Chuck Berry Gets a Loving Goodbye from the City He Always Called Home
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Apr 10, 2017
It is impossible to overstate the significance of Chuck Edward Anderson Berry. He’s been frequently credited with inventing the entire genre of rock & roll music, but his influence reached much further than the radio. His existence changed the world.
Berry was the ultimate cultural icon. No other figure in the history of modern music has had such a lasting, measurable impact. And as a native and proud St. Louisan, Berry has always held an extra-special place in the heart of locals. Chuck Berry, you see, belonged to us. He was the embodiment of all that is magical and special about St. Louis culture, and when he died last month, a huge part of our history died along with him.
It took a few weeks to put together, but Berry’s family planned a wonderful series of events to celebrate his life. Chuck loved an audience, and this entire past weekend was set up so that fans could participate in saying goodbye. There was a toast held outside on Delmar Boulevard on Saturday night, followed by a viewing of Berry’s body on Sunday morning at the Pageant that was open to the public.
The private service for the family was scheduled to commence immediately after the public viewing, and the Berry family gave out passes to the private service to three hundred members of the public who queued up excitedly in the hopes of witnessing this historic event. It was a generous offering to many of Chuck’s biggest longtime fans.
Some of those fans had been waiting outside the Pageant since 5 a.m., when the line for the viewing started. There was a steady stream of mourners all morning, but most just popped in for a minute or two, paid their respects and then left. There was never a long, intolerable line to get into the viewing. In fact, for most of the day visitors could pretty much just walk right in.
Many fans who expected the process to take longer spent the rest of their day hanging around outside the venue, enjoying the breezy weather while trading their favorite Berry stories. The majority of these fans had managed to see Berry play live, something that all agreed was a special event.
In a live music setting, Chuck Berry could not be beat. He played a monthly show at Blueberry Hill’s tiny basement venue, the Duck Room, well into his ’80s. Though those shows got progressively looser over the years, Berry made up for his slipping technical abilities by piling on the charisma. He stood there and smiled and the entire crowd smiled back, overjoyed just to be in the same room as him.
And though he was always untouchable on stage, Berry’s behavior off stage was more than troublesome. To put it simply: Chuck Berry was not always a hero. He had a long and documented history of assaulting women and this fact did not go unaddressed on the day of his service. A small group of protesters held up signs outside of the entrance to the Pageant to remind visitors of the darker side of his history.
But inside the venue, it was all love. Berry’s body was laid out tastefully and the room was beautifully decorated and lit. A parade of speakers took the stage to sing Berry’s praises. Many of them took the time to mention that Berry was a civil rights icon: What Berry did with music helped people to cross racial divides out in the streets. White audiences who might not have otherwise embraced a black musician were helpless to resist the power of Berry’s guitar.
Gene Simmons of KISS was a surprise speaker at the service. He was hiding out in the back and looked properly devastated before being asked to say a few words. His impromptu speech was one of the best of the entire event; he told the audience about his own past as a young immigrant to the United States and about how Berry and his music helped to bring people together.
“It’s a sad day, but I think it’s a happy time. Look at the legacy,” Simmons said. “He broke down the barriers and made all kinds of people’s hearts and minds open up to the idea that we all belong to the same people.”
Another crowd favorite was Marshall Chess, son of Leonard Chess of Chess Records. He’s an engaging, delightful storyteller and his charm was on full display. But the speech of the day, appropriately, came from Charles Berry Jr. He was funny, sincere and remarkably composed, given the circumstances. He explained that his father was his hero and that he felt honored to be able to learn from the master. He said that many people taught him how to be a musician, but that his father taught him how to be a man.
Charles Berry Jr. thanked his many friends and family members in attendance and then, in a remarkable display of midwestern hospitality, he took a moment to address the public, who had been seated in the balcony area. He looked up and said, “You’re my friends now, too, because you’re here with me.”
During this moment, and when Berry’s clearly heartbroken grandchildren performed (“We are doing this in remembrance of our grandfather, and for the joy of our grandmother”), the crowd always acted respectfully, seeming to realize that though it looked like a state funeral and the deceased was a world-renowned celebrity, this was absolutely a personal family event.
