclectic acts as The Chemical Brothers, Nas & Damian Marley, Umphrey's McGee, Moby, De La Soul and Chicago's own Lupe Fiasco, there should be something for everyone.

Naperville's Last Fling
Friday-Monday at Naperville Jaycees (Naperville Central High School); free
Naperville gives one last hurrah to summer by celebrating with a beer garden, dozens of food vendors, wine tasting and a rib cook off. Other events include a Big Wheel Race for kids (9-11 a.m. Saturday), a lip-sync contest, and a pie eating contest (11 a.m.-noon Sunday). The Parade will take place on Monday at 10 a.m. in downtown Naperville, preceded by a mile-long run. Musical acts include Buddy Guy (Friday), Collective Soul (Saturday) and Clint Black (Sunday), all $15 for tickets.

African Festival of the Arts
Friday-Monday at 5100 S. Cottage Grove; $5-$10
This year's theme is "Creating and Keeping the Culture," and features a live performance by legendary R&B singer Chaka Khan (Monday). You can also see performances by West African born Angelique Kidjo, a Grammy-award winning recording artist, and Tito Jackson from the famed Jackson 5 (Saturday).

Chicago Jazz Festival
Saturday-Sunday in Grant Park; free
Jazz Fest is certainly one of Grant Park's best festivals, a weekend teeming with the best in local and national acts on three stages. Performers include Nicole Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Elling, The Either/Orchestra, Brian Blade and more. The Young Jazz Lions Stage is also back this year, featuring high school and college ensembles.

Vampire Weekend
6 p.m. Sunday at Aragon Ballroom; $38
When these New York City preppies played Pitchfork two years ago, they seemed a little overwhelmed by the initial acclaim and ensuing critical backlash for their sprightly self-titled debut. What resulted were faithful-to-the-record renditions of those songs, highlighted by Ezra Koenig's earnest singing and Chris Tomson's always spot-on drumming. Now playing the tunes from this year's more far-ranging "Contra," the boys should be a little more at ease on stage.

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Ahmad Jamal
7:30pm at Millennium Park; free
As a pianist, composer, arranger, theorist and teacher, Ahmad Jamal's influence has echoed for well over five decades. His innovation as a composer has stretched the boundaries of music, and has influenced everyone from Miles Davis and John Coltrane to De La Soul and Jay-Z. At 80, he is still touring regularly, and his stop at Millennium Park will be a nice warm-up before this year’s Jazz Fest. Hopefully the rain will stay away long enough to make an enjoyable show.

Nerd Fest 4th Anniversary Celebration
7 p.m. at Holiday Club; $10 in advance, $20 at the door
Help Nerds at Heart celebrate all their geeky glory with this mixer for single straights and GLBTs, featuring video games, board games, comedy performances and maybe some brainy romance.

Back to School Toga Party
10 p.m.-2 a.m. at Y Bar; $20
Get in the college spirit with a hosted Belvedere Vodka reception, jungle juice and jello shots at this River North hot spot. Toga! Toga! Toga!

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Beach Boys
8 p.m. at Ravinia; $40-$65
If you're more into "California Girls" than "California Gurls," this is the show for you. The quintessential boys of summer aren't boys anymore, but expect all the sunny harmonies Mike Love and Co. have been belting out since the early '60s. Consider this an appetizer for the 50th anniversary reunion show that former member Al Jardine recently said was in the works for 2011.

Jazz Club Tour
Various locations around the city; $30
Get ready for this weekend’s Jazz Festival by hitting up 15 different clubs around the city, all aided by a convenient trolley service. Spots include Andy's, Backroom, Buddy Guy’s Legends, Green Mill, Jazz Showcase, M Lounge and Reggie's Music Joint.

Stimulus Social Club
5:30-9 p.m. at Market; $10
Mix and mingle for a good cause at this monthly event benefiting a new charity each month. This time around, proceeds go to ARFHouse. RSVP required.

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Tall Ships Chicago

Through Sunday at Navy Pier; $9-$19

Find ships of all shapes and sizes, but mostly big, pirate-like vessels rolling in on Lake Michigan this weekend. In addition to boarding the ships, there are also plenty of kids activities on Navy Pier.

