Annual blues fest prelude to club coming soon

Ike Carothers' fest held Aug. 31, a jazz club to open in some months

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By Bonni McKeown

A thunderstorm interrupted the fourth annual West Side Blues Fest, held Aug. 31 at Columbus Park, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., but the revival of West Side music forged ahead. The setting provided a sampling of what patrons might get at a more permanent music venue coming to the West Side soon. 

Festival organizer Isaac "Ike" Carothers and his sister-in-law Sheila Mingo, are working to open Ike's Place, a blues and jazz club, in approximately four months.

Carothers envisions Ike's Place drawing people from inside and outside the neighborhood. Plans call for evening entertainment, Sunday gospel brunches and daytime cultural education at the club, to be located at 5847 W. Chicago Ave.

Nearly 300 people attended the show, which featured Austin resident Larry Taylor's band, the Soul Blues Healers. The Marie Levon Band — featuring Rocky, Tina and Sharon Monique as singers — opened the event. After a break, musicians and park staff dried off the stage and the party went on.

Carothers, a former 29th Ward alderman, said that he organized the Illinois Alliance, which sponsors the West Side Blues Fest, after his 2012 release from a year in prison. 

"I saw a need for entertainment here on the West Side, especially the blues," he said, "it crosses all ethnic lines and appeals to the common person."  

Carothers envisions Ike's Place drawing people from inside and outside the neighborhood. Plans call for evening entertainment, Sunday gospel brunches, and daytime cultural education at the club, to be located at 5847 W. Chicago Ave.

Sheila Mingo, a teacher at Duke Ellington Elementary who also lives in the Austin neighborhood, likes to cook. Carothers said Sheila's father, Sherman "Shoes" Mingo, a jazz collector, inspired him with his stacks of vinyl records. 

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel's city administration opened Retail Thrive Zone grants, Carothers offered to help Sheila apply. 

Thrive Zone grants, derived from city TIF funds, are intended to help entrepreneurs open or expand businesses in selected shopping districts within several struggling West and South Side neighborhoods.  

Ike's Place was named for a grant up to $187,000 in July 2017, when Sheila's and Ike's long bureaucratic battle began. 

Sheila won approval from the Department of Planning and Urban Development. The zoning is now in place, and she's applying for retail, liquor and Public Place of Amusement licenses. 

The money part is what's tricky, Carothers said. Of some 50 businesses who got grants in 2017 under the Thrive Zone program, he estimated that only about 10 percent have moved forward. 

 "You have to prove you have skin in the game by coming up with 25 percent of the budget you need but then you end up borrowing the other 75 percent before the city will come up with its share," Carothers said. 

"The grant was intended to fill the up-front financing gap," he said. "The city was supposed to arrange with certain banks to help, but you find the banks don't want to talk with you." 

Carothers said that SomerCor, a private company, is the city's fiscal agent for the program.  

 "It's a great opportunity to get 75 percent of what you need to open a business — if you can navigate the swamp and dodge the alligators," he said, chuckling. 

Carothers said that he's observed a renewed interest in the older African American arts of blues and jazz. Some younger people got turned on by the 2008 movie "Cadillac Records," which highlighted post-World War II Chicago bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon and Little Walter, and featured Beyonce in the role of singer Etta James.  

"The movie also showed how the musicians got their money ripped off," Carothers said, adding that, with Ike's Place, he wants to offer decent pay for musicians while promoting and managing sustainable business.

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com   

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