It’s August, the sun is shining fearlessly, adventure is calling. It’s time to get out of town and explore. The first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes were French explorers, fur traders and missionaries, and chief among them was a Jesuit priest, Claude Dablon, who arrived in New France in 1655 and immediately set out to establish a mission among the Iroquois. In 1668 he was on Gitchi-Gami, which the French called Lac Supérieur and we know as Lake Superior. Traveling with him were Claude-Jean Allouez and Jacques Marquette, and on this voyage they discovered the rich copper mines of the region and established Sault Ste. Marie, the first European settlement in what is now Michigan. Fr. Dablon’s journals also record his efforts at growing native grapes and making wine from them, which brings us at last to the real reason for our escape from city confines: wine.
In southwest Michigan, glacial deposits left hilly moraines and rich soils, while Lake Michigan itself provides a degree of protection from the extremes of weather to which we, on this side, are more exposed. The climate there closely resembles that of Burgundy, France. Wild grapes were, and still are abundant in the area, so it’s natural that the growing and careful tending of wine grapes, and making truly excellent wines from their fruit would be the end result.
It’s true. The vineyards and wineries of SW Michigan produce a mind-boggling array of wine choices and many are award winners, not just in the US, but internationally. One of the best wineries in the area, just two hours from Chicago, is Dablon Vineyards, named to honor the heroic efforts of Fr. Dablon in creating Michigan’s first wines. We’ll find them at 111 W. Shawnee Rd., Baroda, MI 49101, and order two flights of 5 different wines. The small flight glasses give us the chance to sip and compare a variety of their different offerings, comparing colors, smells and flavors of everything from the most pale whites to the most robust reds, including some wines, like Tannat and Carmenere that are unusual in Michigan. Set the date, we’ll schedule the tour and learn about tending vineyards and making fine wine while we stroll the grounds and take in the beautiful views.
Another wonderful estate vineyard is Domaine Berrien Cellars, the first winery in Michigan to release a commercially grown and vinified Syrah. They also produce a number of other Rhone region varietal wines, and I can’t wait to taste a sampling of their Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. It will be a new experience for me and I’m sure we will all enjoy it immensely. We’ll select a couple of bottles from Dablon, let’s say, pull ourselves away from the beautiful scenery, so wonderfully green and vibrant, drive over to a cozy B&B right on Lake Michigan, and watch the sun set gloriously into the Lake while we enjoy our wine and an impromptu picnic dinner. Did you remember to bring your swimsuit and towel? Yes, we’ll spend a long weekend here; with luck we’ll watch that sun setting, so brilliantly red, yellow and orange, reflecting off the few clouds and across the Lake, three nights in a row. That should help “recharge the batteries” and help our work attitude!
When my work attitude needs some adjustment, I frequently take the longest break that I can honestly take and go for a long bike ride. The North Branch Trail http://fpdcc.com/preserves-and-trails/trail-descriptions/ has been extended all the way south into Gompers Park and starts now at Kostner and Foster, just east of Cicero Ave.(US 41) and the Edens Expressway (I-94). It’s paved the entire length, very smooth and easy riding, and the extensions include safe passage beneath both Cicero and the Edens and an interesting bridge over the rail road tracks that carry both freight and Metra trains. If we’re reasonably quiet and modestly vigilant we will see wildlife, mostly deer, that are so used to being near humans that they will not startle unless you ride directly at them and get close. The deer, of course, will scamper away, but raccoons can be dangerous, and the rare skunk is to be avoided at all costs. Trust me on that. More exciting is to catch a glimpse of the occasional hawk or rare owl that inhabits the forest. I’ve seen an owl just once, but I’ve now seen Red-tailed Hawks on several occasions, just this year. They are big, magnificent birds, especially compared to common robins or sparrows; it’s a joy to watch one perch on a big branch and watch “like a hawk” for any possible prey that might come along.