Phenomenal Phantasmagoria

Through Saturday at Excalibur; $20

The best way to describe this performance is freaks, aerialists and burlesque artists, putting on a show in a nightclub shaped like a castle. "Phenomenal Phantasmagoria" comes with a Vegas-sized load of glitz and kitsch, but its ingredients are 100 percent pure Chicago. Don't miss guest artists like sleek, sly stripper Lady Jack or world-conquering show-woman Madam Barker (aka punk clown goddess Molly Brennan).

Bucktown Arts Fest

Friday-Saturday at Senior Citizen's Park; free

Fight the (gentrification) powers that be with a hearty roster of local bands, art, performances and local food. The event has drawn upwards of 30,000 people to the Senior Citizens Park (at the corner of Oakley and Lyndale) in recent years. Not just because it takes place in a park is this event grassroots; unlike many such fairs in the city, put on by commercial production companies, volunteers proudly run the fun.

The Original Wailers

8 p.m. Friday at Beverly Arts Center; $25-$27

Although this may not be the Wailers we all remember, this incarnation has proven that they have the ability to continue the traditions laid down by the legendary Bob Marley. Session players Junior Marvin and Al Anderson, who both appeared on Natty Dread and Exodus, have done a masterful job of reinterpreting Bob’s classic work, yet they still manage to honor his integrity by not straying too far from the original compositions.

Taste of Greece

Noon-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday in Greektown; free

Find Greek food (gyros, saganaki, lamb chops, baklava), music (from the Hellenic Five and Hellas 2000), belly dancing, the Jesse White Tumblers, kids' activities and more on Halsted Street in Greektown. Plus, you can learn the sirtaki (it's a dance) and possibly win a free trip to Greece.

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Gold Coast Art Fair
Friday-Sunday in Grant Park; free
The 53rd annual art fair attracts 450 artists and nearly 350,000 visitors. This year it moves to a new location in Grant Park, just across from the Art Institute.

Love's Labour's Lost
Through Sunday at Oak Park Festival Theatre; $10-$20
Oak Park Festival Theatre had a critical hit with its season opener, a sorrowful, starlit take on "Of Mice and Men." Its second show of the season is more typical outdoor summer fare, a Shakespearean comedy that's billed, alarmingly, as a bardic version of "Sex in the City." That warning aside, this should be a deft, enjoyable picnic of a show.

North Side Summerfest
Friday-Sunday at Lincoln and Irving Park; $5
This new fest (only in its fourth year) is all about the party, and you'll need to let off some steam after a grueling festival season. The music lineup includes all the festival staples, like Sixteen Candles (Friday), Too White Crew and Wedding Banned (Saturday) and Hairbangers Ball (Sunday).

Superstars of Burlesque
10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday at Music Box; $20
America's top teasers descend on the Music Box for a weekend of glitz, debuachery and highly creative pasties. This two-night-only event, organized by Michelle L'amour (the Chicagoland area's duchess of skin) is guaranteed to be a fancy affair. Why? Every single performer holds a world title from the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

Demitria Taylor, Rob Blaine
9 p.m. Sunday at B.L.U.E.S.
One of the Eddie Taylor prodigal spawn, daughter Demetria doesn't get the limelight her brothers enjoy. But that'll be a passing phase when people start to pick up on her Memphis Minnie meets Koko Taylor sass, which she's been slinging in spades from B.L.U.E.S. to the Chicago Blues Festival without the fam. Opening guitarist Rob Blaine, 29, has seen stints with both the late, great Little Milton and The Chicago R&B Kings, heartily recruited for his ability to keep in time while traversing through blues, soul and funk, albeit armed with his most lethal weapon: a bearish growl channeled in '70s roadhouse lore.

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Raphael Saadiq
10 p.m. Friday at Kingsbury Hall/The Vibe; $30
We're gonna go ahead and assume that you know Lollapalooza is in town this weekend, but the best part of the annual mega-festival is all of the after-parties and shows associated with Lolla artists. Since Saadiq (of '90s R&B sensation Tony! Toni! Tone! fame before going solo) has the fan-unfriendly 2 p.m. Friday slot at Lollla, this might be the best chance to see him.
More: Can't decide which acts to see at Lolla? Let us help.

