As the nights get colder and the skies begin returning to their autumn grey, neighborhood residents are finding themselves in a precarious position. One day, outdoor activities will no longer seem feasible, and the slight respite from our housebound existence will draw to a close. But until then — at least until then — live music will continue on Logan Boulevard and Washtenaw Avenue.
Every Saturday and Sunday (Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m) Logan Square resident Sergio Castro brings light to the community with live music. Castro’s Live on Logan series is jazz-focused, but it also features cumbia, flamenco, and Afrobeat musicians.
The weekly series began in early July soon after Danny Bauer of the Danny Bauer Quartet mentioned the idea of an outdoor jazz series to Castro. Castro, a fan of jazz, didn’t need much convincing.
”It was easy to imagine,” Castro said. “I live right on Logan Boulevard, my front yard fits a stage, and people can sit in the parkway and watch the concerts while maintaining their distance from each other.”
Live on Logan was an immediate success. “The community response has been fantastic and I think it’s because jazz speaks to everybody, from children to the elderly,” he said.
At each concert, children play and dance, families and friends picnic, and older couples enjoy listening to live music in a safe setting. Not everybody wears a mask, but few people violate the six-foot distancing requirement between groups.
Attendance has only increased since the first Live on Logan show two months ago. Some people happen by the concerts; others are jazz enthusiasts who wouldn’t miss a jazz show for anything. A few jazz diehards drive in from the suburbs.
“I really miss live music,” Chicago resident Elijah Massaro said, who attended a recent Live on Logan concert. “And I miss the community. When I’m here, I can get my fill for both things in a safe environment.”
The community embraces the jazz series, but few people are more appreciative of Live on Logan than the artists. “Musicians have very few choices right now, so they love playing here,” Castro said.
Besides a few groups that played the occasional private gig, most bands and soloists that Live on Logan features hadn’t played to an audience since the pandemic began. For many musicians, the sudden halt in live gigs corresponded to a drastic drop in income.
The jazz series offers these musicians the exposure and liveliness that only concerts allow, but more critically, the concerts provide a financial opportunity.
There is no entry fee to the concerts, but bands print QR codes for their Venmo accounts and paste them on Castro’s fence. Attendees can scan the codes with their phones to give the bands digital tips. Additionally, Castro hangs a tip bucket over his fence, and a few times each concert, he or a musician walks around the parkway with their mask on to collect cash in the bucket.
For Castro, most of the motivation in hosting the event is to help the artists. “100% of the money we collect goes to the musicians,” he said.
The tips are so substantial that many groups ask to return. Pat Mallinger, an accomplished jazz musician and Castro’s former neighbor on Richmond Street, has played four times. Luciano Antonio, the Brazilian guitarist, has played twice. The Danny Bauer Quartet, Live on Logan’s house band, plays every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.
The event has faced very few hurdles. And in a perfect world, Live on Logan would continue as is. But as autumn arrives, many community members and musicians wonder how long the outdoor live music series can continue. It’s the same big question that restaurants with patios, outdoor fitness classes, and other outdoor venues are asking.
For Castro, the answer is still a work in progress. “Oct. 18 is the last scheduled date for Live on Logan, and we’ll go on a case-by-case basis from there,” he said. “If there’s a nice day after the 18th I’d be happy to book a band.”
But the organizer’s vision for Live on Logan extends from there. “We’re talking about getting heat lamps for the musicians, but it draws so much power,” he said. “I’m also thinking about moving the event to an outdoor pavilion come fall and winter.”
Whether Castro can find an outdoor venue or pull a crowd in the fall and winter are still unknown. But he is intent on doing what he can for the jazz community, no matter what the future holds.
“I’m thinking about starting an endowment for the artists to keep them employed after, and we’ll see what happens from here,” he said. “I really want to help these musicians.”
For now, though, the bands will keep playing on, and jazz fans will have access to some semblance of normalcy. Live on Logan has six more weekends until Oct. 18.
To learn more about the concerts, join the Facebook group Live on Logan.
Featured photo: Alex Shur