Chicago, a “tale of fame, fortune and all that jazz,” has been honored with six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy. The touring production — starring Heisman Trophy winner and 2017 NFL Hall of Fame nominee Eddie George — comes to Uihlein Hall at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, April 25–30 (see website for show times). Tickets range from $31–$179. 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org
Next Act Theatre presents the Milwaukee premiere of Bloomsday by Steven Dietz, running through April 30 at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $30–$40, depending on performance day. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. April 20–21, April 24, April 26–28; 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. April 22 and April 29; and 2 p.m. April 23 and April 30. Directed by Joseph Hanreddy, the production is described as an “Irish time-travel love story that blends wit, humor and heartache into a buoyant, moving appeal for making the most of the present before it is past.” 414-278-0765 or nextact.org
Milwaukee Collects features works of art from local private collections — from Impressionist paintings to hallmarks of Art Deco design — by artists from Jules Chéret to Ed Ruscha. The exhibition runs through May 21 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee. Museum hours are Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Thursdays when the museum is open until 8 p.m. Museum admission is $17 for adults, $15 for students and seniors (65+), and free for kids 12 and under. Milwaukee Collects is drawn from nearly 50 collections and includes more than 100 objects. 414-224-3200 or mam.org
Drawn Out features giant compositions from Todd Mrozinski’s new series of graphite drawings of trees and clouds — which stretch up to 7 feet long — as well as Mark Ottens’ hallucinational, microscopically detailed 8-foot pen drawing, referred to as an “epic doodle.” The exhibition includes small-scale works by Mrozinski, Ottens, Adolph Rosenblatt and recent MIAD grad Melissa Lee Johnson. Drawn Out runs through June 4 at Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St. Fifth Floor, in Milwaukee. Hours are Thursdays–Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. 414-870-9930 or portraitsocietygallery.com
April 22 to April 28
The Wisconsin Area Music Industry honors area musicians and industry members at the 37th Annual WAMI Awards, taking place at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee, April 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, with VIP packages also available. The event features performances from Wisconsin artists including The Prince Experience, The Pukes, This Time Tomorrow All-Star Band, Scott E. Berendt and The Us Project, Bella Cain, Green Screen Kid, NO/NO, Big N’ Tasty Blues (house band) and a Tribute to Al Jarreau and Clyde Stubblefield. 414-286-3663 or pabsttheater.org
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s biennial event Hair Affair: The Art of Hair, has become known as the wildest runway show and outlandish fundraiser for the museum, celebrating the intersection of art and hair design with local salons and stylists. The event takes place 7–11 p.m. April 27 at the museum, 227 State St., Madison. Tickets are $60–$90. The event also will feature hors d’oeuvre from Fresco, cocktails, a live DJ, and a silent auction. mmoca.org or 608-257-0158
Stand-up comedian, podcast host and actor Marc Maron brings The Too Real Tour to Wisconsin for two shows. The first is April 27 at 7 p.m. at The Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $29.50. The second is April 28 at 7 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre, 216 State St., Madison. Tickets are $15–$30. Maron is known for his hit podcast WTF with Marc Maron, which averages 6.5 million downloads each month. He also has appeared on television talk shows, including those hosted by David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Bill Maher and Conan O’Brien. 414-286-3663 or pabsttheater.org and 608-250-2600 or madisonorpheum.com
Arte Para Todos (Art for Everyone) is a four-day music and art series — running April 27–30 — where all participating local bands are waiving their fees and 100 percent of proceeds from each event goes to supporting art and music programs in four local schools. The APT 2017 events are split up by neighborhood, including Walker’s Point, Bay View, Harambee, Riverwest and the East Side (see website for schedule). The event will span 28 venues and feature more than 90 bands and many visual artists. Tickets are $20 for a four-day pass, $13 for one-day pass, and $8 cash at the door for any event in the festival. arteparatodos.me.
April 29 to May 6
The Historic Milwaukee Poetry Event features The Last Poets, consisting of several groups of poets and musicians from the late 1960s African-American civil rights movement — considered the rappers of the civil rights era and the godfathers of hip-hop. The event takes place April 29 at 7 p.m. at Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $25. 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org
SOUL is an evening celebrating the culmination of creative work done by young people and professional artists working in collaboration during Express Yourself Milwaukee’s yearlong multi-disciplinary arts exploration. The performance brings together dance, music, spoken word and visual arts. SOUL will be performed May 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. The family-friendly event is free and open to the public. 414-272-3498 or exyomke.org
Comedian and transformational speaker Kyle Cease says of himself, “If Eckhart Tolle and Jim Carrey had a baby, that baby would be Kyle Cease.” He brings his one-of-a-kind, self-help wisdom to The Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, May 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30. Each ticket buyer will receive a copy of Cease’s new book I Hope I Screw This Up. 414-286-3663 or pabsttheater.org
The Florentine Opera draws its 83rd season to a close with Rossini’s tale of opera’s most famous barber Figaro, The Barber of Seville, under the baton of Joseph Rescigno. Performances take place May 5 at 7:30 p.m. and May 7 at 2:30 p.m. at Uihlein Hall at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $40–$158. 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org
Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood of Whose Line is it Anyway?!bring their comedy improv chops back to town with an all-new show — The Scared Scriptless Tour — for their 13th year at The Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, May 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50–$49.50. Mochrie calls the show “the most fun you can have with a theater full of people that’s legal and doesn’t include washing up.” 414-286-3663 or pabsttheater.org
Formed in 1995, Recycled Percussion became a national phenomenon during its performances on America’s Got Talent in 2009, and currently headlines in Las Vegas at the Saxe Theater at Planet Hollywood. The group brings its “junk rock music” to the Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, for shows May 6 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45. 414-273-7206 or marcuscenter.org
President Obama on Jan. 10 delivered his farewell address to the American people, thanking his supporters, celebrating the ways the administration changed the country for the better these past eight years and offering his vision on where we all go from here.
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Chicago! (Applause.) It’s good to be home! (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause.) All right, everybody sit down. (Applause.) We’re on live TV here. I’ve got to move. (Applause.) You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions. (Laughter.) Everybody have a seat. (Applause.)
My fellow Americans — (applause) — Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight, it’s my turn to say thanks. (Applause.) Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people, in living rooms and in schools, at farms, on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts — those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day, I have learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man. (Applause.)
So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s. And I was still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life. And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: I can’t do that.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.
After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government. It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.
What a radical idea. A great gift that our Founders gave to us: The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.
For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. (Applause.) It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan. And why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well. (Applause.)
So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional — not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow. Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. Sometimes it’s been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some. (Applause.)
If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — (applause) — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 — (applause) — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens — (applause) — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. (Applause.) That’s what you did.
You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started. (Applause.)
In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy.
AUDIENCE: Nooo —
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, no, no — the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected President to the next. (Applause.) I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. (Applause.) Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.
We have what we need to do so. We have everything we need to meet those challenges. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. (Applause.) Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.
