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 Band aims 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!
  • Follow and support the Red Line Lounge Band and Chicago Traffic Jam on social media.