WATCH: Chicago artists bring life to streets, subway

M Cohran (left), Jeremy Washington (middle left), Durell Jones (middle right) and Cordarius Jones (right) perform in downtown Chicago. (Lindsay Tanney/MEDILL)

By Lindsay Tanney
Medill Reports

The city of Chicago has implemented strict rules for street performers to play, which has led to the massive decrease in the city’s musical presence. The singing group The Official Remedy discusses what it’s like being a street performer in Chicago and how important it is to lift people’s spirits during these trying times.


CORDARIUS JONES: When we come out, we come out to touch people’s hearts, to give back love, to give back to people who don’t have money for concerts.

M COHRAN: When you play a concert, people are expecting to hear good music. They’re kind of already for you. Out in the streets, people don’t know who you are; they don’t care who you are. So you have to make them care. So it’s very organic. So we finally can stop people and get them to engage. It’s like a sense of victory. It’s also a sense of freedom.

JEREMY WASHINGTON: You’re making people’s day. And we get messages all the time about people saying, “Oh, man, I love you guys. You guys helped me do this. You and me. I’ve always had a bad day, until I saw y’all, now I’m having a good day.” It’s just a blessing to be a blessing to somebody else.”

DURELL JONES: I love it. I love the response, when I see that people are really enjoying it. That makes me feel good. And it makes me get back and say, “Man, let’s just keep going. Let’s try to do it at the best we can do at the highest level possible, you know, man, to see where it takes us.”

TEXT: The four musicians have been friends since childhood. Washington was the only one who knew how to sing growing up.

CORDARIUS JONES: One day we seen him singing and to the ladies. And we was like, “Oh my God, they like him. Like, can we be popular, too, like you?” So he was like, “You know, let me teach how to harmonize.”

DURELL JONES: We just came down here, downtown, when we started in high school and was trying to figure out what the crowd likes, you know. I mean, we try to you know, mean, see what, see how they respond to the songs we were singing. And a lot of people love old-school music.

TEXT: Street performers in Chicago have to keep their volume low to avoid fines and have to pay taxes on their donations, unlike other cities.

M COHRAN: If I’d say, one to 10, how does the city do when I grade them on supporting art, I will give them a five. Lots of other cities, even smaller cities, seem to really understand that art is a very important part of society.

CORDARIUS JONES: We have over, say, 300 permits out there, and there’s only four spots. So every day is a competition for everyone because it’s first spot, first serve. So the first person that comes, we can’t do nothing but work it out amongst each other. Now that’s only under the subways. Now outside, you can go anywhere as long as you got your permit.

M COHRAN: They make it actually very difficult for a lot of artists to perform, because now they changed the rules. And so they kind of did that. So they could, quote unquote, eliminate them called the undesirables. When it’s kind of like to me, it’s kind of like a First Amendment type of thing, and the freedom of speech, freedom art.”

JENNIFER IVY: Oh, I love it, I love it. I sometimes I want the train to take longer so we can hear them.

MS. WILLIAMS: I just like the way they change their music, put their own spin on different songs.

IVY: Oh my God, I love all their songs. I love them all. They actually just sang one. I like this “Stand by Me.” Yes. That’s that. I love that one.


Lindsay Tanney is a Video/Broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @LindsayTanney.