The entire service was overwhelmingly and impressively touching. There were musical performances from Marlissa Hudson, Dwayne Buggs, Johnny Rivers and Billy Peek. Outside after the service, the Funky Butt Brass Band played a devastating rendition of “St. Louis Blues” as the coffin was loaded into the hearse. (Little Richard had also been scheduled to attend and sing a gospel song, but he had fallen ill and couldn’t make it.) Near the end of the service, condolence letters from Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and St. Louis mayor Francis Slay were read to the crowd. Slay’s proclamation was read by new mayor-elect Lyda Krewson, and it praised Berry for always sticking close to home.
Legendary local bluesman Mat Wilson is a huge fan of Berry and attended every event this weekend that honored his hero, including the public toast and moment of silence held at Berry’s Walk of Fame star outside Blueberry Hill on Saturday night. A scholar of American music with a special interest in regional history, Wilson praises Berry easily and enthusiastically.
“My band, the Loot Rock Gang, got to open for Chuck, and I also had a chance to open for Chuck playing guitar for my wife, Little Rachel,” Wilson says. “It was quite the honor. Chuck is the grandfather of rock & roll and I think it was really special to have him here in our neighborhood. He’s the originator. It’s not to be taken lightly that the originator of rock & roll came from our own town.”
Echoing this sentiment, St. Louis native and real life guitar hero Richard Fortus (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Love Spit Love, Thin Lizzy, Pale Divine) also stopped into Berry’s viewing on Sunday afternoon to pay his respects.
Fortus said, “For me, this was a big part of my growing up, being from St. Louis. Not only his music, but his persona. The early videos for me were huge: seeing Chuck Berry on TV and what an enigmatic performer he was. I remember playing down on the Landing when I was a kid and him coming in and grabbing a guitar and yelling at people if they didn’t know his songs. It was awesome.
“It was special, growing up in St. Louis and knowing that he was part of the lineage,” he added. “He’s one of the biggest parts in the history of rock & roll.”
The Funky Butt Brass Band plays Chuck out:
link: Riverfront Times
Because Chris Baricevic Is Putting St. Louis on the Musical Map
One of 75 reasons we love St. Louis in 2016
By Jaime Lees
Chris Baricevic is just 30 years old, but he’s already been the steady heartbeat of the south St. Louis music scene for more than a decade. The label he started eleven years ago, Big Muddy Records, is one of the region’s most revered musical organizations, the St. Louis equivalent to Jack White’s Detroit-born Third Man Records.
Big Muddy is not some vanity DIY project. It isn’t even a “boutique” label. Its artists are robust, well-practiced, world-class musicians ready to greet the world — Baricevic’s long roster has included Pokey LaFarge, Jack Grelle, Sidney Street Shakers, Rum Drum Ramblers, the Hooten Hallers, Southwest Watson Sweethearts, 7 Shot Screamers, Arson for Candy, the Monads and the Vultures.
Baricevic sees his role at the label as a hybrid of motivational producer and a spiritual mentor, but he’s more like a seasoned mountaineering guide, willing to carry the baggage so his artists can climb higher and claim their own victories. Baricevic often takes on the role of therapist or shaman (or maybe even mother) when leading his charges. He encourages them to develop their talents, embrace their community and to create art without ego.
His responsibilities go deeper than his current bands, though. He’s been the executor of beloved St. Louis musician/photographer Bob Reuter’s estate since Reuter’s 2013 death, and he’s also currently in the process of licensing the music of early 1960s local blues legend Henry Townsend for reissue. Baricevic does this all quietly and without fanfare. In fact, he’s so accustomed to staying out of the spotlight that he’s only now getting around to performing his own music with his new band, Kristo & the Strange Places.
Pure-hearted and a bit of a romantic, Baricevic’s humble exterior conceals a man who is naturally ambitious and seemingly inexhaustible. Authenticity is at the core of everything that he does, and he explains that he only cares to be involved with music that is “screaming from the soul.”
This St. Louis native has big plans for the city to “start to claim our creative landscape.” He promises, “If I get the resources I need, there is nothing to stop us.” Believe that.
link: Riverfront Times
St. Louis Ranked in Top 50 U.S. Cities for Music Fans
Posted By Jaime Lees
Fri, Jul 15, 2016
According to a recent report from consumer spending website ValuePenguin.com, St. Louis is ranked as the 42nd best city in the United States for music fans.