That’s what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy. Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one. (Applause.)
There have been moments throughout our history that threatens that solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland. In other words, it will determine our future.
To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again. (Applause.) The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. (Applause.) Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said and I mean it — if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it. (Applause.)
Because that, after all, is why we serve. Not to score points or take credit, but to make people’s lives better. (Applause.)
But for all the real progress that we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class. (Applause.) That’s the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.
But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.
And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need — (applause) — to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now, and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible. (Applause.)
We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.
There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. (Applause.) You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.
But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do. (Applause.) If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. (Applause.) If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce. (Applause.) And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.
So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system. (Applause.) That is what our Constitution and our highest ideals require. (Applause.)
But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch — (applause) — who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention, and listen. (Applause.)
For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s — (applause) — that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised. (Applause.)
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles — who it was said we’re going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened. (Applause.)
So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder. We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own. (Applause.)
And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there. (Applause.)
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. But politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter — (applause) — then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. (Applause.)
And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? (Applause.) How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating. Because, as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you. (Applause.)
Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil; we’ve doubled our renewable energy; we’ve led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. (Applause.) But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders. (Applause.)
It is that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse — the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.
It’s that spirit — a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might — that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression; that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but built on principles — the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and speech, and assembly, and an independent press. (Applause.)
That order is now being challenged — first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets and open democracies and and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.
Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, because of our intelligence officers, and law enforcement, and diplomats who support our troops — (applause) — no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years. (Applause.) And although Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists — including bin Laden. (Applause.) The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. (Applause.)
And to all who serve or have served, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief. And we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude. (Applause.)
But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. (Applause.)
And that’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. (Applause.) That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are. (Applause.)
That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.
So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. (Applause.) ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. (Applause.) Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) — and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.
Which brings me to my final point: Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. (Applause.) All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. (Applause.) When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote. (Applause.) When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. (Applause.) When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our congressional districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes. (Applause.)
But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.
Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. (Applause.) We, the people, give it meaning. With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge. (Applause.) Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.
In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.” And so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one. (Applause.)
America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them. (Applause.)
It falls to each of us to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. (Applause.) Citizen.
So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. (Applause.) If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. (Applause.) If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. (Applause.) Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.
Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America — and in Americans — will be confirmed. (Applause.)
Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in a Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I’ve seen wounded warriors who at points were given up for dead walk again. I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other. (Applause.)
So that faith that I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change — that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined. And I hope your faith has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home, you were there with us in 2004, in 2008, 2012 — (applause) — maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off. Let me tell you, you’re not the only ones. (Laughter.)
Michelle — (applause) — Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side — (applause) — for the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. (Applause.) You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humor. (Applause.) You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. (Applause.) And the new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. (Applause.) So you have made me proud. And you have made the country proud. (Applause.)
Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women. You are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion. (Applause.) You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad. (Applause.)
To Joe Biden — (applause) — the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son — you were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best. (Applause.) Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. And we love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives. (Applause.)
To my remarkable staff: For eight years — and for some of you, a whole lot more — I have drawn from your energy, and every day I tried to reflect back what you displayed — heart, and character, and idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. You guarded against cynicism. And the only thing that makes me prouder than all the good that we’ve done is the thought of all the amazing things that you’re going to achieve from here. (Applause.)
And to all of you out there — every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change — you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will be forever grateful. (Applause.) Because you did change the world. (Applause.) You did.
And that’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.
Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America. (Applause.) You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace. You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands. (Applause.)
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. (Applause.) I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.
I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can. (Applause.)
Yes, we did. Yes, we can. (Applause.)
Thank you. God bless you. May God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
When Michelle Obama considered the daunting prospect of becoming first lady, she avoided turning to books by her predecessors for guidance.
Instead, she turned inward.
“I didn’t want to be influenced by how they defined the role,” Mrs. Obama once said. She instinctively knew she had to define the job “very uniquely and specifically to me and who I was.”
That meant doing it her way: shaping the role around her family, specifically her two young daughters, and not letting her new responsibilities consume her.
Throughout her eight years, Mrs. Obama has been a powerful, if somewhat enigmatic, force in her husband’s White House. She chose her moments in the often unforgiving spotlight with great care and resisted pressure to become more engaged in the mudslinging of partisan politics.
At times, she’s been more traditional than some expected — or wanted from this first lady. At other times, she’s been eager to update stuffy conventions associated with the office.
As she navigated her way through, the woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago discovered a talent for television and a comfort with Hollywood A-listers, haute couture and social media. And she used all of those elements to promote her causes — childhood obesity, support for military families, girls’ education — with at least some success.
When she leaves the White House next month just a few days after celebrating her 53rd birthday, Mrs. Obama will do so not just as a political figure, but as a luminary with international influence.
Friends say she charted that path largely on her own.
“What she did was she sort of listened to herself and allowed her own inner voice and strength and direction to lead her in the way that felt most authentic to her,” Oprah Winfrey told The Associated Press. “And I think watching somebody makes you want to do that for yourself.”
Mrs. Obama grappled with the childhood obesity issue before becoming first lady; a doctor had warned her about her daughters’ weight.
At the White House, she decided to share her experience with the country and started by planting the first vegetable garden there in more than 60 years. That led the following year, in 2010, to the launch of her anti-childhood-obesity initiative, “Let’s Move.”
The first lady appealed to elected officials, food makers, sellers, restaurant chains and others to try to make healthy food more accessible. She lobbied lawmakers to add more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and limit fat, sugar and sodium in the federal school lunch program.
That led to the first update to the program in decades, and for Mrs. Obama the process was akin to a crash course in Washington sausage-making. Mrs. Obama’s effort was not universally welcomed. Republicans in Congress wanted to reverse the rules. Others said Mrs. Obama was acting like the “food police.” Even the kids she wanted to help added to the backlash. Some students posted photos of lunches they found unappealing on Twitter with the hashtag (hash)ThanksMichelleObama, or simply tossed the food into the trash.
Mrs. Obama had won. But she would never again try to work closely with Congress on an issue. She chose instead to use her platform to press industry to change its ways.
It’s too early to know how Mrs. Obama’s efforts may affect childhood obesity rates long term, but advocates believe she helped change the national dialogue around healthy eating. And although incoming Republican President Donald Trump, a proud patron of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, has yet to comment on school meal regulations, advocates worry about the fate of Mrs. Obama’s effort under a White House and Congress that will be controlled by the GOP.
Reflecting on her childhood obesity work, Mrs. Obama said some people initially wondered why she would bother with such a “softball issue” but “now, all those challenges and criticisms are off the table.” She told talk-show host Rachael Ray that “at least we’ve become very aware as a society that this is one of our most important health issues.”
Mrs. Obama’s push to put the country on a health kick extended to exercise — and she made herself exhibit A.
