I’m home and glowing with affection for Joliet, my hometown of the last 30 years. People here really are decent, friendly and hard-working folks.
I knew this would be the event of the summer and so I had to score myself a ticket soon after hearing about it. And my, did it deliver! It was bigger than the Taste of Joliet, with a 21 and only crowd and fantastic music all night. There were 3,000 tickets available and I’d say they probably sold out from the looks of it!
I arrived about 6:15 and already the designated parking lots were full except for the last one. I didn’t have plans to meet anyone specific, so just meandered around and looked for anyone I might know and checked in on fb. A few people commented and I found one of them! At first I felt kind of lame because everyone had brought lawn chairs and that had never occurred to me. But it ended up being a good thing because it forced me to do a lot of walking. I saw down to eat my pizza and once more to rest a bit. But mostly I just people watched and surveyed all that was going on.
So many people were dressed to theme, some in full-on convict black and white stripe costumes, complete with hats! Others were in suits, fedoras and sunglasses a la The Blues Brothers- another J-town legacy incorporated into the evening. As most know, the first scene features Elwood picking up Joliet Jake from this very prison, in an old police car he got for a deal.
A lot of people had on black t-shirts with Blue Brothers faces and quotes or they were wearing something black and white striped, or just the black fedoras and glasses. They were being sold as a $5 combo at a merch tent, along with event t-shirts, sewing kits, etc. I’m glad I got the hat and glasses! Later they came in handy.
There were food trucks and tons of props serving as photo ops: an old J-town cop car and a white board painted with black stripes and height markers for patrons to take “mug shots.” In the right corner, there was another cop car– this one a prop for the headlining and closing act, The Blooze Brothers. A kind woman I talked to took a shot of me leaning against it and in exchange I got one of her and her boyfriend over by it.
I saw my friend Hallie in line for a tour and she invited me to cut in with her friends and tag along, so I did! The tiny, broken down cells were very sobering. But probably my favorite part of the evening was visiting the tent for the Old Joliet Prison Burnt District Artists. I’ve been seeing posts from them on facebook as they helped clean up and also found raw materials they could incorporate into their artwork. A lot of cool things are happening in Joliet right now, a lot of new business and breweries are opening up. There’s some intense Joliet pride and I’m proud to see it manifested artistically. That’s where I found the young and hip people. I really liked a piece by Ruben Calderon of Art of Breath Galleria (facebook) — it featured a male prisoner in what seems to be prayer, with a guardian angel visible behind him. The cell bars are in the background, along with a phrase, “It’s Never Too Late To Mend,” written on the cell wall to his right. If I had the cash I would have made an offer.
I met some really nice people just ambling around. One woman offered me a chair at her table to eat, and another told me how much she and her boyfriend love live music and had the best anecdote ever. Her boyfriend had actually BEEN a prisoner here at The Joliet Prison more than 20 years ago, and came back tonight a free man to this event. She said he had told her he’d grown as a person and learned a lot while doing his time. He was glad to come back and reflect on it because it was no longer a painful memory to him.
Then when The Blooze Brothers took the stage, I ran up and spied a friend front and center! We just kinda jammed out together, he was more quiet; bopping his head but clearly really in the moment. I was more wild, dancing around and joking with the woman on my right. We were both being totally silly.
I got one of three free CD’s they passed out because I put on my fedora and black sunglasses and was dancing like crazy– it pays off to be festive! Can’t wait to re-live tonight and play the whole CD when I’m driving around next.
I thought it was beautiful that the band did a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s recent passing. The lead female singer was Shelia Pepple, as far as I can tell from the liner notes from their CD. She sang “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” and a few others I didn’t know with some impressive pipes!
And as for Elwood (Chuck Little) and Joliet Jake (Jeff Sismelich)– they KILLED IT!! They really had the dancing cold, and Elwood wailed on his harmonica. They did “Soul Man,” “Rawhide,” and “Jailhouse Rock!” I left before the end of the set, but didn’t see “Sweet Home Chicago,” it was probably the last song.
I danced my tail off, re-connected with old friends, took some fun pictures and left feeling very glad to be a Jolietian.
In this historic prison, I was freed.