SunSpots: Music On the Esplanade

Just Hangin' Around
Just Hangin' Around

Music On the Esplanade with Rio Bambo!


Rio Bambo

While I have been to the Chicago Botanic Gardens on several occasions, I finally made it to Music On the Esplanade!  On Tuesday, June 14,  Rio Bamba, a Chicago-based Brazilian jazz-fusion band, performed.  While I was not impressed with the performance, the trip was well-worth it.   If you've never been to the Botanic Garden, you're in for a treat - the gardens are beautiful!  The Garden is about an hour away from the Loop, so it would be a good idea to ditch work a little early in order to beat rush hour(s) traffic. It's also a good idea because getting there early will give you time to enjoy a leisurely, meandering tour of the Garden before the performance.  It might take a couple of trips for you to see everything because the Garden is HUGE!!!

Music On the Esplanade

Generally, visitors are not permitted to picnic at the Garden, but exception is made for concert evenings.  So grab your lawn chair or blanket, bring your own food and drink or stock up at the Garden and enjoy the incredible view and live music.  Admission is free(!), but parking is $20, so grab a whole bunch of friends and pack that car to the rafters!!!  Or, if you plan to go regularly, a one-year membership to the Garden is $70 and includes free parking.

Music on the Esplanade:
Unwind after your work day as you listen to relaxing performances by local musicians set on the Chicago Botanic Garden's front lawn. This live musical series showcases an assortment of genres including Spanish guitar, jazz, and blues. The Esplanade offers a beautiful setting for great entertainment and seating for a wide variety of guests — and only on concert evenings, you may have a picnic there as well!

Top off the evening with light fare and a glass of wine, premium beer, or other beverages available for purchase on the Esplanade.

Music On the Esplanade continues on Tuesdays from 6-8pm through August 30, 2011.  Be sure to also check out Hot Summer Nights on Thursdays through September 1, 2011 - a SummerDance format with live music, preceded by dance lessons!

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Music On the Esplanade

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="454"]Rio Bambo Rio Bambo[/caption]

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To-DosLetter - Happy Father's Day!

Just Hangin' Around
Just Hangin' Around

(Please tune in to WCIU's You & Me This Morning  on Friday to catch me in my first appearance on The Weekender segment with Jeanne Sparrow and Melissa Forman!)





Happy Father's Day!

Real Men CookFather’s Day is right around the corner and, if you’re looking for something To-Do, we’ve got some options for you!  On Sunday, Chicago Bears’ J'Marcus Allen is the co-host of Real Men Cook, which features food samples (included with admission) prepared by Real Men, but also entertainment, health screenings and healthy cooking demos, children’s activities and more!  Each year, Real Men Cook grows in size and scope, but it maintains its focus on food, family and health!

Real Men Charities a member of the White House National Fatherhood Leadership Group, and presenter of the Real Men Cook Father's Day events will officially kick off the White House Year of Strong Fathers and Families Initiative and will be recognizing President Barack Obama as Father of the Year. 

Mischief, Mayhem, and Merriment!Also on Sunday, the South Shore Opera company presents "Mischief, Mayhem, and Merriment!"  This free program takes place at the South Shore Cultural Center and features arias, ensembles and scenes from Figaro, Magic Flute, favorite and rare operas and a rousing closer! The company has three main goals: to make opera and musical theater more accessible to diverse Chicago audiences on the Southside and elsewhere; to enhance the lives of youth by offering music education and outreach programs; and to provide greater opportunities for diverse artists to perform in professional productions. 

While you’re there, you might even be able to get in a reservation at the Parrot Cage, a restaurant operated by the Washburne Culinary Institute – part of Kennedy King College.  Check out their menu!  Or, just picnic or barbeque right there on the park grounds and keep it simple! 