Retro on Roscoe
Saturday-Sunday in Roscoe Village; $6
Billed as Chicago's most popular neighborhood festival at over 50,000 people, Retro on Roscoe includes three stages of continuous entertainment (including Too White Crew on Saturday, Wedding Banned on Sunday and Hairbangers Ball both nights), an antique car show, kids' activities and interactive cooking demonstrations from award-winning chefs. And don't miss the Windy City Chili Cook-Off.

Northalsted Market Days
Saturday-Sunday on Halsted;$5
Welcome to the largest two-day street fair in the Midwest, with 17 entrance gates and three music stages featuring more than 30 local and national acts. Know this: it's a very, um, lively crowd.

Rod Blagojevich Superstar
Friday-Sunday at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre; $28.50-$33.50
We've got this play, and it's so bleeping golden, you just knew it had to come back. Second City takes it to the 'burbs (Arlington Heights, to be specific) for another run, just as we await our favorite ex-governor's fate in his bribery trial. We're gonna assume Blago won't make any more appearances anytime soon, but it's still a pretty funny show.

Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound
8 p.m. Saturday at SPACE; $12-$22
Want to avoid the Lolla scene, but still get your music fix for the weekend? Head to Evanston for this show, which mixes zydeco, blues and some African-sourced rhythms to the point of ska.

3 Things To Do Today

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Movies in the Park
The summer-long Park District series features child’s-play fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are" at Cricket Hill (Montrose and Simonds). "The Longshots," about the first girl to play Pop Warner football, plays at Union Park (Ashland and Lake). For a little international flavor, see Cuban import “El Premio Flaco” at Mozart Park (2036 N. Avers Ave). All shows are free.

Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, Bomba Estereo
6:30 p.m. at Millennium Park; free
Sultry soul singer Naomi Shelton will melt the stage with her raspy, powerful lyrics as part of the New Music Mondays series.

Hambingo
8 p.m. Hamburger Mary’s; $5 per card
This ain’t your grandmother’s bingo game. Drag queen Velicity Metropolis makes calling out bingo numbers as raunchy as possible at this adults-only game.

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Pierogi Fest
Friday-Sunday in Whiting, Ind.; free
Yes, we know Whiting, Ind. (where?) is a haul, but it's worth it just to see Mr. Pierogi, along with his friends The Pieroguettes and Miss Paczki. They perform a number of musical spoofs, including the ingenious "We're Off to Eat Pierogis" ("We're Off to See the Wizard"). There will also be plenty of family fun, a pierogi toss contest, a beer garden and an art show at this Eastern European festival.

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival
Friday-Sunday; $5
Three days of gallery exhibitions, live music and art events at multiple venues along a two-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. The long list of curated gallery shows includes names like "The Gutter Exhibition," where the only submission requirement is that work "embodies the physical or mental gutter." While you're there, you can also check out the Logan Square Farmers Market.

Taste of Lincoln Avenue
All day Saturday-Sunday in Lincoln Park; $7-$10
Five stages will host more than 40 music acts, including the Freddy Jones Band, Soul Asylum, Trippin' Billies and 7th Heaven. Also visit the Kids Carnival, which includes a giant slide, petting zoo, face painting and more. There is also a "Virgin" Wine Garden, sponsored by the Virgin family of wines.

Maseo
9 p.m. Friday at darkroom; $10-$15
Although he may be a little less visible than his counterparts, longtime DJ and music connoisseur Maseo has always been known as a DJ's DJ. His technical skills obviously hold weight, otherwise he wouldn't have been De La Soul's DJ for more than 20 years, but it's his song selection that has always made Maseo a must see for hip-hop lovers and beatheads alike. He plays an intimate show at darkroom sans De La.

I Still Love H.E.R. (atributetohiphop)
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at New Regal Theater; $15-$25
See director/star Wendell Tucker's tale of Love 1 is a respected Chicago broadcast personality who is retiring from the biz after becoming disillusioned. The long-running Chicago play makes an encore of sorts this weekend before heading to New York for a November run at Apollo Theater and later on Broadway.

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