To promote “Let’s Move,” the first lady often donned athletic wear and ran around with kids at sports clinics, some on the South Lawn. She twirled a hula hoop around her waist 142 times and kick-boxed in a video of the gym workout that helped tone the upper arms she showed off regularly, as in her official White House photo.
She did pushups with Ellen DeGeneres, raced in a potato sack against late-night TV’s Jimmy Fallon in the East Room and shimmied with a turnip in a brief video popular on social media — all to show that exercise can be fun.
“I’m pretty much willing to make a complete fool of myself to get our kids moving,” she once said.
Instead of going the fool’s route, Mrs. Obama turned herself into a fitness guru and a figure significantly more popular than her husband.
A role not imagined
First lady was never a position Mrs. Obama imagined for herself, given her modest upbringing, her distaste for politics and having never seen her skin color on a U.S. president and first lady.
Her early aversion to politics developed while watching her father navigate Chicago politics for his job with the city water department, and was reinforced by her husband’s pursuit of a political career. Both Obamas have said his political ambition had strained their marriage and family.
Once in the White House, Mrs. Obama vowed to protect her then 10- and 7-year-old daughters’ right to a normal childhood. She declared being “mom in chief” to Malia and Sasha as her priority, irking women who hoped the first lady might be less constrained by stereotypes.
She showed few signs of trying to push those boundaries.
Mrs. Obama was an enthusiastic White House hostess. She rarely spoke about issues that were outside of her portfolio. She crafted her public schedule around her daughters’ activities and limited her travel so she could spend time with them.
The Obamas’ parenting style — often described by both Obamas as warm, but strict — made them role models on that front, a point of pride, particularly in the African-American community.
“We have heard no Obama children drama,” said Ingrid Saunders Jones, national chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women.
Mrs. Obama didn’t really begin to open up about the historic nature of her service as the first black woman to become first lady until the end of the presidency was in sight. She mostly addressed the subject in interviews when she was asked to reflect about it, and discussed how important it was for children to see a black president and first lady.
Longtime friend and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said Mrs. Obama was often reluctant to talk about such matters earlier because she wanted her legacy to be more than just her place in history.
“Her goal is not what she is, but what she does,” Jarrett said.
One last campaign
In the final weeks of the presidential race, Mrs. Obama set aside her distaste for politics to wage one last campaign, an ultimately futile attempt to help elect Democrat Hillary Clinton. She quickly became one of most passionate Democratic voices opposing Trump and calling him out for “bragging about sexually assaulting women” in comments caught on a 2005 video.
“I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics,” she said at a Clinton rally shown live on cable TV news, rare exposure for a first lady in a campaign. If Trump’s past words are “painful to us as grown women,” she asked, “what do you think this is doing to our children?”
It was yet another moment when Mrs. Obama again seemed to be following her path rather than precedent.
The Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years and LeBron James brought an NBA title to long suffering Cleveland. You know that, but how much do you really know about the year in sports? Here’s a quiz to find out:
Who was happiest that the Cubs broke their 108-year drought and won the World Series?
A. Steve Bartman, who can finally show his face in the windy city.
B. Co-workers of Cubs fans, who no longer have to listen to their long suffering tales of woe.
C. Owner Tom Ricketts, who celebrated by raising ticket prices by almost 20 percent.
How did the Russians get the idea to switch doping samples in the Sochi Olympics?
A. Got tired of seeing Norwegians win all the medals.
B. Figured hacking urine bottles was just as easy as hacking emails.
C. Vladimir Putin knew someone in doping control.
Why did Ryan Lochte appear on Dancing with the Stars.
A. Thought a win would get him the respectability his Olympic gold medals didn’t.
B. Heard the show was big in Rio.
C. Knew that dancing around the cameras was easier than dancing around the truth.
What did they do with the golf course built for the Olympics in Rio?
A. Now the home of the swankiest favela in the city.
B. New practice ground for the Brazilian polo team.
C. Home course for the annual Brazil/Ecuador matches.
Why was the NFL so eager to get a team back in Los Angeles?
A . Jack Nicholson needed something to do after finally giving up on the Lakers.
B. Thought the nation’s second largest metropolitan area deserved the NFL’s second worst team.
C. Roger Goodell thought it might help him break into acting.
Why did Peyton Manning retire?
A. Said Omaha so many times he decided to move there.
B. Decided future better served by singing annoying jingles in TV commercials.
C. Knew he would never again be able to throw for 141 yards in a Super Bowl.
Penn State and Michigan were left out of college football playoffs, causing much consternation among their fans. Why?
A. School administrators mistakenly thought graduation rates were the main criteria for deciding who plays.
B. The Magic 8 ball came up “No” when playoff committee members asked about including them.
C. Both schools wanted their students out partying New Year’s Eve instead of watching football games.
Why do Oakland fans secretly want the Raiders to move to Las Vegas?
A. Because the losses that happen there will stay there.
B. They won’t feel out of place walking around Vegas dressed in studded leather and masks.
C. Heard Siegfried and Roy could come up with some magic for the team.
What did Ronda Rousey do after her shocking knockout loss?
A. Threatened to beat up any reporter who asked her a question.
B. Became co-host of the Ellen Show.
What did Tiger Woods bring as an assistant captain to the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team?
A. Excellent cart driving skills.
B. Great tales to tell about the old days when he actually played in the event.
C. His Gulfstream jet to get out of town quickly.
What did Joey “Jaws” Chestnut do after regaining his title by eating 70 hot dogs and buns in the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest?
A. Took a victory lap around Coney Island in the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.
B. Put some mustard on a hot dog.
C. Quickly excused himself.
Las Vegas got a new hockey team, the city’s first pro franchise. Why did they name it the Vegas Golden Knights instead of the Las Vegas Golden Knights?
A. Afraid city’s image of being full of drunken carousers would offend NHL fans.
B. Didn’t want Canadians to be confused and travel to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to watch their teams play.
C. Actually thought locals called it Vegas.
Why did Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey decide not to play in the Sun Bowl
A. Needed the extra time to bone up for the NFL’s Wonderlic test.
B. Thought team should have been picked for TaxSlayer Bowl instead.
C. Was upset that player’s gift bag didn’t include the souvenir game ball given out by the Dollar General Bowl.
City workers have removed two Donald Trump honorary street signs near his downtown Chicago hotel and condominium tower, The Associated Press reports.
Mike Claffey of the city’s Department of Transportation said the signs were removed from their posts near the Trump International Hotel & Tower on Sunday. He told the Chicago Sun-Times that he doesn’t know what became of them.
The latest removal of Trump honorary street signs comes about two months after a third Trump honorary street sign in the area was stolen.
Last month, the Chicago City Council voted to strip the honorary designation from the President-elect because of his characterization of Chicago as a war zone” during his campaign.
The massive Trump sign on the hotel, which has been an ongoing source of contention between the president-elect and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, remains hard to miss. The letters in Trump’s name are 20-feet tall, perhaps rivaling the size of his ego.