The North Branch Trail is now about 24 miles long, so let me know when, and we’ll take a great ride along the river with green trees and fields that have been restored to native plants and grasses, some wetlands, wildflowers, and fresh air. Breathe deeply, keep reminding me, please, to breathe deeply?
Chicago is home to hundreds of street and neighborhood fairs, so many of them occur on the same weekend. The Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest, and the Edison Park Fest are both happening from Friday August 17th through Sunday August 19th. What’s a good citizen to do?
The Glenwood event, as the name tells us, is an art fair, while out in Edison Park the emphasis in on music. The Edison Park organizers have some very talented musicians scheduled, but the band that thrills my ears, every time, is Kashmir. This quite authentic Led Zeppelin tribute band is always worth catching, as their shows are phenomenal. If you are not familiar with Led Zeppelin, here is your chance to experience the music of one of finest, most lauded and most loved rock bands ever. Their performance is on Saturday, and considering that the line-up starts with The Gingers and Half Full, both great local, high energy, FUN rock cover bands, and storms ahead with the Who’s Who tribute band before Kashmir takes the stage at 8pm, I know where I’ll be. Look for me and my date shaking and dancing up a storm somewhere near the stage and jump right in and join us. http://www.edisonparkfest.org/
On the other hand, the Glenwood Arts Fest, http://www.glenwoodave.org/ way up north in the Rogers Park neighborhood, will have lots of music, and food from many vendors, including one of my all-time favorite restaurants, the Heartland Cafe, 7700 N. Glenwood Ave. https://heartlandcafe.com, where we’ll find one of the best, mostly vegetarian, menus in the city. It’s an art fair, after all, so there will be close to two hundred artists, in every possible medium, with their works on display for us and the judges. I’m actually looking for one piece – I know where I’ll put it, but have no idea what it will look like. I’m really hoping that one, and only one painting, poster or photograph will be so utterly irresistible, yet still affordable (HA, yeah, I know…) that I’ll know instantly it belongs in my living room. Sunday, we’ll go on Sunday, so we can check out the artists who won awards and decide for ourselves who among the 200 is really the best, and you’ll help me decide on that piece for my place, right?
The term “Jazz” was First Coined in Chicago in 1914, and the first Jazz festival was held here in 1974, a few weeks after Duke Ellington had died. Several dozen Jazz greats came together to put on that show. Over 10,000 people came, starting a tradition of memorial Jazz concerts that now brings people from around the world to hear the best music available (Yes, I’m a bit biased towards Jazz.)
It keeps getting better: this year the Chicago Jazz Festival is expanding to include free performances all around town, from Corner Store at Edgewater Beach Hotel, 5555 N. Sheridan Rd., to The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, to Englewood Square, 632 W. 63rd St. and Fred Anderson Park, 1629 S. Wabash Ave., as well as several other locations. With this geographic expansion comes extended performance schedules as this year’s fest starts Friday, August 24th and runs through Sunday, September 2nd.
The music is always good, and the milieu does not have the frantic, sometimes tense, audacity of, say, Lollapalooza or Riot Fest. It’s absolutely the best music festival in Chicago. If you like your Jazz in Big Band style, be sure to check out Orbert Davis Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, playing in the Pritzker Pavillion, Wednesday night, August 29th. I’m looking forward to experiencing Million Brazilian Project at 3pm Friday, taking my date to dinner, then returning to catch the Louis Hayes Quintet and the incomparable Dianne Reeves.
Ramsey Lewis headlines Saturday’s show and Maceo Parker is the very last act on Sunday. There is music at so many places, over ten full days, and none of us, I’m sure, will be able to take it all in. We can try! Look up the performers and schedules here: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_jazz_festival.html and mark your calendar to take in the largest, and very best Jazz music fest in the world. Jazz Fest, filled with amazing musicians and composers, is not to be missed.
August is over? How did that happen? Until next month, my friends, may Chicago keep you busy, happy, and engaged in the adventure.