I’d never heard of Value Penguin, so I knew not to trust the results. What is a Value Penguin, anyway? It sounds like a new mascot for Aldi discount supermarkets. Still, in the little preview photo that I saw, it showed my beautiful city as “high ranking” (with a bright blue dot) so I expected us to be #1. I clicked over to bask in the warm glow of rocketing civic pride.
I glanced at the very top of the list and didn’t see St. Louis. I scrolled on down to #5. Still no St. Louis. By the time I got to #10 and didn’t see the Lou I knew that this list was crap and that Value Penguin was populated by morons.
Ranked #1 on the list is Nashville, so-called “Music City.” Well, that’s convenient. That’s like saying Chicago is the windiest city in the U.S. just because that’s what people call it. No, you lazy jerks, the windiest city in the U.S. is actually Jackson, Mississippi. And just because you call yourself something doesn’t make it true.
The rest of the nation might concede that Nashville is country music city, but that’s about it. I knew a guy who was an audio engineer in Nashville for a decade and he said that 95% of the studio recordings that get done there are either country or Christian or both. He was so starved for any version of rock & roll that he almost cried tears of joy when he was hired to work on a Paramore record. Yes, Paramore, that “band” that consists of one marginally attractive Hot Topic employee and whoever they pay to stand behind her while she grunts and fluffs her hair. That’s what passes for rock in Tennessee. No thank you.
I skimmed farther down the list and finally saw our ranking. Ah, #42. They say that 42 is a special number and that it’s the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.” I knew we were magical.
I also noticed that a city in Florida is a whole eighteen slots ahead of us. Florida? Florida is only good making the rest of the country feel smart. The only decent music that ever came out of Florida was from Tom Petty and he got the hell out of there as soon as possible. I feel so bad for music fans in that state. Its biggest stars are Marilyn Mason, Aaron Carter, Pitbull and Limp Bizkit. You poor, sad, floppy dick-shaped peninsula.
Value Penguin used fifteen categories to piece together this whack-ass list, each with their own weight and specifications. Cities were scored based on their performances in various arbitrary contests. Some of the categories made sense (how many record stores per 1,000 people) and some of them made use of wild card factors like the average amount of days with precipitation per year, average closing times at bars and the percentage of population using public transport to commute.
Yes, any of these things could influence the lives of music fans, but so could literally thousands of other factors. And as a statistics professor once taught me, correlation does not equal causation. You don’t have to be a numbers geek to see that this methodology is, at best, an elaborate game of pin the tail on the donkey.
So suck it, Value Penguin. We think that a good city for a band is also a good city for a fan. A good music city has multiple concert events to choose from each night. A good music city sees huge draws for local musicians. A good music city has volunteers and organizers and valued event planners. A good music city has cheap door prices. A good music city has affordable housing and a low cost of living. A good music city has musicians who support and celebrate each other. A good music city has dedicated and active fans. A good music city has small shows with big turnouts.
A good music city looks a lot like St. Louis, thank you very much.
– link: Riverfront Times
St. Louis Earth Day Festival Digs Deep This Year for Impressive Local Music Lineup
By Jaime Lees
Tue, Apr 19, 2016
Concert season in St. Louis has arrived. Each year as the temperatures rise our fine city shakes off its deep winter sleep and blossoms into a major hub of quality musical entertainment. At the first hint of spring we start looking forward to months of free outdoor public concerts: the Whitaker Music Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Jungle Boogie concert series at the zoo, the major headliners at Fair St. Louis and all of the wonderfully crappy cover bands provided by smaller local festivals and carnivals.
This year the St. Louis Earth Day Festival is really getting in on the action. Taking place this Sunday, April 24 in Forest Park, the musical talent for the event is decidedly local, original and diverse. Instead of offering just the usual expected Americana, folk or jam bands, the schedule features DJs, punk rockers, general weirdos and representatives of many different styles and genres of the St. Louis music scene.
Scheduled to perform: Swear Beam, the Vanilla Beans, DJ Needles, CaveofswordS, Illphonics, Matt Wynn, Bruiser Queen, JOIA World Percussion Ensemble, the Griddle Kids, Steely James, Arson for Candy, Tortuga, Gary Schoenberger with Perfect Strangers and the Funs.
