Chicago and my Love for Subway Music

Chicago and my love for subway music

As I submerged myself down through the gates of Chicago O’Hare International airport and into the awaiting subway

Chicago Metro Red Line

station below I wasn’t taken aback by the metallic-grey subway walls, or the iconic images plastered through the corridors. Instead, it was my ears being drawn to a sound of rhythm and a tone of blues so strong with emotion and so distinct in melody that I couldn’t help but block out all other sounds and stop and listen. As the song carried out its melodic voice I swore that it must have been coming from the radio speakers overhead, but as the song met its end clapping rewarded the artist and I realized, like a fool, that the voice was coming from around the corner, I recognized that this is Chicago subway music.

The sounds we meet in the subways of the world are meant to be loud screeches of train shoes pressing against metal tracks, rumbling and shaking trains as

Father Son Combo drumming outside of US cellular field

they squeeze through the tunnels and into their stations, and the loud voices of impatiently waiting passengers as they attempt to talk over one and other and be heard. But here, in Chicago, at nearly each station on which I embarked, the overriding sound that arose was musical. The amazing thing, to me, though wasn’t the simple presence of music; outside the gates of just about any major train or bus terminal in the world lurk struggling musicians of all types trying to gain our attention in exchange for a dollar or a pound or a euro or anything really. What struck me in Chicago was the simple fact that the subway music being played, at nearly every single terminal was very good. At one point I said out loud, how can people stand here with their Ipods strapped to their ears when they

Shooting the blues

have this quality of music present live at their sides? I guess maybe the people of Chicago are musically spoiled to the point that they don’t even notice anymore.

The types of music being played in and around the subways of Chicago are as varied as any CD shop. In the south side of Chicago, near 35th and Sox, I stood and listened to a father and son combo bang away on plastic oil bins with a tenacity and rhythm usually only reserved for elaborately coreagraphed performance shows like “Stomp” and the locally shown “Blue Man Group.” Just a few hundred meters away an older man dressed in a long dark felt jacket and tie vibrantly pushed his blues through the mouth of his golden trumpet. Meanwhile, down below a couple of people clapped their hands and swayed with the natural rhythm as the chanted along to an inspired verse of gospel music.

The Bean

Regardless of the type of music, the place it has drummed itself up, or the person who is singing it, music always seems to find a way to light the mood to our days. We sing in our showers, we sing in our cars while stuck in traffic or gliding down the freeway, and even when we’re sitting on subway trains we’re restraining ourselves from singing out loud as we listen to our Ipods. Music, more than any kind of art, impacts our lives every single day. And in Chicago, there is something very special about stepping into a subway station knowing that you will be treated a lively hymn regardless of whether you are beginning, or ending, your day.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. It is always interesting to read about your city from an outsider’s perspective. It is very true that we in the city take for granted the music that is played on the street here in Chicago. There is a lot of stations where people with guitars play and seranade the people who wait for the train. I always turn my MP3 player off and listen to a song or two before getting in the train.

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  2. I absolutely love subway (and “street”) music. There was a lady on America’s Got Talent this week who said she’s been singing in the subway for 20 years! She was great.

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  3. I love street music. NYC subway has some of the best.

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    • I can’t wait to get up to NYC later in 2011. It’s one place I’ve never been that I need to go

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