Chicago street and transit performers lift the spirits of commuters through song, dance and instrumental performances to create a relaxing atmosphere in some of the busiest areas of Chicago.
David Russell of the Red Line Lounge Band and street performer and guitar player, Ian Walsh of the Chicago Traffic Jam band “bring the music to the people” as commuters rush to subway trains to seek refuge from the noisy streets, traffic jams and their 9 to 5 jobs. Russell is just one of many street performers who travel downtown to amuse and entertain Chicagoans and tourist.
For decades street performers have graced the subway platforms and streets and the public exposure has given birth to legendary entertainers such as Bernie Mac. Mental Floss reported that one of the “Original Kings of Comedy” Bernie Mac was telling joes throughout the South Side of Chicago before he became a notable comedian and his acting career began.
Drummer said CTA performance is a ‘ministry’
As a native Chicagoan, Russell, drummer of the Red Line Lounge Band aims to change the at times stressful demeanor of commuters in Chicago with his melodic and upbeat drumming pace to R&B classics such as “She’s Playing Hard To Get” by the American band popular in the mid 90’s, Hi-Five.
“I look forward to seeing the look on the people’s face when we are playing a particular song that brings back good memories,” Russell said.“I look at it as a ministry because there are certain songs that move certain ways.”
Russell and his group have performed off and on for 20 years. He recalled an encounter with a lady having a bad day at the office who had heard a particular song the band was playing. “It just moved her to tears!” he said. He said her spirits were lifted through the music the band was playing.
The Red Line Lounge Bandaims to change the mood in the atmosphere through their performances in Chicago’s loop ‘L’ stations. “When [people] come down here and hear good performing it’s almost like being in the club,” Russell said. “We have folk approaching us about gigs for their personal block parties, family reunions and wedding receptions.”
It’s not just the busy hard-working adults and students that Russell and his band connect with, Russell said he also bonds with the children he meets on the subway platforms. “I also let the kids play my drums from time to time and that just makes their day,” he said.
Guitarist said “Chicago Traffic Jam” brings people together
Guitar player and booking manager of Chicago Traffic Jam, Ian Walsh, said his group gives people the opportunity to socialize with others who they may not have otherwise spoken with during their commute throughout downtown Chicago or to other communities in the city. “There has been countless times where we have big crowds dancing,” he said. Walsh also said there are times where kids from families of different nationalities end up dancing or playing together as his band performs.
Rap artist and singer, Riel Jones said he finds comfort in performing as he wants to be a positive influence on the youth in Chicago. Jones had served five years in prison and he has been performing in the CTA subway for a couple of months. “Since I been home I changed my life, going to church and working and doing music,” he said.
Call to Action
Give Chicago street performers your support if possible, whether it’s by watching their performances or sharing a kind word. Many of them are trying to turn around their lives so they could use the encouragement!
Featured as our Riser of January is Hugo Colin. At 16 years old, Hugh volunteers his time at various nursing homes, hospitals, and non-profits around Chicago offering tribute performances to Elvis Presley, and he pulls out all the stops. Between the costumes and the dynamic performances, Hugo is sure to show his audiences a good time.
How did you start doing this work? In kindergarten, I was six years old, and I performed my first Elvis songs just for fun for my school’s first annual PTA Talent Show. While I was in elementary school, I learned to perform a different Elvis song each year. I have been an Elvis fan all my life, and singing these great songs made me realize that lots of people still like to hear Elvis’ hits. After my final talent show in 8th grade, I really wanted to continue performing because I saw how happy people were to see this type of entertainment. The following summer, I started volunteering at local senior nursing homes and not for profit organizations (NFPOs) such as the Ronald McDonald House, Shriners Children’s Hospital, and the Misericordia Home.
Why do you keep doing it? Having the opportunity to volunteer my ‘tribute to Elvis’ performances for seniors and friends with special needs is a big honor. My family helps me out all the time. We see that the people sometimes look down and uninterested but then they start tapping their feet, dancing in their seats, and by the end of my show they all are bursting with happiness. Maybe because most of them remember the music from their teenage years, or maybe because they are Elvis fans, too. Elvis songs just get people feeling young and full of excitement. The energy that I bring to nursing homes and hospitals makes them feel as happy as I am to be there.
Do you think celebrating what you have is important? I can say that it is important to me, as an Elvis fan, to share my talent and and do what I can to add a little more happiness to the lives of my audience at nursing homes and hospitals. We all get to enjoy ourselves during the tribute show, and the enthusiasm stays with the my new friends as they leave. I get to celebrate my gift every time I make someone happy during my performance. This makes me the most proud of myself and my family and is why I love to perform for others. I know many will be even more happy waiting for me to return for my next performance with them.
What is your favorite quote? I’ll quote Elvis here because this is exactly how it is for me when my family and I walk into a new place and see that we have a tough crowd. But once I get going, they put their worries aside for a while and start enjoying themselves: “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ’em all together, I guess.” I’ve had the opportunity to perform for audiences of all ages and a few that don’t speak English. Great music speaks many languages. Music makes people feel good. Elvis music makes people feel even better. And I am glad to do what I love to do for them.
If you could teach any subject, what would you teach? After thinking this over, I decided on history. Maybe music history. Kids my age know a few Elvis songs because of the Disney movie, “Lilo & Stitch” and his biggest hits or else not at all. I would like to teach kids the history of rock’n’roll and all the different styles that lead up to the first sounds of rock’n’roll. Actually, I do mention a small bit of historical information as I introduce each song. That helps teach or remind the audience of a point in time when the music was new. These great songs that Elvis recorded over 60 years ago and recognized around the world will live on for another generation to appreciate, with a little help from me.