Blair Kamin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic for the Chicago Tribune has validated the mayor’s criticism.
“If this sign was in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, nobody would care — but it is in Chicago, and in a part of Chicago full of great buildings from the 1920s to the 1960s and onward,” Kamin said in June 2014. “None of the other towers have signs on them.”
Trump responded as usual, blasting Kamin as “a third-rate architectural critic.”
Although the tacky sign remains, a local architect is pushing for the installation of four giant pig balloons to block it from public view.
A rare full-court session of a U.S. appeals court in Chicago heard arguments this week on whether protections under a 1964 Civil Rights Act should be expanded to cover workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, as hopes dim among some gay rights activists that the question will be resolved in their favor following Republican election victories.
Several of the 11 judges at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled they are ready to enter what would be a historic ruling broadening the scope the 52-year-old landmark law, with the court directing the toughest questions during the hourlong hearing at a lawyer who argued only Congress could extend the protections.
Judge Richard Posner repeatedly interrupted the lawyer representing an Indiana community college that was sued by a lesbian for alleged discrimination and at one point asked: “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection?” When attorney John Maley said he couldn’t think of anyone who would be harmed, Posner shot back, “So, what’s the big deal?”
Even if the 7th Circuit becomes the first U.S. appellate court to rule that the law covers sexual-orientation bias, legal experts say the issue is likely to land before the Supreme Court. Chances of a majority of justices agreeing that workplace protections should include LGBT workers will be slimmer if President-elect Donald Trump fills a high court vacancy with a social conservative.
A GOP-majority House and Senate also makes it unlikely the next Congress will amend the statute, said Chicago-based labor lawyer Barry Hartstein.
“You can’t count on Congress or the courts,” said Hartstein, who wants the act to cover LGBT workers.
President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the position that the law already prohibits discrimination of LGBT workers. It has criticized courts for a reluctance to reach the same conclusion.
The 7th Circuit decided in October to rehear the case of teacher Kimberly Hively, who claimed Ivy Tech Community College didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian. The full court vacated the July finding by three of its own judges that the civil rights law doesn’t cover sexual-orientation bias. A new ruling is expected within several weeks.
The hearing focused on the meaning of the word ‘sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the provision that bans workplace bias based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Multiple court rulings back Maley’s contention that Congress meant for the word to refer only to whether a worker was male or female. Given that, he said it would be wrong to stretch the meaning of ‘sex’ in the statute to also include sexual orientation.
The school’s lawyer conceded the law is imprecise, but added: “That makes it an issue for Congress.”
Several judges challenged him for arguing it’s not a federal court’s place to mandate that a law do something lawmakers didn’t originally intend for it to do.
“You seem to think the meaning of the statute was frozen on the day it passed,” Posner said to Maley. “That, of course, is false.” And the judge added: “Are we bound by what people thought in 1964?”
He and other judges pointed to bans on interracial marriage as examples of laws that changed or were expanded by courts as societal norms changed.
In his presentation, the teacher’s lawyer pointed to what he described as the absurdity of one 1980s Supreme Court finding that if workers are discriminated against because they don’t behave around the office by norms of how men or women should behave, then that does violate the Civil Rights Law. But if a man or woman is discriminated against at work for being gay that was found not to violate the Civil Rights Act.
“You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos,” attorney Gregory Nevins said. “But you can if she’s lesbian.”
Protesters vowing to build a large-scale protest movement to resist further attacks on immigrants, Muslims, women and other scapegoated targets of the Donald Trump campaign are holding a mass march that begins noon today at Chicago’s Federal Plaza, on the corner of Adams and Dearborn Streets.
Participants will march to Wabash Avenue and the Chicago River. As of early this morning, 13,000 people had already RSVPed on Facebook that they’re attending the event.
“The election of Trump will surely lead to a deep instability in society that will only endanger the most vulnerable among us,” said John Beacham, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition and initiator of Chicago’s 10,000-strong protest the night after the election.
“It is inevitable that millions of people will actively resist a Trump administration,” Beacham continued in a press release. “A grassroots, fighting progressive movement will emerge to protect people victimized by the hard-right cabal that is set to occupy Washington. The aim of our protest on Saturday is to give voice and expression to the overwhelming majority of people in Chicago who utterly reject the open racism, sexism and bigotry of Trump.”
“Years of ‘dog whistle’ sloganeering by Republican primary opponents, and the bailouts of the banks and the mass deportations of immigrants by the Obama administration have paved the way for the far right, openly racist populism of Trump,” said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network and one of the protest organizers, in the same release.
Besides ANSWER Chicago and the Gay Liberation Network, endorsers of the action include Black Lives Matter Women of Faith, La Voz de los de Abajo, People United Against Oppression, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and CODEPINK Chicago.
At the end of the summer I noticed an article by Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee promoting a three-track EP — Gravity— by a producer named Thane. As soon as I heard Thane’s soulful blend of jazz, electronic, hip-hop and R&B I was in awe.
I immediately thought to myself, “Who the f*ck is Thane?” I like to think that I pay pretty close attention to the Wisconsin music scene, but Thane seemingly came out of nowhere.
Less than a month later the mysterious Thane released a debut full-length album, Topia. The exceptional 12-track record features guest appearances by local and national artists including Mick Jenkins, Amanda Huff, BJ the Chicago Kid, and one of 2016’s breakout stars, Anderson .Paak.
It is rare for a debut album from an unknown talent to be so fully formed, with such a distinct, assured and progressive sound, yet that is precisely what Thane has accomplished with Topia.
Determined to uncover the identity of this up-and-coming maestro, I searched for clues. I could only find one picture of Thane on the Internet and it is of a tall, young man whose eyes can’t be seen. Local jazz musician Jamie Breiwick appears on both the Gravity EP and Topia.
My first guess was that Thane is a former student of Breiwick’s. When I reached out to Breiwick he debunked my hunch and passed along a phone number for Thane’s manager. An interview was set up for a Friday night at Colectivo on the Lake.
Going into my interview with Thane and his manager Jake Kestly I was nervous. I had no frame of reference except for the music. Thane appeared to be nervous as well. It was one of his first in-person interviews.
Thane grew up and still resides in the small town of Pewaukee about 20 minutes west of Milwaukee. He describes his home as having a “strong music environment.” As a child he took piano lessons and picked up a brass instrument called the euphonium, which is similar to the baritone but with an additional valve. In middle school he played in the jazz band and kept it up in high school for a few years. Thane continues to play the euphonium and incorporates the instrument in his production.
Like many young musical minds, Thane was aided by an older sibling with good taste. His brother Jake, who is two years his elder and now his manager, turned Thane on to hip-hop and electronic artists like Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. Jake initially bought production equipment for himself, but according to Thane, “he kind of sucked.” Thane first tried digital production at age 15 — within a couple of years he had crafted over 600 beats.
“For the first two or three years I would go home and make music until the late hours of the night, almost every single night,” says Thane. “It was kind of an escape from reality.”
