Apr 27, 2023 - Things to Do

New exhibit "State of Sound" celebrates Illinois' music icons

Photo of two rock stars on stage performing

Champaign's REO Speedwagon rocks out. Photo by Paul Natkin, courtesy of State of "Sound"

Illinois may be hopelessly flat when it comes to geography, but not when it comes to music. The state has produced musical giants from Earth, Wind & Fire and Chance the Rapper to Wilco and Cheap Trick.

What's happening: "State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois," a new exhibit celebrating those local legends, opens Thursday at Navy Pier.

Context: The show originally opened in 2021 at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

  • Exhibit director Lance Tawzer hired Chicago scribe Dave Hoekstra to write and research it because, "sadly, Chicago has done a poor job of honoring its far-reaching musical culture in museum settings," Hoekstra tells Axios.

The stuff: Show pieces include "a hat from Jeff Tweedy, Frankie Knuckles' turntable, a Town Hall performance contract for Mahalia Jackson, recording tape from Nat King Cole, a wah-wah pedal from Buddy Guy, a harmonica from Howlin' Wolf and more," Hoekstra says.

The surprise: As a journalist Hoekstra covered John Prine for decades but only recently learned he kept a table of trinkets next to him on stage.

  • "After shows, John liked to wind down on eBay shopping for childhood souvenirs," Hoekstra says, echoing one of Prine's most famous songs.
  • The show features some of these souvenirs, including a miniature hot dog, plastic motorcycle man and handwritten Steve Goodman lyrics.

If you go: "State of Sound" runs through Aug. 27 in the lower level lobby of Navy Pier's Festival Hall A.

Photo of a band on stage performing live
Earth Wind and Fire photo by Paul Natkin courtesy of State of Sound.

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