After much ballyhoo over the Checkerboard's move from Bronzeville, the mecca of blues has finally reopened in well-to-do Hyde Park. While the Rolling Stones, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy will never occupy the Checkerboard stage again, the new incarnation remains devoted to jazz and blues.
Owner L.C. Thurman is determined not to let his club pander to tourists (local and foreign) who come to hear "Sweet Home Chicago," "Mustang Sally," "Hootchie Kootchie Man" and "The Thrill is Gone" over and over again. Instead, on a Saturday night, one might come across Vance Kelly wrapping up his set with a medley of Motown classics.
Some of the Women's Workout World mystique, which previously occupied the site, was passed onto the club. The sizeable space seats 147 people under a soaring ceiling. The acoustics are jarring, and the audience could play baseball under the lights. Save for a few posters behind the stage and a row of framed star photos, decoration is limited to neon beer signs and a strip of checkered tile along the wall. Ashtrays on every table leave a trace of grit. Nothing distracts from the music, except maybe the fawning cocktail waitresses and a photographer selling people their own pictures. The blues is safe, and so are its patrons, who no longer have to tramp down seedy side streets to see some of the greats.
Centerstage Reviewer: David Rosenstock
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