Thanksgiving is a timeworn tradition highlighted by visiting family and reuniting with old friends. For me, Thanksgiving has taken on a different meaning over the last three years as I hustle through the usual holiday tropes for the real get together at the house I shared with Peter CottonTale and fellow creative friends on the north side of Chicago. After dispersing earlier in the day to go about our individual plans, we've made a habit of racing back to the one story bungalow with the blue porch to link up with our second family.
After three months away, Chance The Rapper and the Social Experiment return home from a 40 city tour this week to familiar settings. Thursday everyone will join friends or family for dinner and once dessert is done it’s right back to the bungalow off Elston. More than anything, the yearly get together has become something necessary, a reconnection with individuals who have grown in their own ways over the course of the last calendar year. As much as Thanksgiving is about family, food and football, it's also taken on a really amazing new role in bringing together a community here in Chicago that welcomed me when I was searching for a place to land.
(Photo by Laura Martinez)
The first year we all came together really organically, while Peter and I were still in a tiny two-bedroom in Irving Park. 2013 in particular though was a special year that truly made it a regular event. Months removed from the release of Acid Rap, and riding high from their first national headlining tour, Pete arrived back home with the newly-minted soX boys in tow and were met at the house by an assortment of homies. Meanwhile, the cuts of Kids These Days breaking up were still fresh, as was the recent solo release from Vic Mensa, Innanetape, and the emergence of Marrow, who would play their first show that weekend at Schuba's.
That week in particular was memorable as Chance and the guys played a pair of sold out shows at the Riviera Theater, our house serving as the de facto after party spot for both. The backstage on those nights resembled a holiday party more than a rapper’s private area and it all spilled back to our little slice of heaven on the northwest side.
The house itself is weird. We often likened it to chutes and ladders. My room was in a basement only accessible through the room at the top of the stairs that our two female roommates, Katie and Laura, shared. The only other option was to go out the pint-sized back door and around to the front. There was an attic that was only accessible from the backyard that was unheated, had one outlet and was the perfect place to party if you had enough bodies to cancel out the cold. I remember walking around the party while most in attendance didn’t know me or knew that it was my house. Moving constantly, away from the puffs of smoke in the basement to the dance party shaking the floor of the attic to the tame kick back on the first floor, it seemed somehow obvious that something great would come from all of these people being around one another.
More than just Chance, SaveMoney and soX, there were an amazing amount of talented artists, musicians, activists and people behind the scenes that would flock to the crib once texts were sent and the tweets posted. Joey Purp and KAMI, better known as Leather Chords, recorded their “Still Alive” video in our garage and attic during that first party a couple years back, and Chance damn near took our attic down when he induced a bop session on those rickety boarded floors. I got to know everyone from Liam Cunningham of Marrow to Mike Jaxx of #100Trill at these parties and many like them. You read books and watch documentaries about places like this, places that act as a sort of vessel for creative types to come together, and it’s not normal to assume you’ll one day get to exist within that reality. In that sense, this experience has been a sort of anomaly.
Really though, it all fits with the spirit of what Chance, soX and the rest of the new side of Chicago has shown the world and created over the last few years. Between selling out the Riv on either side of Thanksgiving, Chance came through the crib after dinner with his family and joined folks like Dally Auston, Austin Vesely, Eryn Allen Kane and all sides of SaveMoney, PIVOT and what I’ve referred to as the ‘next up’ from the city. By 10 o’clock on Thanksgiving night the attic and basement will have devolved to individual clouds of smoke as more and more people pour through the rickety front gate that has hung forever open, leaning on a hinge as more bodies with liquor and leftovers filed through. The lady that owned the corner store on the end of the street will stay open a few extra hours to sell us cases of beer marked up an extra $5 from her usual surcharge. It was and is organic, the premise of almost everything that has emanated from the ground floor of this particular side of the Chicago music scene.
Days like those in particular are the ones I remember when I reflect on the come up the last few years. Growing up, I always admired old sportswriters of a different era that were able to hang out with the players on the road, knew their wives and kids, hung out outside of work and knew the subjects of their work personally, which made the stories they were printing markedly better. Coming into the journalism landscape as it was in 2008, it appeared I would never get to realize that kind of interpersonal relationship with anyone I wrote about, that Twitter would be as close as we could get, save for an occasional phone interview. The thing is, I never really expected anything like this to grow the way it has. Earlier this week I received a Facebook notification telling me it had been three years since my first pieces on Chance The Rapper and Kids These Days ran respectively in the Chicago Sun-Times. In the time since, it’s been these nights, these experiences - shooting dice in a corner of a basement with Brian Fresco, having a shot with DJ Rashad, eating 3 AM White Castle with NoName Gypsy - these are the memories and relationships that keep me here working, keep me writing.
And so, this Thursday, once all of the food is eaten and any leftovers packed away, we will all turn our attention to the quaint, unassuming one-story house on the tree-lined avenue, its importance to the culture impossible to see from the outside. We’ll eat, we’ll drink and we’ll look forward to doing it all again over the course of the next year. And then Saturday we’ll go to Stix Jam.
A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I have mine.