Father's Day Canoe AdventureFor the outdoorsman-Dad, try Father's Day Canoe Adventure at the Chicago Botanic Garden!  For $89-112 per canoe, you can have the rare opportunity to explore the Botanic Garden via its lakes!  On this scenic, hour-long ride, you’ll enjoy canoeing and a bit of an education about efforts to “restore and enhance the Garden’s miles of lakeshore.  There are dining options at the Garden and plenty of restaurants in the surrounding area.  Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to explore the lovely Botanic Garden! 

If your dad loves vintage cars, the Fathers Day - Classic Car Brunch will be right up his alley!  Webster Street fills with classic cars as dads pull out all the stops with their retro rides.  Park your retro ride and enjoy free brunch – or just come to enjoy the sights!

Classic Car Brunch

And if you're looking for someplace to eat on Father's Day, be sure to check out Audarshia Townsend's, the 312 Dining Diva, blog Cool Things To Do On Dad's Big Day . . . for some GREAT recommendations!

On a side note, I've been getting a lot of questions about our annual outing to Ravinia Park.  I've decided to cancel it this year because I thought the $85 price tag (food, drinks, train and lawn ticket)  is far more expensive than it ought to be.  I'll try it again next year - hopefully with sponsorship dollars to help defray the cost.  However, I will do a series of local Simply Social Outings to SummerDance In the Parks, Movies In the Parks and Concerts In the Parks.  Stay tuned for details!

Happy Father's Day!


Daddy, Me and Terrence Daddy, Me and Terrence

There are a few other cool To-Dos coming up that you ought to put on your calendar!

The Experience w/ Ledisi
Music Without Borders: Dandana - A Celebration of Muslim Voices f/ Hakim and Alim Qasimov Ensemble

African Diaspora International Film Festival – Opening Night!
Adler After Dark
Taste of Randolph Street f/ The Heavy (Friday - Sunday)
Summer Lovin'
Hopera: Unleashed A Hip Hop Opera

Rainbow PUSH 40th Annual Conference - Closing The Gap
Lake Meadows Art Fair - Her Legacy A Tribute To Dr. Margaret Burroughs (Saturday and Sunday)
8th Annual Juneteenth Conference & Festival w/ Dr. Jeremiah Wright
Timuel Black - Remembering the New Deal
Will Downing and Lalah Hathaway
Urban Legends Comedy Tour

Jazz On A Summers Day f/ Goran Ivanovic and Andreas Kapsalis & Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston
N'Digo Foundation Gala - A Tribute 2 Men

James H. Lowry: Minority Business Success

Tuesdays on the Terrace: Brent Kimbrough
Julia Huff

Jazzin' at the Shedd - Detour JazFunk – Opening Night!
iRock Jazz Presents Straight Ahead Wednesdays w/ Marqueal Jordan
Summer Breeze: MoFitz Project
World Music Wednesdays: Carioca Trio

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The Festival To-DosLetter


Just Hangin' Around
Just Hangin' Around



Chicagoans: Come Out & Play-yay! It's Festival Season!

June 13th Update: The SummerDance and African Diaspora International Film Festival schedules are released!

June 2nd Update:  The Jazzin' at the Shedd Schedule is released! Detour JazFunk opens on June 22nd!

What is a festival?  According to, it's a period or program of festive activities, cultural events or entertainment.  Well, at Soleil's To-Dos, we err on the side of reckless abandon when it comes to our festival schedule!  You'll find big fests, neighborhood fests, film fests, book fests, music fests, food fests and more!

57th Street Art Fair 57th Street Art Fair

Okay - it may not feel like it, with the weather fluctuating between 84 degrees and freezing, but festival season is here!  I started out the season this past weekend by trying out the Lakeview MayFest at 3100 N. Ashland.  They bill themselves as the "kickoff" to the festival season.  Not!  Why not?  Because it's a small, parking lot "asphalt fest" with hokey music and $10 admission.  (I couldn't even bring myself to pay it!)  In our book, the festival season still kicks off on the first weekend of June with the 57th Street Art Fair! This sprawling festival provides a nice variety of art, food and fun for the whole family (including dogs!) as you meander through a small neighborhood park and tree-lined streets.  And it's free!