While Thane and Jake’s parents didn’t quite understand the boys mission, they were always supportive, allowing them to work into the wee hours of the night, despite the loud, often repetitive sounds coming from Thane’s room.
The brothers attended private, Christian schools throughout their childhood. It was difficult to find like-minded people. Listening to and discovering music was their primary means of entertainment.
“There was nothing else to do. There weren’t any parties or anything to go to in our town. We had a few friends that were really into it. So we’d talk about music and get really excited and go to shows at Turner Hall and in Chicago,” says Jake.
Topia is an expression of how the Kestly brothers navigated their adolescence. Rather than an overtly positive (utopia) or negative (dystopia) existence, “Topia” is about a neutral understanding of your reality — it is what you make it.
The concept is also a commentary on the individual versus their environment. The first words heard on Topia are actually a clip from a Ted Talk by a neuroscientist who is discussing how the brain works that suggests we have more power over our fate than we might think.
As Thane’s production skills developed, Jake approached him about putting together an album. Thane was only 17 at the time. The logical first step for a producer would be to create a SoundCloud or YouTube page and put up a few beats. Maybe reach out to a local rapper/singer to collaborate on a track.
But from the beginning, the Kestly brothers aimed to create a conceptual album that featured national talent. With no direct connections to the Milwaukee music scene, the Kestly brothers set their sights outside of the city for potential Topia collaborations.
Jake — who worked as an intern at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee during the early stages of Topia— reached out to artists all over the globe. The artists who ended up on the album were people who vibed with both the concept of the album and the music Thane created.
The beat for “Responsibilities,” a stand out track featuring BJ the Chicago Kid and Anderson .Paak, was not originally intended for the album, but an impromptu selection when BJ wasn’t feeling the groove of the initial beat.
When my girlfriend and I first heard the recorded version of “Responsibilities” we looked at each other and she said, “I’ve heard this before.” We are almost certain Anderson .Paak performed the song at the Soundset Music Festival in Minnesota this May. When I told the Kestly brothers this their eyes lit up.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, because he really loved the track. His manager contacted us and said he was jumping up and down when he finished recording it,” says Thane.
The other featured artists on Topia include Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, LA singer Low Leaf, London poet/rapper Kojey Radical, Boston ambient musician Solei, plus a few “SoundCloud artists,” meaning musicians similar to Thane, who have music online but not much presence elsewhere. They include Memphis-based Jay Stones and Milwaukee singer Marxus. Instrumentation is provided by Thane (keys, guitar, euphonium), Jamie Breiwick (trumpet), Earl Turner (saxophone) and Aubrey Ellickson (violin).
‘STREETS OF MILWAUKEE’
On my favorite Topia track “Metropolis” we first hear dramatic strings, the sounds of cars driving by, then Amanda Huff’s voice. Next a beat drops and then disappears before haunting synths come in and a vocal sample says, “These are the streets of Milwaukee, something many of you have never seen.”
Later on “Metropolis” a frenzied drum beat drops and we hear Kanye West say, “That’s the main thing people are controlled by, their perception of themselves. They’re slowed down by their perception of themselves.”
Thane confirmed my suspicion that “Metropolis” is commenting on how Milwaukeeans tend to have a chip on their shoulder. Kanye — a Chicago-native — was an interesting choice to convey the message, considering the Kestly brothers have followed the Chicago hip-hop scene closer than Milwaukee’s. They admit that the Milwaukee music scene is becoming more receptive to collaboration than when they started. Jake cites the Strange Fruit Festival that took place in August as a successful example of the Milwaukee hip-hop, jazz, soul, and R&B scenes blending.
“I’m pretty familiar with everybody in the Milwaukee scene at this point,” says Thane. “I like Milo a lot, I like King Courteen, and Kiings are pretty good. Melvv is a big producer in Madison right now. Trapo and IshDARR are dope too.”
Since the release of Topia the Kestly brothers have been contacted about potential collaborations. Thane is being selective about who he works with. He is also not ready for a live performance just yet. Thane has an introverted nature and at 20-years-old he is entering the public eye after years of isolation in his bedroom studio.
When the time comes for a live performance, the Kestly brothers hope to create something visually dynamic and possibly interactive. They are inspired by Flying Lotus’ live show and the LA/Philly artist Ryat. They also have a lot of ideas for music videos but don’t want to rush the process.
A shroud of mystery still hangs over Thane. I was never given his real first name. A few things came up in conversation that they wouldn’t go into detail about. Jake is working on the next step in their business, but wouldn’t reveal what it was. I do know that Thane is currently a student at Carroll College and they’ve come up with a concept for the next album.
We’ll have to wait and see what the next moves are for this small-town Wisconsin music prodigy.
I met with Thane and his manager/brother Jake Kestly at the Colectivo on the Lake one Friday night a few weeks back. What follows is a transcript of our conversation.
WiG First of all, I’m a big fan. Love the record. And to be honest it kind of came out of nowhere. So the obvious question is, where did you come from?
THANE I’m from Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Kind of near Pewaukee Beach.
WiG Growing up what were you listening to? What were you influenced by?
THANE I’ve always had a strong music environment. I started piano lessons when I was little and then I picked up this brass instrument called the euphonium and I’ve been playing that for a long time. Since maybe third or fourth grade. I really started getting into “good music” per say around eighth grade or so, my brother was getting into it so I did too.
WiG Older brother?
THANE Yeah. [Points to Jake.] He was listening to Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and stuff like that. I used to listen to more rock, and there’s still a little bit of influence from that…
WiG What kind of rock?
THANE Like bad stuff. Nothing terrible…stuff like Train. Pop rock stuff. But then my brother started listening to good stuff and I’d always be driving around in the car with him going to school so he was always playing that. I didn’t like it at first but he kept on playing it and then I got into it. That’s how I started to expand my tastes.
As far as electronically producing, I started that when I was 15 going on 16. I’m 20 now, so I’ve been working on it for a little while. Jake actually tried his hand at it first with FL Studio and he kind of sucked.
[Jake and Thane laugh.]
And he bought this cheaper MIDI keyboard and a machine micro and so we had all that stuff in the house and a year later I picked it up. I gave it a try and I really liked it. I’m more tech oriented too so I was having fun with it. As I advanced I got some monitors and got a better set up.
WiG Are you primarily doing everything digitally at this point or playing instruments yourself?
THANE The thing with my music is that I usually make a building block, maybe a bassline that I like, then I’ll create a beat around that on the digital workstation. Then I add keys, then either I record instruments I play or if I can’t I’ll bring someone in. Like how we brought in Jamie Breiwick. He’s a phenomenal trumpet player in the Milwaukee jazz scene. I remember my brother showed me him one time and we contacted him and asked him if he would like to be on a song and he was into it. So yeah, I like to combine electronic with different jazz elements and strings.
WiG In high school were you coming to Milwaukee to see shows? Or down to Chicago?
