Now approaching its second decade and currently superintended by the exuberant and engaging Garrett Lane, the Thursday night open mike at Bucktown’s Gallery Cabaret is saturated with eccentrics, both onstage and in the crowd. Many performers are regulars who’ve been around since the club’s early days in the late 80s—like singer and pianist CJ, a former lawyer and current promoter of pot legalization who claims to suffer from “CCM: constant cotton mouth.” Or Belinda, a Renaissance Faire costume enthusiast, who I’m told has been accompanying her father, former Thursday-night host Fred Simons, to family-oriented events at the bar since childhood. She now performs with her husband and guitarist Greg Nelson in what Garrett describes as “a mutant cover act redefining the tribute genre single-handedly.”
When asked to name his favorite performer, Garrett graciously declines: “I love them all like a mother loves her kids.” But my favorite is Wayne Kusy. This singer-guitarist’s comfortingly consistent repertoire includes the guttural classic “Pepsi Generation” as well as his masterpiece, the screechy and by turns frantic “Happy Merry Manic Letdown.” These songs may be less elegant than the massive model ocean liners Kusy constructs entirely from toothpicks—see for yourself at waynekusy.com—but they’re no less well crafted.
In recent years Gallery Cabaret owner Kenny Strandberg has invested in central air and some smoke eaters. But despite the improved air quality, the atmosphere hasn’t changed a bit—it’s dingy, dark, and completely lacking pretense, and on Thursday nights a pitcher of Leinenkugel is still $4. 2020 N. Oakley, 773-489-5471, gallerycabaret.com. —Julia Rickert
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