If you could pass a message to a large group of people, what would it be? “Volunteer any way you can; if you have a talent, share it.” Year after year, I enjoyed performing Elvis songs but after I graduated elementary school and knew I wouldn’t have anymore talent shows, I decided to volunteer at places in my neighborhood. I do get bookings for paid performances now, but I still look forward to the volunteer shows at great NFPOs around Chicago. Our small act of kindness is a special way to give back for all our blessings.
CALL TO ACTION
Check out Hugo’s Instagram, @hugoselvista, for information about his performances around Chicago!
Every time we post an article here at Chicago Rises, we make sure to include a call to action – we want readers to engage with the community and help in any way they can. And we want to show that anyone can volunteer and improve this beautiful city.
So, we decided to talk to one outstanding Chicago citizen each month, and ask them how they got to this point. Hopefully, their stories will inspire others to follow their steps and give back to the community.
Our Riser of December is Justin Cabrera, a senior at Loyola University Chicago. Justin dedicates at least one day of every week to volunteer with The Labre Ministry, a student-led homeless outreach. They prepare food for the homeless and go to multiple Chicago neighborhoods to distribute it. But most importantly, they make sure they connect with whomever they are helping – they sit with the people, chat with them, hang out for a bit and give them food. Justin’s outstanding engagement through the past four years led to a leadership position – but how did he first get involved with Labre? Fortunately, I got the chance to interview him and find more about his experience in Chicago.
How did you decide to join Labre? “My freshman year I actually got into a little bit of trouble, and the school asked me what I wanted to do throughout my years here in Loyola. I said I wanted to get involved in community service, so I started to go to Labre and it was great. I did this type of service back home, and I wanted to keep doing it in Loyola, it just so happens that it kind of fell into my hands unexpectedly, like a blessing in disguise. And if you ask other Labre leaders, many of them will tell similar stories – that it started as mandatory community service, but they kept doing it.”
Why do you keep going? “When I started I went every week almost, and even after I fulfilled my hours I thought wait, I really like this, so I kept going. Going into my sophomore year they offered me a leadership role. It was cool because now I could actually lead other students and have a final saying in some decisions in the organization.”
Do you think celebrating what you have is important? “Before we go out, I always tell my group to think about what we have and what these people don’t have, because it provides them with more perspective. Remembering how lucky we are, and being aware of it is something we should celebrate.”
What is your favorite quote? “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.”
If you could teach any subject, what would you teach? “Sports. I would want to coach, and be a tutor on the side. There is a lot we learn on the field that we can apply to real life.”
If you could pass a message to a large group of people, what would it be? “Be present in the moment and don’t take things for granted. We have busy lives and sometimes we forget to stop and just worry about what is going on right now, rather than what we did in the past or what we are going to do in the future. So, I always try to focus on the present. When we are out with Labre in a circle, talking to one of the people on the streets, we try to be in that moment and listen to what they have to say. We might think that we are doing them a favor and changing their lives, but in fact they are changing ours.”
Call to action
Got inspired? If you are a student at Loyola University Chicago you can always join Labre during one of their weekly outings through the organization’s website.
If you do not attend Loyola, but still want to help feed the homeless, there are many other volunteering opportunities across the city. For instance, Chicago Rises has attended the monthly HashtagLunchbag events, where you can put together lunch bags in a super fun environment! To learn more or to RSVP to an upcoming event you can access their website or their Facebook page. Also, check our events tab to see if there are any upcoming events that you can join.
You probably haven’t heard about this organization yet, but they are responsible for helping dozens of women around Chicago.
It is time for you to get to know them.
Chicago Women’s AIDS Project (CWAP) might have a very specific name, but their different programs target a surprisingly broad population.
Project SASS (Sister Advocating for Strong Sisters) helps HIV positive women by partnering with clinics and agencies across the city that provide treatment and education to HIV positive cisgender and transgender women. The goal is to strengthen these women’s coping skills, healthy relationships, and traditional STI/HIV transmission prevention skills.
Their other main project is called Returning Sisters, which is a prevention program. It helps women that are HIV negative, but at high risk of being exposed to the virus, which can be people that experienced or currently experience homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse issues, and mental health issues. CWAP offers free therapy, free recovery coaching, HIV and HEPC testing, and extensive rehabilitation support. They also often offer workshops about a variety of topics, which always have the intention of empowering their clients.
CWAP’s office offers a very informal and welcoming environment, where women can go hang out, ask for help, and feel safe. They are looking for volunteers, interns, and even new staff members. Want to hear more about these women’s stories? Get involved with CWAP’s work! Send an email to Velvian, the Returning Sisters’ Recovery Coach (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Recovery Coach, Velvian (middle), with two of her clients:
Clients often volunteer to help prepare the monthly events:
CWAP helped several women that did not have any social support to get their lives back on track:
In summary, they do an amazing job, and more people should know about them!
21st Century Charter School teacher, Janell Lewis fulfills ‘life purpose” teaching students and teachers to “Be Great!”
While dozens of teachers have abandoned their mission to educate youth in Gary, Indiana, one South Side Chicago native is challenging students and teachers to be great in a community that thousands of people have left. The birthplace of pop idol Michael Jackson is now a place where hundreds of youth cannot leave and who aren’t sure if anyone will ever know their names.
What does Thanksgiving mean for you? Last night, I received a pleasant reminder on what Turkey day and everyday should mean. I was walking home after some holiday grocery shopping. When I was a couple of blocks away from home, I received a call from my front door intercom. I answered it and a strange voice asked for me.