THANE Me and my brother went to Chicago a lot. I haven’t recently just because I’ve been super busy, but we would go to the Metro quite a bit. We went to see a lot of local hip-hop shows.
JAKE Were you at the Mick Jenkins and Earl Sweatshirt one?
JAKE Yeah we’d see a lot of the Chicago hip-hop acts there. More importantly we would see the energy in the scene that was going on there and we were inspired by that. Vic Mensa’s homecoming show was a big one.
WiG Is Pewaukee closer to Chicago than Milwaukee?
JAKE No it’s about 20 minutes west from here. It’s kind of out in the country but it’s a very quick trip to Milwaukee.
WiG You said you were a piano student Thane. Did you play music in high school, like in band?
THANE I didn’t do it all four years but I did band with the euphonium. Do you know what a baritone is?
THANE It’s like a smaller tuba. The difference between the euphonium and baritone is that the baritone has three valves on top that you play and the euphonium has an extra one on the side, that’s the only difference.
WiG Are you familiar with a guy who was in the Milwaukee music scene but has since moved up north, he was a pretty heavy electronic producer named Lorn?
THANE Oh yeah. I like his music a lot.
WiG He moved out to the woods by Eau Claire. I know he’s made music for videos games. Could you see yourself getting into that? Are you a gamer yourself?
THANE I used to be, but I haven’t in like three years. Maybe, but I don’t think it would be as cinematic. Do you know who Jon Brion is?
WiG Yeah, the producer.
THANE I like him a lot. Lorn’s style is a little different, I don’t know how to describe it.
WiG It’s really dark, more minimal. Your stuff has the strings and horns and uptempo keys.
THANE For sure, I like the minimal stuff though.
WiG The production on Topia is really polished and clean. How did you get it mixed and mastered? What was the process like? THANE It was a really long process. We actually started the development when I was like 17. I had been making beats and getting better and my brother was like, why don’t we make an album?
WiG Had you put anything out prior to the EP?
WiG So you were just making music for you? THANE Yeah. We came up with the concept. It was originally called “Utopia,” but we cut it to “Topia” because conceptually we wanted it to be an environment that you’re not trying to break out of. It’s not a utopia or dystopia…
WiG So not overtly positive or overtly negative?
THANE Yeah. You kind of make what you want out of the environment that you’re put into. I’ve made over six hundred beats and we went through and picked maybe five. The other ones were added on later. The ones that we started with kind of fit a certain sound we were going for. Then we built on those.
The guy who mixed the record, he’s not our engineer anymore, but he was a friend of my brothers, a friend of a friend. He did it in his mom’s basement. We had a pretty limited budget at the time so it seemed like a pretty good deal. And then we slowly built it as more ideas came.
WiG How did you link up or land the features? Because you’ve got some big names including Anderson .Paak, Mick Jenkins and BJ the Chicago Kid.
THANE We reached out to them before they got big but Jake did more of that on his end, so I think he can explain that.
JAKE Basically we kind of operate and always have like A&Rs to an extent, I like to think. I was on to Kendrick years before he blew up and I was telling people he’d be huge. So I kind of have an ear for stuff like that. We reached out to a lot of people that we vibed with, people we thought were really talented and would make a good addition to our project. We hit up a ton of different possibilities and the ones that came through are people that vibed with our concept. It was a really long process of going through who would fit and who wouldn’t.
THANE And it was figuring out the music business as we went along and how complicated it is. The funny thing too about the “Responsibilities” track is that one initially had another beat. It was almost too electronic-y so BJ didn’t like it as much because he wasn’t feeling the groove, so I was quickly trying to find one that worked with the sound of the album and had more of a soul influence to it. Then I quickly sent over that one and it turned out great. So that beat wasn’t intended to be on the album. It’s kind of funny how that worked out.
WiG I saw Anderson .Paak at the Soundset music festival in Minnesota this past Memorial Day and my girlfriend and I are almost certain he performed “Responsibilities.”
[Both of their eyes light up.]
THANE Really? JAKE That would be sweet.
WiG Did you hear any reports?
JAKE No. But I wouldn’t be surprised because he really loved that track.
THANE His manager contacted us and said that he was jumping up and down when he recorded it.
JAKE Since that time it took a while to get all the materials ready for release and come up with a plan. That took longer than expected and during that time Anderson .Paak inked a deal with Aftermath and I think there’s something within that contract that didn’t allow him to promote it on his social media at the point when we released our record, unfortunately. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he performed it because he did really vibe with the end product.
WiG And it was done by Memorial Day?
JAKE Oh yeah.
WiG I’m almost positive. Because the first time we listened to “Responsibilities” my girlfriend and I looked at each other and she was like, “I’ve heard this song.”
JAKE That would be super cool.
THANE That’s very cool.
JAKE Him and BJ have a really good chemistry. That was something that was cool too, we were one of the first people to get them on a track together. That was before they met and before they were on Compton, we put them together. There was a piece about those two in The Source a couple months ago.
WiG Did they record together for that?
JAKE Nah, we got BJ in February of 2014. We’ve worked on this project for a long time. But then we got Anderson in April of 2015. We had the BJ hook and we knew we wanted something soulful. At first we were trying to get GoldLink because we thought that would be dope. We were really vibing with The God Complex, but that didn’t pan out. And then we said what about Anderson .Paak? I heard him first on the Watsky album. He did production and had some vocals on it and I was really impressed. Then I heard “Suede” which came out later that year. That’s the first single on the new NxWorries, which just came out today. I was super impressed with that and I knew he was something special and I convinced Thane that we try and pursue him.
WiG Who are some of the other people? I’m not familiar with Jay Stones…
JAKE Thane found him.
THANE I found him on SoundCloud. I really liked his voice and delivery and thought he’d fit well over my type of beat. He’s one of those SoundCloud artists that doesn’t have a really big presence in any scene but he was totally down with it. I really like how it turned out, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
This is a weird comparison but for some reason his style reminds me of Jamiroquai. He’s got that type of futuristic funk vibe.
WiG It’s interesting that the genre designation on Apple music is “Funk” for the album.
JAKE We gave them a bunch of stuff to choose from and that’s what they ended up going with.
WiG Do you feel good about that?
JAKE I mean it’s kind of a blend, we had no genre in mind. When he was making it we never said, “Oh, we’re going to make an R&B album.” We just took a bunch of elements and put them together. I guess funk is appropriate…
THANE I definitely didn’t set out to make a funk record, but there are funk elements. It’s just kind of all the stuff that I like Modge Podged together.
WiG Do you listen to Rhythm Lab Radio on 88Nine?
WiG Because I feel like the album fits perfectly in the myriad genres and sounds that Tarik plays. And he’s been a supporter of the album, right?
JAKE Yeah he played “Responsibilities” a couple weeks ago, which is pretty dope.
THANE Jake actually used to intern at 88Nine.
JAKE Yeah, we played Topia for a few of the DJs early on and they were rocking with it.
