Smile Politely

Here’s your PYGMALION 2018 preview

PYGMALION kicks off it’s 14th year of existence this week, and since the threads of Smile Politely and PYGMALION are inextricably intertwined, we’d like you to indulge us in this exercise of highlighting some of the guests and events that we are individually and collectively excited about. The festival has undergone a few changes this year, as any event of this nature is wont to do in order to suit the needs of the organizers, performers, audience, and the community. For starters, Urbana will serve as the primary location, specifically in Downtown and East Urbana as well as the Krannert Center District (think Goodwin and Oregon). The one exception is PygHack, which will be in Research Park, located in Champaign. There are a couple of rather exciting additions to the usual line-up: Comedy and Podcasts, both of which you’ll hear a bit about as you keep reading. Below are our personal suggestions as editors, though of course you should check out the full schedule to see what interests you and start making some plans.


Whitney (duo), KCPA Colwell Playhouse, September 27th: 10:30-11:45 p.m., $20

Whitney put out one of the best records in all of 2017, Light Upon the Lake, and have been performing pretty much non-stop all over the world. They hail from Chicago, and while they are typically a full band, for this performance, they’ll play as a duo, which should make for a special show. (PS)

Kweku Collins + JPEGMAFIA w/ NP0, Independent Media Center,  September 28th: 7-9 p.m. $20

Although Playboi Carti headlines PYGMALION this year, thus topping the anticipated hip hop sets, this one at the Independent Media Center is not to be missed. JPEGMAFIA has an absolutely insane live show, and one of the best records of 2018 out, Veteran. Chicago’s Kweku Collins is most certainly up and coming, and is the proper headliner for this show, opened by local-ish NP0. (PS)

Post Animal w/ Castor, Independent Media Center, September 29th: 11:45 p.m.-2 a.m., $15

This show is going to be wild, I can guarantee it. If you’re up for an awesome late night show, this is the one to catch if you’re not interested in attending Playboi Carti Saturday night. Post Animal is signed to Polyvinyl, issuing their debut record When I Think Of You In A Castle ealrier this year, and Castor’s material is now all available for listening online so you can catch up on their material before this one. (PS)

Playboi Carti w/ CJ RUN, Canopy Club, September 29th, 11:00 p.m. -2 a.m., SOLD OUT

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given about PYGMALION came from perhaps the best agent I know. His name is Sam Hunt (not that Sam Hunt) and he is personally responsible for delivering this community the likes of Run The Jewels, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, The Dirty Projectors, RJD2, Girl Talk, Deerhunter, and so many more. 

He told me “Stop worrying so much about booking acts that you love, and start offering your audience acts that they love.” 

And with that, I opened the doors to myriad genres and sub-genres, and it has forever changed the face of the festival. Good thing too, because I really love hip hop, when it’s done well, and when the poet(s) really have something to say. Playboi Carti is a challenging and radical young trap artist, and his new release Die Lit is demented and frightening while also being drenched in beautiful and challenging production. It’s not a simple listen. But it’s also a party, from everything I have been told. As such, we booked it as our headlining act through a friend, a former UIUC student who is now a really fast rising agent at Paradigm named Matt Meyer. So the local connection made a lot of sense for us as well. It’s a sold out show; it’s always fun to pitch a winner. 

I’d tell you more about CJ RUN here, but I represent them now as their manager, and it goes without saying that I believe they are the most talented live act to grace Champaign-Urbana with their presence since The Blackouts became The Living Blue, so about fifteen years or so. If you don’t catch them this time out, there’ll be other chances soon enough. (SF)


Criminal, KCPA Colwell Playhouse, September 27th: 6:30 to 8 p.m., $20 

Criminal is a podcast about crime, broadly. There are stories of murder and mayhem, but also of survivors, victims, and the quirky and uncanny. Do you want to learn about body farms? Or perhaps you’re interested in knowing what it’s like to be a semi-professional streaker. I’m always surprised by the stories bring told, and impressed by the way they’re being told. It’s fantastic. You should certainly give it a listen, and attend this live show. Tickets are $20 (get them here). You’ll definitely learn something new, and you’re bound to be entertained. (JH)

Tesla Coil demo, KCPA Amphitheater, September 27th: 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., free 