Soleil's To-Dos will continue to bring you our pick of festivals and more, with a little commentary on what you can expect.  And here's a rundown on what you can expect this season!

Natalie Cole Natalie Cole - At The Taste

Taste of Chicago:  For a while it was uncertain as to whether there would actually be an admission charge for The Taste this year.  Well, there will be no admission charge, but the City has found other ways to cut costs.  This year, Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival, the Chicago Country Music Festival, Celtic Fest Chicago and the Chicago Gospel Music Festival will be incorporated into The Taste, with each fest representing a themed day of music.  The music line-up suggests that some cost-cutting was done - the only names I recognize are Loretta Lynn and Natalie Cole.  It's a shame that four of our music fests have been cancelled, but at least they'll still have a chance to represent!

SummerDance:  Happy Fifteenth Anniversary, SummerDance!  Every year, that dance floor gets tighter and tighter, but this year, a dance floor expansion is underway!  That's right - the dance floor expands from 4,600 to 5,000 square feet.  Okay, that's a little roomier, but not as roomy as SummerDance In the Parks! As in the past couple of years, on select Wednesdays you'll be able to enjoy SummerDance at Humboldt Park Boathouse, Jackson Park/63rd St Beach and the Athletic Field Park.  If you want to spread out your blanket or chill in a lawn chair with some food and libations, SummerDance In the Parks is a nice, uncongested opportunity to get your picnic on!  SummerDance starts on July 7th, but schedule hasn't been released yet.  You can bet we'll have it posted as soon as we get it!

Outdoor Film Festival:  Cancelled, but . . .

Let's Do It Again Let's Do It Again

Movies In the Parks:  Isn't!  There are tons of movies being shown in parks all over the City!  We're especially excited about some documentaries such as Straight, No Chaser - Thelonious Monk; Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones; and, The Hip-Hop Project.  Young and old will enjoy The Wiz; Let's Do It Again and ET.   We've made our picks based on neighborhoods (parks we love and parks we'd like to discover) and the movies themselves, but you can also explore the full schedule on the Chicago Park District website.  At MIP, you'll find plenty of room to spread out and barbeque.  Amble on in at your leisure and you'll still find room to enjoy the flick!  MIP is free(!) and a perfect night out for families, loving couples and . . . hmmm GROUP OUTINGS!!!  Yeah, I'll pick a movie and a date and I'll bring the mojitos (uh . . . I mean fresh lemonade with mint leaves, Officer)!!!  Stay tuned for details on this Soleil's Simply Social Outing . . .

Stephanie! African Festival of the Arts Photo by Lee Bey

On behalf of Soleil's To-Dos, in order to make things easier for you To-Do it - I get out To-Do it myself!  Please be sure to check out SunSpots for my blog posts that cover a number of summer To-Dos - with more to come this summer!  Stay with us as we continue to update the festival schedule and provide you with a comprehensive guide to your summer faves - all in one place!  Take advantage of our calendar features to set e-mail or text reminders, forward To-Dos to friends & visitors, receive e-mail or text notices of updates and so much more!

Don't forget about Bike the Drive on Sunday, May 29th and Musician's Network MECCA's Music Mondays kicks off at the Harbor on Monday, May 30th with the Best  of the Best Open Mic performers from 2010!

Whatever you decide To-Do, have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend!




Movies in the Parks


Ravinia Park Music Festival

Music Without Borders

Tuesdays On the Terrace

Jazzin' at the Shedd

Music On the Esplanade

Country Club Hills Theater

Hot Summer Nights

SunSpots: Ramsey Lewis - Proclamation of Hope

Stephanie's Just Hangin' Around!


Proclamation of Hope -
A Symphonic Tribute to Abraham Lincoln


With this post, I make a slight departure, as I normally only blog about things To-Do outside of your home.  This time, you have my permission to stay home on Thursday, April 14th; provided that you tune in to WTTW's Premiere television presentation: Proclamation of Hope at 9pm. 

