Yesterday’s New York Times ran an interesting story about the great Gilberto Gil , Brazil’s two-term minister of culture who kicks off his first-ever solo acoustic tour in the US with a talk at South by Southwest. As the Time story explains, Gil has been heavily involved in the intellectual property issues propagated by the ascent of the Internet, sampling, and file-sharing; he’s been a key supporter of Creative Commons and the copyleft movement. Gil is touring in support of GiL Luminoso , an album he made back in 1999 as a companion to the book “GiLuminos: a po.ética do ser” by Bené Fonteles; it was just been released in the US for the first time by DRG Brazil. The record features only his lovely voice and guitar tackling a fascinating array of original tunes that spanned his career at the time.
What irks me about all of this is that Gil’s tour isn’t making a stop in Chicago—although he is performing in bustling urban areas like Ann Arbor, Michigan and New Bedford, Massachusetts. I suppose I should start keeping a running tally of important artists like Gil when they tour the US and no venue in Chicago bothers to book them, but it’s not that unusual. I’m regularly dismayed when I scan the music listings for New York and realize that all kinds of great artists from around the globe won’t be traveling here next. Now, I know New York is the center of the world and all that jazz, and sometimes the artists don’t bother with extended touring if they’re going to lose money. But too often Chicago venues with the financial and cultural capital rarely take chances—I’m looking at you Symphony Center and Ravinia . Yes, sometimes Symphony Center will bring in some terrific stuff, but they seem to pass on just as much great stuff. I don’t know where to begin with Ravinia, which since the departure of Mervon Mehta left in early 2002 has been increasingly predictable and stale in its jazz and international programming. Even Old Town School of Folk Music generally seems uninterested in music that’s not made by white people (unless they play blues or gospel), although the second-tier AfroFolk and La Pena series have been making impressive strides of late; Malian superstar Salif Keita is playing at OTS on April 18 in an AfroFolk show—who knows why he wasn’t booked as part of the regular, high-profile concert series. The HotHouse continues to bring in important international artists, but it’s still appalling that the government (dba the Cultural Affairs Department) is the most progressive presenter in America’s third largest city.