By John Rice
We're promising an evening of film, fun and music this Friday, July 27, at The Outta Space, 6840 32nd Street, Berwyn. At 7 p.m., we're showing the film Ezra & Mike: Facing Racial Tension in Forest Park. The 22-minute documentary will be followed by a Q&A with one of the film's principals, Mike Chiappetta.
The film's other principal, Ezra Buckner, served as producer for the Ohio Players, a '70s soul band. So it's only appropriate for a soul band to take the stage following the film. They call themselves Blue Groove and are based in Forest Park. Blue Groove started out as a student band at Kagan & Gaines. Now they're a working band playing venues like FitzGerald's.
Their most recent performance was at MusicFest last Saturday. They had a good turnout despite the rain and many fans took to the damp dance floor. Their set included classics like "Midnight Train to Georgia," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and "The Thrill is Gone." Billy Smith is one of their lead singers. He joined the band five years ago and faithfully rehearses with them every Friday at Kagan & Gaines.
Billy's musical roots go back to Ripley, Tennessee, where he grew up listening to music out of Memphis. Billy moved to Chicago, in 1968, but the sounds of the South remain in his bones. His main influences are Otis Redding and other Stax Records recording stars. Stax was revolutionary in producing popular, integrated bands in the early '60s.
Billy's tastes go beyond R&B to Country & Western. Two of his favorite singers are Hank Williams and George Jones. Billy also sang with a gospel quartet for four years. He was invited to sing with Blue Groove by saxophonist Michael Estelle. Horns are an important element of the band's sound.
The nine-piece band features Billy and Beverly on vocals, three guitars, two horns, plus bass and drums. They have a large local following, filling spacious venues like Healy's Westside. This summer, they also played at Melrose Park Fest. Their blend of blues and good-time rock 'n' roll is irresistible. They will be followed on the Outta Space stage by the All Night Boogie Band, another group that got its start at Kagan & Gaines. Billy sings the blues with Boogie Band.
Aaron Mitchell, the proprietor of Outta Space, has been a solid supporter of local musicians and artists. Aaron took a former newspaper distribution facility and transformed it into a music venue/artist gallery. It features a large seating area, with a projector, stage and a full bar. Aaron is charging a $5 cover for the Friday night event to benefit Billy and the band.
We're hoping to reach a new audience for Ezra & Mike in south Berwyn because we believe its story about race relations is still timely. We previously showed the film at Slainte on Madison Street. Audience members were respectful in not ordering drinks during the screening. Even patrons of an Irish pub can go 22 minutes without a beer.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com