Ramsey Lewis Ramsey Lewis at Preview Reception

Grammy Award-winning Ramsey Lewis is the composer of Proclamation of Hope - a "large-scale, mixed media, symphonic poem" - in tribute to Abraham Lincoln.  Each of the eight orchestral movements (flavored with jazz, gospel and R&B and vocals by Dee Alexander) was inspired by Lincoln himself or an event that impacted Lincoln's life.  Providing a backdrop for the musical performance are images  selected and choreographed by visual designer Michael Coakes.  Collaborating with Ramsey to add the "poetry" to this "symphonic poem," is Guthrie P. Ramsey, University of Pennsylvania professor and author of Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop.

Speaking on his aspirations for Proclamation of Hope, Ramsey says:
"I not only hoped to inspire people to want to learn more about Abraham Lincoln, but to portray the gains of African Americans and our country while showing challenges yet to be overcome. I hope my audience will feel the inspiration that I felt composing this work as they listen to my music and watch the stirring images on screen."

Ramsey Lewis, Introducing the Preview

At a preview screening and reception to celebrate the upcoming premiere, Ramsey was radiant!  Family, friends and fans gathered to celebrate Ramsey's accomplishment, enjoy the "trailer," cocktails and hors d’ouevres at a rather u nique venue - The Craftsman, owned by Sears and truly a craftsman's paradise.  (Actually, I wouldn't mind getting in there to play a bit myself!  There was really cool equipment at various hands-on demonstration stations . . . there were large televisions with live feeds all over the place and riding lawnmowers with cupholders - pretty handy for my cup of wine during the video preview!)  If you just can't stand the anticipation, you can checkout either a short or long preview.

Proclamation of Hope premieres nationwide on April 21st, so be sure to check local listings if you miss it on April 14th! You can also find it streaming free online on the PBS Video Portal.


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The Craftsman The Craftsman - A Real Cool, Real Rugged Venue!



Teesee Fambro Hooks and Dee Alexander Teesee Fambro Hooks and Dee Alexander





SunSpots: Jumping the Broom, starring Angela Bassett










Advance Screening: Jumping the Broom


I had another groovy Chicago evening (on my first visit to Icon Theaters on Roosevelt!) at the advance screening of Jumping the Broom, starring Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine!  Desiree Rogers was in attendance to introduce Angela Bassett, who spoke briefly prior to the screening. 

Angela Bassett Angela Bassett at Screening Reception

Jumping the Broom tells a light-hearted and fun (but familiar) tale of the family conflict that ensues immediately prior to the marriage of a new, young couple.  Angela Bassett (who looks wonderful) and Laz Alonzo (who portrays, Jason, her future son-in-law)  are definitely standouts. The funniest moment in the movie comes after a scene in which Loretta Devine's character chastises her brother-in-law (portrayed by Mike Epps) for using bad grammar:

Loretta:  "Ain't nuthin' can be done about it now."

Mike Epps (completely deadpan): "Correction: there isn't nuthin' can be done about it now."

Following the screening and photo opps with Angela, Richard Dent and others, Jennifer Bridgeforth welcomed us to her Phoenix Gallery for a reception featuring complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres courtesy of Clark Catering, with event planning by Events by Eve.

Ebony - May CoverIn connection with Jumping the Broom, Ebony's Fashion Fair Cosmetics (Ebony was a sponsor of the screening) has developed a line of cosmetics inspired by the film, including lip gloss, eye shadows and mascara (available only at Macy's) - and, ladies, you will want to recreate some of the makeup looks you'll see in the movie!  Jumping the Broom will be in theaters on May 6th, but, while you wait, be sure to take advantage of giveaways and other special offers through the website

***April 13, 2011 Update:  Ebony has announced a special giveaway!  Enter to win a private showing for up to 100 people in your hometown!  Deadline to enter is April 30, 2011.