Passersby walking, biking or driving near Columbus Park a few weeks back could have heard the sound of loud pop music, laughing and rhythmic bucket drumming. Those who stopped to join the festivities realized the music came from an unusual contraption called the Sonic Boom.
The Sonic Boom – an approximately 16-foot tall mobile DJ Booth made of large speakers, bucket drums and tall, round wheels – projects music into the surrounding area during Redmoon’s summer parks series. It’s a program the local theater company hosts featuring musical and poetry workshops, said Alex Balestrieri, Redmoon’s director of events.
Redmoon partnered with the Chicago Park District, After School Matters, the Young Chicago Authors, DJ Such-n-Such and the Chicago Bucket Boys to put together the workshops, Balestrieri said. The series ends Sept. 7 at Humboldt Park.
“Redmoon is really an organization that prides itself on creating public spectacle and creating public platforms to amplify the voices already in the community,” Balestrieri said. “Our partnerships serve to elevate the talent that’s already [in the community].”
The July 27 event at Columbus Park had children writing poems, playing the drums and marching in a parade led by the Sonic Boom. About 50 kids participated in the workshops, but more arrived later to participate in the parade.
After children marched through Columbus Park to its field house, workshop participants were selected to read their poems on top of the Sonic Boom. Spectators said it was a healthy outlet for children to express themselves.
“They’re doing something positive in the neighborhood, [because] this is what we need more of for our young black brothers and sisters,” said Herbert Hudson, an Austin resident who heard the poetry reading.
The Sonic Boom was constructed in February and has since been used in the summer parks series to help give people a louder voice in their communities, said Will Bishop, artistic associate at Redmoon.
“Every summer what we try to do is bring [art] work out into public places,” Bishop said. “This is really all about engaging a large number of partners and empowering them and finding ways to amplify their voices.”
Redmoon has been engaging youth for more than 20 years, Balestrieri said. Some attendees, like Oak Park resident Rhona Taylor, were familiar with the group’s work.
“We love Redmoon and how creatively they interact with the community,” Taylor said. “I love how the teaching artists give children a voice, because a lot of times kids aren’t exposed to this kind of art and theater.”
Students from the West Indian Folk Dance Co. and the After School Matters: West Side Story programs danced in front of the field house to a Caribbean-style beat until “the concrete scraped [their] feet,” said Vickie Casanova Willis, a teaching and performing Artist at the West Indian Folk Dance Co. and instructor in the After School Matters program.
As part of the Caribbean culture, dancers usually perform barefoot on grass or a wooden floor, she said. During the Redmoon’s performance, however, they danced on concrete in front of the field house, because it was their “job” to share the music and culture and put on a good performance.
“Every time I see one of my young teens stretching out of their comfort zones in the name of their heritage … it lets me know that they have confidence and awareness of how to be both students and teachers, and just share.”
Although Casanova Willis has worked with teens in Austin for more than 20 years, this was her first time collaborating with Redmoon.
She said she and her students enjoyed performing for the audience, and it was also an important step in sharing the community’s rich culture with others.
“There’s a lot of arts and culture within this community already,” Casanova Willis said. “Being able to share this spectacle activity is important, because [otherwise] nobody would ever know that this rich learning is going on.”