The most common reaction for local music fans reading this lineup has been delighted shock. How, we wondered, did the St. Louis Earth Day crew manage to seek out and book some of our city’s best musicians and bands? Clearly, somebody with extensive knowledge of the local music scene had some sort of influence there.
We didn’t have to dig long to find out that the little seed that grew this lineup was Jenn DeRose. In addition to being the program manager of the Green Dining Alliance, DeRose has played many roles over the years in St. Louis music culture: She’s done time at Vintage Vinyl, been a DJ at KDHX, worked with Big Muddy Records and is an avid concert-goer. (And — full disclosure — an occasional RFT Music contributer.)
DeRose says she simply suggested bands that she wanted to see and that she felt represented St. Louis as a whole.
“Most of the bands that we contacted were very stoked to do it,” DeRose says. “If we would’ve asked these same kinds of bands ten years ago, I don’t know that they would’ve been as enthusiastic, but I think that everybody is kind of on board now. Global warming is real; climate change is real. It’s an important issue. We’re losing species like crazy. Also, it’s a really fun festival. And 50,000 people showed up last year, so I think the entertainers were really excited to jump on board.”
Mike Leahy of Tortuga (and long-time St. Louis favorite 7 Shot Screamers) is one of those excited for a chance to perform. “I was shocked by how solid the lineup is for this festival,” Leahy explains. “Forest Park is such a beautiful place with such a great history — to be playing a well-organized festival there is an honor. Tortuga is stoked to play Earth Day Fest because it feels like a real homegrown event. It’s so much fun playing around St. Louis these days; so many great bands, organizers, venues and events like this. We’re a lucky town.”
Also using the word “solid” to describe the lineup, musician Sunyatta McDermott of CaveofswordS says that she’s excited to “get the chance to see so many great artists in one day” while also supporting the cause. McDermott has carried a passion for environmentalism since she was a teenager, and she jokes that she even sacrificed her Aqua Net Extra Super Hold for the ozone. In addition to performing at the festival, she and the rest of CaveofswordS express their commitment to a more livable world through simple everyday decisions like recycling, embracing a plant-based diet, driving used cars and finding their clothes in thrift shops.
Musicians as a group, in fact, are actually fairly green naturally. They buy used instruments, they carpool frequently, they share practice spaces, they lend each other equipment and they DJ with previously owned records. This sharing of resources is not only essential to growing a scene, it also helps to keep the planet clean. According to DeRose, so does supporting your local scene.
“I think promoting local music is an important part of sustainability,” DeRose says. “If a city is more dense, it is more sustainable. Which is maybe counter-intuitive, but with shared resources, our carbon footprint is lower. And the way to attract younger, active people to the city is through promoting local music and letting it thrive. That’s part of why we need to start including local bands — to really showcase what St. Louis can do.”
Find out more information about the St. Louis Earth Day Festival at stlouisearthday.org
– link: Riverfront Times
Why Do We Complain So Much About LouFest?
By Jaime Lees
Tue, Sep 15, 2015
St. Louis loves to complain. We’re also passionate about our city. Mix up this cocktail and we’ll drop our customary Midwest politeness: You’ll hear enthusiastic speeches about every regional issue from the opening of a new IKEA to a possible new football stadium.
There are many things that divide this town, but most complaints are dropped if the matter in question has been shown to benefit the residents. Arguments are often ended with a conciliatory, good-natured, “Whatever. If it’s good for the city I guess it’s fine.”
But LouFest has been met with outright ire since the annual music festival began six years ago. Seasoned festival-goers whine that it’s too small. Those of us accustomed to smaller concerts whine that it’s too big. And each year the lineup is met with cries of “LameFest” or “more like PooFest.” Every single year there is an avalanche of criticism for this music festival, even if it does bring in money and is “good for the city.”
Why? I’m not sure, but I have a theory. I think that we’re all quick to whine about LouFest simply because of the actual name of the festival.
Most other major music festivals don’t have a tight association with the cities in which they are held. For example, while we all know that while Lollapalooza is now held in Chicago, it doesn’t necessarily represent Chicago. It could be held anywhere or moved to any other city without losing its identity. But with a name like LouFest, it’s implied that this festival somehow represents St. Louis.