THANE Him and Barney…
JAKE Justin and Tarik were the main ones listening and then Jordan just came in.
WiG So you were an intern at 88nine?
JAKE I did a couple years ago.
WiG So is that kind of the goal, to work in the music industry?
JAKE Yeah we were just discussing this project that we’re working on. I don’t really want to talk too much about it. It’s not really a label, but we do want to get further in the music and do something bigger with it.
WiG Topia is all you production-wise. And there aren’t any other tracks that you’ve produced for other artists, but do you see yourself starting to do that? Have you been contacted by other artists to make beats for them?
THANE Yes. I’m trying to be pretty selective right now. I haven’t done anything yet. Should I tell him about the remix thing?
JAKE Don’t tell him too many details.
THANE You can just tell him.
JAKE Okay, so we got contacted by a fairly respectable label out of Los Angeles to do a remix on spec for one of their artists. They seemed interested in Thane to an extent. We just submitted it and have yet to hear back. What were we talking about? Labels…oh yeah, collaborations. So when stuff like that comes up it’s a just matter of whether Thane vibes with the artist. It’s about natural collaborations.
THANE I’m pretty familiar at this point with everybody in the Milwaukee scene. I’ve listened to a lot of local music. If there’s an artist that I really like in the local scene that reaches out I would probably collaborate.
WiG Who are your favorite musicians in the local scene?
THANE Any genre? WiG Sure.
THANE I like Milo a lot. I like King Courteen. I like Kiings, they’re pretty good. I don’t know if you know who Melvv is?
WiG How do you spell it?
THANE Melvv. He’s in Madison. He’s a pretty big producer.
JAKE I personally fuck with Trapo.
THANE Trapo and IshDARR are pretty dope. Most of NAN to a certain extent.
JAKE Gotta shout Jamie out.
THANE Of course Jamie. I found Marxus too…
WiG Where is he from?
JAKE He’s from Milwaukee. He hasn’t released any material yet. You can explain how you found him.
THANE I always search the “Milwaukee” tag on Bandcamp. That’s how I find new music. I listened to his one track “X” and thought this guy had some really sick pipes. We emailed him and asked if he wanted to vocally contribute. Initially he just did backing vocals but we dug it so much that we featured him on “Summer in Paris.” Now we’re collaborating on more stuff. He’s going to be on some new material. He was backing on a lot of the other tracks like “The Arrival” and “Gravity.” You can hear some of his ad libs on those tracks.
WiG Yeah, it seems like when you have official featured artist on the track I can still hear other artists adding little elements.
THANE The main two backing on “Gravity” are Marxus and Amanda Huff. I remember hearing her on some compilation tape and I thought she was really cool.
WiG I think one of my favorite tracks on the album is “Metropolis.”
THANE Oh really?
JAKE That’s one of mine too.
WiG Yeah I love that one and you use some interesting samples. There’s an audio clip about “the streets of Milwaukee” and then you hear Kanye talking about people being slowed down by their perception of themselves. I’m wondering if that’s sort of a commentary about Milwaukee and how people here tend to have a chip on their shoulder?
THANE That’s exactly it and that’s kind of what Topia is about. You see Chicago and you see how collaborative everyone is there. And then you see Milwaukee, and it’s getting better, but especially when we started it felt very separate. Some people were doing their thing and some people were doing another thing over there. People have a chip on their shoulder and don’t want to collaborate as much. I think it’s one of the reasons why scenes like Chicago and LA are thriving more than a scene like Milwaukee. But Milwaukee is doing much better than it has in the past.
WiG And the intro track “The Arrival,” who is speaking in that clip about neurons?
THANE My brother actually found that, it’s from a Ted Talk.
JAKE I helped out with the concept of the album. I remember hearing that back in a psychology class my freshman year of college. I was really fascinated by this neuroscientist talking about how we are more in control and we’re more powerful in regards to our fate than we allow ourselves to be. It’s a lot about positive thought. A lot of what Topia is about is taking your environment and the stuff that we may perceive as really positive or really negative, and just realizing that it’s this neutral thing that is for your making. That was kind of the whole idea of Topia. Individual versus environment. A lot of those things are there throughout, examining the idea of how in control are we when it comes to our goals and dreams.
THANE If you can tell he’s more articulate with this stuff. He’s the communications major. I’m more of the introvert hermit. Sorry if I’m coming off in a certain way, that’s just how I am.
WiG No no. I mean the music is introspective and I feel like it’s geared towards putting it in the headphones and vibing out.
THANE Especially the first two or three years that I was working on it I literally went home almost every day and made music until the late hours of the night. It was kind of an escape from reality.
WiG Does that sort of speak to how I haven’t seen your name on any shows? Is it because of your introverted nature?
THANE I don’t really want to do shows, at least not yet.
JAKE I’m trying to get him to.
WiG Have you done any?
JAKE We want to do some cool audio visual stuff for it too, but that’s not ready at this point.
WiG In terms of a music video?
JAKE Well, I help serve as creative director and I get really inspired by what Flying Lotus is doing with three screen layers and making electronic based performances a little more interactive. We’d also like to bring in some live instrumentation and he’s honing in on some other instruments. We want to wait until he feels more comfortable and then we get some concepts together for a live show.
WiG So having it be not just a concert, but like an experience?
JAKE Yeah. That’s kind of how we approach creating records and that’s what we’d like to translate into the live setting.
WiG You familiar with Video Villains?
JAKE Yeah I just had a meeting with Adam the other day about something that I can’t really talk about. But yeah, they’re tight.
WiG Are you familiar with this audio movie art installation that came out I want to say 2010. It was originally an installation in New York where the artist/producer had multiple speakers in a space and you would stand there and listen to this audio film happening. It was narrated by an actor and it was a movie told through the music of New York rappers like Ghostface Killah, Nas, and Biggie. It was super cool and the way you incorporate audio clips, I feel like it would be really cool if you did something like that.
[NOTE: The project I was refering to but couldn’t remember details about is called “City of God’s Son” by Kenzo Digital. You can listen to it by clicking here.]
JAKE We’re totally into the idea of performance art. I’m really into what is happening in LA with Ryat. They blend a lot of film and incorporate it into the music making it this whole art experience. They’re doing some of the best stuff in terms of visuals.
WiG I’m not familiar, I’ll have to check them out.
THANE They’re Brainfeeder right?
WiG Who else are you inspired by and listening to right now? THANE I like electronic artists like Flying Lotus and James Blake that have more of a barrier breaking sound. This probably doesn’t make any sense but I listen to a lot of like chill music.
WiG Ambient sort of stuff? THANE No, no. Like Norah Jones, Nick Drake. Jordan Rakei, Nick Hakim. Those are some of the artists I listen to the most right now.
JAKE Nick Hakim has one of the best EPs out. We tried to get him too, but he’s not really a collaborator. He’s out of DC, really good.
