Festival Presenter Explores ‘Brilliant Corners’

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter


Bill Callahan will play the inaugural Brilliant Corners Of Popular Amusements.

Mike Reed, a Chicago jazz musician and presenter, wanted to create an arts and culture experience that was different from big festivals and concert shows. So on September 16-18 in Eckhart Park, Reed is bringing the inaugural Brilliant Corners Of Popular Amusements to the City of Chicago.

Reed, the Director of the Pitchfork Music Festival, describes the event as a kind of variety show that will include music, circus acts, a craft fair, food vendors, and a farmer’s market. Could this modern day spin on vaudeville be the future of the music festival?

“No,” Reed says, laughing. “It’s definitely not.”

The festival business has changed over the last decade, says Reed, and now attracts the biggest artists in the world, replacing the package tours of the past.

“They can get massive artists. Rewind seven or eight years ago, the artists weren’t necessarily on the Jay-Z and Coldplay level. They were more on the Sonic Youth level. The package tour was great because it’s a full thing – a package. Now it doesn’t matter about the package. The biggest bands in the world will play these festivals.”

Reed says he’s not trying to create another music festival, and in fact, thinks of Brilliant Corners as a “carnival,” not a festival.

“I’m just interested in seeing and making an experience that’s different from regular shows,” he says. “I like the idea of something being a little different about an experience.”

The idea for Brilliant Corners first sparked in Reed’s mind when he saw Andrew Bird playing in a circus tent at a festival in Belgium. “Instead of playing in an outdoor stage, they stuck him in a circus tent, which I don’t think he liked very much. But I thought it went really well. The best part about it was it really started to thunderstorm when he started to play so it was the best place to be.”

Around the same time, Reed became interested in some of the Chicago circus troupes that had been putting on underground shows in loft spaces in neighborhoods like Pilsen.

So at Brilliant Corners, in one of two real-life circus tents – “It was very difficult to get the circus tents,” says Reed. “There happens to be one older Italian circus company based in the Chicago area. They may be the only people in all of the Midwest who have these actual circus tents – acts like Richochet, El Circo Cheapo Cabaret, and the tightrope walker George Orange will perform. While the carnival grounds will be free for all to enter, performances in the two tents will be separately ticketed.

In the second tent, a diverse lineup of bands will perform, like hard-to-book locals Shellac, Malian musician Sidi Toure, Austin singer-songwriter Bill Callahan, L.A.’s Afropop-leaning Fool’s Gold, and the New York electronic shoegazers School Of Seven Bells.

In keeping with the carnival’s eclectic nature, Reed looked for acts that fit together in unexpected ways.

“If I was going to say I’m going to have a dance aspect to this – it’s not necessarily all the same type of dance. From Charles Bradley to Hawk And A Hacksaw to Dan Deacon. People dance to all of those guys, but it’s a different vibe,” says Reed.

Reed also hints that Brilliant Corners may be an ongoing series of events, and he hopes to keep fans guessing. Maybe there will be a holiday show, or another full-scale carnival next May or October. Perhaps a different location, such as Pilsen. Reed says he loves the “openness” of it, and also hints that future shows could be free.

“If you see it, you’re just gonna wanna walk up to it and see what’s going on. If you had to buy a ticket to get in, you’d lose all that magic and possibility. I really want that to be part of it. If we do a good job, it will be talked about more in the aftermath than it was beforehand.”

If Reed’s description of the inaugural event – and its future plans – seems enigmatic, that may be just the point. The name Brilliant Corners is even an homage to one of the most enigmatic and original Americans, Thelonious Monk, who has a 1957 song and album of the same name.

“A lot of Monk tunes have really fantastic titles,” says Reed. “[The name] has a lot of aspects as far as the idea of vaudeville – a variety of things on one bill. Some of them are huge and some come from a very small corner of the world. When was the last time you saw a trapeze artist?”

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