A Big Top for Indie Rock: Looking Ahead to Brilliant Corners - Chicago

Michael Ritchie

It's being billed as a Vaudeville experience for the 21st century. Comprised of part music festival, part community gathering and part circus performance to be held September 16 – 18 at Chicago's Eckhart Park.

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement

It's being billed as a Vaudeville experience for the 21st century. Comprised of part music festival, part community gathering and part circus performance. It's kept a relatively low profile as it approaches and may not be fully understood by those whom have heard of its ramblings. So what is Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement and what all will be taking place under the "big top" of Eckhart Park here in Chicago this coming September weekend?

What most will notice first about Brilliant Corners is its global list of bands and musicians. Partly to due with it’s conjunction with the World Music Festival but also because Brilliant Corners has a derived eclectic nature about it in general. Ranging from Hawk and A Hacksaw's eastern European folk sounds to the Latin dance rock of Columbia's Bomba Estereo and all the back home to Chicago's own pysch-trancers Cave. It's a line-up any listener will get more and more excited about as they explore the range of acts that have been assembled. But hopefully attendees won't stop their. Brilliant Corners is also offering some of the best in off-beat circus style performances to boot. Groups like The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus (replacing RICOCHET) and Chicago's own El Circo Cheapo bring contemporary circus out of the cities loft spaces and back into the big top tent where these acts once originated. It's a combination that has yet to be proven, at least in Chicago, but should perk the interest of any fan of the live arts.

The major factor Brilliant Corners has going for it in its inaugural year is in its creator and curator, Mike Reed. It's a name that has been a part of many of your Chicago music experiences even if it doesn't jump out at you at first. But consider this, if you enjoyed an early summer Monday evening at the Jay Pritkzer Pavilion or shared a blanket and some wine at the Chicago Jazz Festival you've been under the musical care of Mr. Reed. Oh, and not to forget him and his company, At Pluto, LTD, have put on Pitchfork for the last seven years here in Chicago. That alone, should make any live music connoisseur glance up from a blog and it may also be the reason there is quite a confidence in Brilliant Corners lack of over promotion in a city with an overflowing summer music scene.

Reed says that BC came together as a merging "of experiences that I've had and heard about. Little bits of ideas all collected and spit out as an event". After first seeing the usefulness of large circus tents to factor out the weather at festivals, he later started thinking about the idea of non-music events after the praise and sell out performances of the El Circo Cheapo shows.

"I've always been more interested in creating unique situations big or small," says Reed. "In this regard the idea is really about bringing together as many ways to be entertained under one umbrella -- this is basically an old Vaudeville idea. This goes further in that we can recognize and build communities of art and information by assembling in this unique way".

And in order to distance itself for being tagged as just another music festival, Reed and company have added many community focused events such as a Farmers Market and a scaled down Renegade Craft Fair in the hopes of attracting a wider audience and allowing the surrounding neighborhood to enjoy much of the event free of charge.

"If someone wants to just walk around they don't have to pay for the ability to do so. In that time they can see free music on the outdoor stage, have a beer, buy some cheese, watch some sword swallowing -- it's as much or little as they want. If they want more they can be more invested by buying tickets to the featured tent shows".

It's a concept Reed hopes he can extend well beyond this initial weekend. "I hope that people will be talking about something they've never seen before or a band that they got to see in a different setting. After that I want people to be asking when and how is it going to happen again."

And I have to say, I'm already hoping this will be the case.

* * *

From official press release:

Featuring Music and Circus Performances by:


Carnival Games, Rides, Day Stage, Farmers Market, Renegade Craft Fair, And More!

The inaugural Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements will run three days, September 16-18, 2011, and transform Chicago’s Eckhart Park (Chicago Ave. & Noble St.) into a playground for adults and children, alike.

The ability to let oneself go and be enthralled by a Brilliant moment of entertainment and spectacle is at the heart of human experience. At every Corner of the globe people come together to enjoy both the most Popular and also obscure ways of human Amusements. Some might say that Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements hopes to reinvent the traditions of Vaudeville for a 21st century audience – a live mash up of art forms and entertainment under one umbrella. Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement’s ultimate goal is to create a distinct environment that allows a wide audience to be entertained with the most creative ideas and performers regardless of genre. As a production, the event has no stylistic boundaries, it can incorporate circus artists, music, comedians, short film, carnival rides, games and hopefully more. Additionally it is not wedded to a festival, time or place. It may pop up in your neighborhood park, at a nearby theater for one night, or just parading down your block.

Access to the event grounds will be free and open to the public, where patrons can enjoy carnival games, rides, an outdoor music stage and sideshows. The renowned Renegade Craft Fair and a hand selected farmers’ market will also be part of the affair. For select ticketed shows, two large big top circus tents will feature performances from a variety of musical acts, circus performers and audiovisual experimentation.

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements is the brainchild of musician/presenter Mike Reed who has been an integral part of the programming for the Umbrella Music Collective, The Chicago Jazz Festival and New Music Mondays: Downtown Sound at Millennium Park. His company, At Pluto LTD, also produces the Pitchfork Music Festival. For more information, visit

* * *

Schedule for ticketed performances:


Criss/Cross Tent ($20 ticket for night, doors at 5 PM)

Bill Callahan

Sidi Touré

Bomba Esteréo


Magic City Tent ($15 for each separate performer, tent is cleared after each set)

El Circo Cheapo – 8:30 PM

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus – 7:00 PM

George Orange – 5:30 PM


Criss/Cross Tent ($20 ticket for night, doors at 5 PM)

School of Seven Bells

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Charles Bradley

Dark Dark Dark

Magic City Tent ($15 for each separate performer, tent is cleared after each set)

El Circo Cheapo – 8:30 PM

The Richochet Project – 7:00 PM

George Orange – 5:30 PM


Criss/Cross Tent ($20 ticket for night, doors at 5 PM)


A Lull

Dan Deacon

Fool’s Gold

Magic City Tent ($15 for each separate performer, tent is cleared after each set)

El Circo Cheapo – 8:30 PM

The Richochet Project – 7:00 PM

George Orange – 5:30 PM

For more information, please visit the Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement website.

Pop Ten
Collapse Expand Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.