This is why we all get bitchy. That “Lou” gives us assumed ownership, and therefore a free pass for complaining rights. And when I look at the LouFest lineup, it doesn’t at all represent the St. Louis that I know. So just like everyone else, I start complaining, too.
I interviewed LouFest founder Brian Cohen and executive producer Charlie Jones a couple of years ago and they really won me over. I asked nothing but hard questions and I was impressed with their answers. To be blunt, I expected them to be annoyed at my insistence that the festival didn’t include enough local acts in decent time slots. They countered my questions with a list of all of the regional considerations they’d included, like making a point of booking a couple of local bands each year and renting space to St. Louis merchants. They also stressed that they didn’t have to include any local flavor at all. True. Very true. Can’t argue with that.
I’ve been to LouFest on three different occasions to see three different bands. One time was to see Dinosaur Jr (on a side-stage at a criminally early time in the day) and the other two times were during different years to catch separate headliners. As such, I’ve seen with my own eyes that LouFest does lots of things right. From the very beginning the organizers were focused on recycling, encouraging people to bike to the festival and general eco-friendliness. And it’s lovely see major touring bands while lounging on the grass of beautiful Forest Park instead suffering through the flooded concrete bathrooms at Riverport.
I prefer my music just a little weirder than most festivals offer, so I never really expect the LouFest lineup to thrill me. But this year, in particular, the lineup immediately struck me as relentlessly bland. As I looked over the list of performers I realized why: Women and people of color were woefully underrepresented.
So I crunched the numbers.
I did an informal tally of the artists listed on the lineup (not including support musicians) and came up with a total of 128 performers. Of the 128, 112 are white men and only six are women. By my estimation, the LouFest lineup for 2015 was 90.6 percent white and 95.3 percent male.
Even if my calculations are off a bit here, the official numbers would still show a huge discrepancy. And if I’d included support musicians in my calculations (such as our beloved local talent — the backing band for Pokey LaFarge) the numbers for white male performers would just go even higher.
That is something to complain about, and I can’t imagine an acceptable excuse for this remarkable lack of diversity. I know nothing about what it takes to execute an event of this size, but I do know the talk on the street. I know what gets said in the real world, and what’s being said isn’t nice. In the months and months of planning that it must take to put together a lineup, somebody should’ve noticed this offensive trend in booking. I can’t call any festival that features 87.5 percent white male talent a success. Not here and certainly not now.
In a city with multiple richly diverse (and thriving) music scenes, this lack of women and people of color just doesn’t make any sense. And with the “Lou” included in the LouFest name, I expect to see some mirroring of our population — and the organizers just repeatedly miss the mark.
Maybe LouFest needs some kind of image consultant to point out these overlooked and/or ignored aspects. Some pieces of LouFest’s PR campaign just seem tone deaf. For example, in the weeks leading up to the fest, an electronic billboard on Highway 44 advertised multiple cheesy LouFest designs. Most were innocuous, but one of the designs seemed downright condescending to women: “LouFest: He is going, and yes, he thinks you’re cute.” So (straight) women (or gay men) only go to music festivals to flirt? Can’t they just like live music, too?
It’s bizarre that these kind of issues continue to exist in 2015, especially with an event that is so high-profile. I understand that it’s a corporate-sponsored major event and that it involves contracts and a lot of moving parts, but someone needs to be accountable for overall quality control.
I cast my vote with my money this year for a better, more representative LouFest: I didn’t go.
But I want LouFest to do well in the future — I’d just be happier if it did a better job of showcasing the city it claims to celebrate. Yes, lots of other festivals and smaller local events could be accused of this same issue, but LouFest is not just any weekend festival. Like it or not, LouFest is part of our face to the world.
So here’s what I ask of LouFest: First of all, fix your irresponsible advertising strategy. It’s not cute. Second, fix your future lineups. You can easily neutralize your white man problem by doing one very simple thing: include more locally-sourced musicians. (It’s eco-friendly!) If you look to our own neighborhoods, you’ll find a diverse pool of talent where women and people of color are plentiful and celebrated. Do it for us, your potential local-music-loving attendees.
Basically, LouFest, we like you because we think you are good for the city, but you need to start doing a better job of earning that “Lou,” OK?
– link: Riverfront Times