THANE His voice kind of sounds like Jason Mraz, vocally. But the beats are more neo-soul.
JAKE Dwele almost. Jill Scott kind of.
THANE It’s really dope.
WiG All the strings and keys and horns on the album, is that people you brought in?
THANE Yeah mostly.
WiG So you’re moreso the composer?
THANE Yeah me and my brother. They’ll be the basic beat that I make and then we add live instruments, which either I’ll play or we bring a collaborator and they add stuff. I’m trying to learn more instruments to add to my arsenal. I’m honing in more on the guitar, piano, and I’m getting better at the euphonium, expanding my sound more. As far as trumpet and violin I think we’ll still be collaborating with Jamie Breiwick. The violinist is someone from Carroll College, Aubrey Ellickson.
JAKE You should mention Earl too.
THANE Oh yeah. The saxophonist is a high school friend that we’ve known for a while. He just comes over and lays some sax down.
WiG What’s his last name?
THANE He has no music presence in terms of putting anything out.
JAKE We’re trying to get him to get on the jazz scene here but he’s pretty busy right now.
WiG It seems like you’ve contributed a lot of ideas with the production…
JAKE Yeah I executive produced Topia…
THANE When I make a beat he’s always the one who’ll tell me if it’s garbage or not. He’s really critical of my stuff. The rare times that he says, “It’s pretty tight” or whatever, then I know I have a good one.
WiG That got me thinking, if you’re contributing so much why isn’t this like a duo, sort of like Kiings?
JAKE I don’t want my role to be that. I enjoy being behind-the-scenes. I like being able to have the creative and conceptual control and contribute the way I do. My role as manager I enjoy as well. It’s not really a big thing for me. He’s the talented one as far as the music itself goes.
WiG Are you the only siblings?
WiG What high school did you go to?
JAKE We went to private Christian schools all throughout.
JAKE That was interesting because there weren’t really like minded people around us. I remember trying to get jam sessions going, trying to find like-minded people when it came to music, but it was really difficult to do. Topia too is somewhat about how we were never in an environment with like-minded people, so how do we create that? It’s this multi-layered idea that both describes the process itself, like a commentary on the things that we see, and a general commentary on the individual versus their environment in an abstract, conceptual way.
WiG So was music sort of an escape for you guys?
THANE Oh yeah definitely.
JAKE For sure.
THANE It still is.
JAKE I would go on the Internet and Bandcamp and stuff like that and just search because there was nothing else to do. There weren’t parties or anything to go to. So music was the fun shit that we did. We had a few friends that were really into it too. We’d talk about it and get really excited and go to shows at Turner Hall and in Chicago. That’s kind of what we did.
WiG Did you go to that Flying Lotus show when he played the Miltown Beat Down final?
I don’t know if I was at that one, but it was after he released Until the Quiet Comes and Thundercat was there.
WiG How old are you?
JAKE 22. I just graduated college.
WiG Cool. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JAKE He’s working on the next project.
THANE Yeah. I’m like one song deep with a friend of mine from high school actually.
JAKE I wouldn’t even say that she’s included in the project just yet…
THANE Probably don’t want me to share too much of it…
JAKE Yeah no, because we’re figuring out the sound. But it’s in the works.
WiG So you’ve already moved on to the next thing?
JAKE It’s going to be different though.
THANE It’s going to be really cool. We came up with a very unique idea. I’m pretty excited to start flushing it out.
WiG And how has the reception been for a Topia so far?
JAKE It’s been expected but unexpected. We planned and we were doing it in a proper way, trying to execute it in a very orderly way. And so we would have expected it to have a good reception. We were grinding for a minute to try and get all the press spots beforehand, but we only got a few. But then just how the other blogs caught on, the way it built the way it did was kind of unexpected. The ripple effects of who’s been contacting us has been unexpected.
WiG You feel like you want to keep pushing that project or move on to the next thing?
JAKE Since he’s not ready to do shows we are still working on promoting it in the ways that we can. We’re a very small team. I have a few friends that kind of help with the social media stuff. But we’re ready to push ahead and focus on the concept for the next record. When opportunities like this come up we do them. We have a bigger thing coming up in a month or so that we’re doing. We have a music video too that we’re not sure if we should do or not.
WiG For a song from Topia? JAKE Yeah yeah.
THANE For the song “Minor Movements.”
JAKE We may shoot if the time is right. But there’s a bunch of ideas in terms of putting visuals to a lot of the tracks. So it’s just a matter of us finding the time to do it and the right videographer. We’re not going to close any doors but right now we’re kind of off Topia.
JAKE Again, I really dig that jazz piece that you wrote. It was interesting as hell. As a huge jazz fan it was cool to read. I had no idea that Milwaukee had that type of presence at one point.
WiG Yeah and I feel like it’s getting better.
JAKE Yeah it is. That’s the one thing I got kind of irritated with, that Milwaukee is mad talented when it comes to jazz but you wouldn’t know it. Me and my ex-girlfriend would go to Mason Street Grill every weekend and watch these guys play and shit was just crazy. You would have never thought because it doesn’t really get promoted. It would be really cool if all these hip-hop and jazz scenes melded even more. I went to Jay Anderson’s Strange Fruit Festival and that was a super cool curation. I definitely hope the Milwaukee scene keeps doing more stuff like that, keeps blending and collaborating.
WiG I feel like that’s what Topia is sonically. It’s such a blend of jazz and hip-hop and soul. The second article in my jazz series is coming out in two weeks and it’s about the present and I’m sure I’ll end up mentioning Topia in terms of Jamie being featured on it.
JAKE I’ve been a fan of Jamie’s since I heard of him on Bandcamp [CHECK] back like my sophomore year of high school. I reached out to him at one point when we were making the album and he responded and was enthusiastic about collaborating. To me he’s like the essence of what jazz is supposed to be in terms of the freedom and soul.
THANE You see a lot of electronic stuff that they call jazz, but it’s a lot of watered down stuff. I used to be in the jazz band in middle school and I thought it was really cool to be a part of that. I’ve always liked jazz, my brother even more so than me. So it just made sense to have a strong jazz element and presence on the album.
WiG Do you guys know BADBADNOTGOOD?
JAKE I dig them too. I feel like jazz is slowly becoming trendy again. You have the Kamasi Washington thing, ever since Kendrick dropped To Pimp A Butterfly I was very excited about that. It’s not just jazz samples, it’s legitimate jazz musicians playing on there.
WiG Yeah I feel like that was a turning point.
JAKE And then Chance the Rapper has his own variation. On Acid Rap it was more like a ragtime influence, like on “Juice.” On Coloring Book it’s more of like that southern, Louie Armstrong vibe. It’s cool how hip-hop is incorporating real jazz.
WiG Do you go to college now? THANE Yeah. Working and going to college at Carroll. I was at school all day and he just picked me up from there before we came here.
WiG What are you studying?
THANE Business marketing and a web design minor. Staying busy.