Monday, October 31, 2011

Congress Theater

Having been at many interesting and really cool places to see concerts, it almost seems like when I hear of a concert being held at a venue I have never been too before, I jump on the opportunity.  With a concert of the magnitude of Anthrax, Testament and Death Angel in addition to the chance at a new venue well, I just had to go.

Concert venues always have a mysterious quality to those that venture into their doors for the first time.  I would say its the fear of the unknown but if that were indeed the case then there would be cause for psychotherapy.  Most of us that attend concerts seem to gravitate to arenas, music festivals, local bars etc., but there is a whole other world to visit.  Earlier this year I expanded my viewing and listening pleasure by entering into the realm of "The Rave" in Milwaukee to see Social Distortion and with that visit I'm guessing I looked like a complete fool staring at the exterior and interiors the way I did.

The Rave had the ambiance that just screamed history and in the whacked out world that is my brain, I saw all of that history from back when it was an Eagles Club, right through modern day.  The Congress had that same energy, that same feeling, granted it wasn't a former Eagles Club but you get the point I'm guessing.  When I saw the Congress for the first time it too elicited some groovy, whacky, just plain weird thoughts as I saw the marquee I immediately thought of it as an old movie theater.  Call me crazy but I went from silent mo...  wait a minute, I missed something critical, and now I will be transporting you to my other blog "Rant and Roll".

Okay figuratively but you'll understand in a line or two.  The Congress Theater is in Chicago, IL and it's located on Milwaukee Avenue so getting there could be a little tough.  As we bantered about the mode of transportation (everything from a cab to a shuttle to the CTA), it became quite evident that the correct mode of transportation would be the CTA.  Any time one takes public transportation, it is possible to encounter some interesting individuals in big metropolitan areas especially.  I've been on the trains in Chicago before, they really don't bother me and as we made the trip it was completely uneventful (like I thought it would be).  For anyone that has taken public transportation (the CTA for example) knows that although most of the people working there are friendly if you give them respect (just like real life) but every now and then you encounter that one...

As we left the train we encountered a CTA employee sitting quite firmly on a stool and I respectfully asked what direction we had to travel to get to the Congress.  I'm not really sure what I did but the "blue behemoth" pointed in a direction and didn't even glance up as she pointed.  I suppose I had a minute of grand stupidity because I followed the "directions" given to me by the fourth moon of Jupiter and I began to meander my way to the theater.  Have you ever been so lost that you know beyond the shadow of a doubt you are lost without having to be prompted, I did.

As I plodded through the streets of Chicago with the breakneck speed of a dead goat, it became painfully obvious that I was good and lost so as we approached a restaurant there was a young man, a valet actually and by some incredible twist of fate we asked him for directions and he pointed us across the street and told us to follow that street until it stopped and he told us that we would be on the right street.  The young man was correct, and I thank him (even though I doubt he will read this).  Now back to normal programming...

Despite all of that, we did find the venue but we did have some confusion as we tried to find "Will Call" where we got our handy little wristbands and then we were told to go to the end of the line to enter the theater.  Well we did that (I thought I was going to have to hire a sherpa the line was so long) and as the line began to move so did we (obviously).  As we traveled through said line and as we reached the doors a member of security began to tell us if we had our tickets, we could go straight through (would have helped a little had they told us that earlier).

The theater is exactly what I expected however, I became that complete fool looking around once again.  With our tickets came special seating and we really weren't told where to go until we literally stumbled upon it but that doesn't really matter (except I walked to Hammond, IN to get in there so I was a bit confused).  Getting to our seats (skybox actually) was simple after that and as we wandered around we found two bars, one on the floor our seats were on, and one next to the door we went to the skyboxes.

We (and several others) were wondering when said bars would open so the hunt began for that elusive open bar.  Growing tired of the hunt, I went back to our seats but eventually the hike along the trail Lewis and Clark took its toll and thirst took over and the grand hunt began once again.  Neither of those bars ever opened and the only bar we could find for our seats was down a flight of stairs with adjacent seating to said stairs.  The stairs are poorly lit which made traversing them really nasty to walk on.  Add to that the fact that the stairs were wet down to the bar and at the bar that landing was sticky which was nice, I guess.

Coupled with those enigmatic stairs was the fact that the architecture of the building made each stair its own plateau of various sizes and the height of each seemed to vary between the height of a matchbook and the large print version of "War and Peace" (you try to come up with something that makes sense).  Walking the stairs felt like I was running the high hurdles in a rainstorm whilst in high school (who am I kidding I never ran hurdles, hell I never ran in high school).  In all honesty they were a bit intimidating being so dark add odd shaped.

I know and understand the fact that the building is old and despite the previous ramblings about the stairs, nothing should detract from the fact that I think the building is amazing, it is probably one of the coolest buildings I have ever seen a concert.  Every old building has issues with accessibility and although that can detract from an experience, this is simply not the case.

Every member of the staff at the Congress was friendly and helpful and although I didn't request assistance I did see another patron tell a staff member that they needed something for the bathroom and although the staff member was SECURITY, they personally addressed it and didn't pass the person onto another or just ignore them.  I did find that the employees in "Will Call" were both friendly, helpful, and were willing to answer any questions we had.  One time in my existence I worked in Chicago and I really never had any problem or issue within the ever expanding borders but I'll be honest I almost felt like a rube whilst en route to the venue.  That ended as soon as I got acclimated with the venue, their staff and the patrons.

The Congress Theater is definitely a location I will add to my "Coolest Venues" and it is also a location that I intend to visit again.  I would recommend that if you attend a show at the Congress be sure to arrange transportation, parking is at a premium in that area and its just easier to make those arrangements and not have hassles with parking.  We took the Blue line from O'Hare to Western and we hoofed it the rest of the way (see the rant earlier in the story). 

Its a great experience, the Congress Theater is and it should become a destination for your musical entertainment. 

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