Have you ever seen a Tesla coil demonstration in real life? I haven’t. The photos looks very cool, and to be honest, I don’t really know what will happen, except that there will be electricity and stuff. Masters of Lightning will lead these demos, and from the photos on their website, it’s gonna be great. Bring the kiddos. (JH)

Last Pocast on the Left, Canopy Club, September 29th, 6 p.m., SOLD OUT

If you read what I wrote above about letting go of just booking PYGMALION based on my tastes, this is a perfect example. I don’t listen to Podcasts. I mean, sure, I have listened to a handful of Radiolab episodes, and certainly, I enjoy This American Life, but I read articles mostly, and watch movies. Truth is, these days, I am being super honest, I watch a lot of Pocoyo and Daniel Tiger, and when I am feeling generous, fucking Power Rangers, because I guess somehow every kid in the developed world seems to like it, for reasons I just cannot fathom. I hate it. 

Regardless, this booking came together in such a wonderful way, in that it was not pitched to me at all. Their agent Josh and I go back to when he was a college talent buyer at Grinnell College when he bought Stars of the Lid from me in 2008. He went on to become an agent assistant at Billions, and then, after he made full agent, about two years ago, he basically made the switch from booking bands to booking podcasts, and let me tell you, he is now at the top of the game in this sector of the industry. It’s still the wild west, because there’s no real history from which to draw. 

I saw they were listed as a “headliner” at Bumbershoot in Seattle, so called my friend Chris up and asked about the price he paid, asked Josh if it was available, and it was, and within a few days, boom boom boom, it was done. 

That the show sold out three weeks in advance is a showcase that this new way of ingesting digital media in the live setting is only just now getting started. Fact is, I’ve never seen a live podcast, and I probably won’t be able to this weekend either. But I love that it’s happening, because the number of people who have emailed us, or just high fived me on the street about it, is rewarding as all get out. (SF)


Human Library, KCPA Lobby North, September 27th, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., free

I have become a voracious consumer of media that offers perspectives of those not like myself, and in particular those who have existed in marginalized communities — through the authors I choose to read, who I follow on Twitter, the articles I save and share, but none of those compare to talking with someone face to face. Human Library offers such an opportunity. Community members, specifically those who have experienced discrimination and marginalization, volunteer to be “books” to be “checked out” by attendees. What follows is a one-on-one conversation resulting in a greater understanding and appreciation another’s experience, a rare occurrence these days. (JM)

Steve Dolinsky, Red Herring, September 28th, doors open at 5 p.m., talk begins at 5:30, free (limited seating- first come first served)

Dolinsky, a food reporter for ABC-7 Chicago, will give reading from his book Pizza City USA, then will be sampling an array of local Tavern Style pizzas: Monicals, Old Orchard, Jupiter’s, and Papa Del’s, with mayors Deb Feinen and Diane Marlin. It should be interesting to hear his take given his extensive pizza-tasting experience. And before you balk at the thought of watching other people eat pizza while your stomach growls in the audience, the panel will be followed by a Pizza Crawl to three surrounding establishments: The Bread Company, Manolo’s, and Timpone’s. (JM)

Safiya Noble, Spurlock Museum, September 29th: doors at 5 p.m., free

Dr. Safiya Noble is a UIUC alum and former professor who researches systemic racial and gender discrimination within search engines and information technologies. She’s brilliant, and her book, Algorithms of Oppression, is a best-seller. There’s a lot of stuff we take for granted in our daily usage of the internet, and its critical that we begin to unpack and understand that those systems are built by humans who are flawed, fallible, and biased. Noble will be in conversation with Dr. Malaika McKee (who is here at UIUC), and it’s bound to be an informative and engaging discussion. The event is free, but you’ll need to register (as space is somewhat limited at the Spurlock). (JH) 


Tig Notaro, KCPA, Foellinger Great Hall, September 27th, 8:30 p.m., $35

I legit screamed out loud “OH MY GOD TIG NOTARO IS COMING?!?!” when I saw this schedule announcement. Tig Notaro crossed my radar several years ago when I heard an interview with her on This American Life. She was describing how in one year she battled C. Diff, a life-threatening bacterial infection, lost her mother, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. The interview referenced a comedy set (which I went on to look up) she did a week after her diagnosis, where she full on processes the news in real time in front of the audience in a way that is funny yet awkwardly gut-wrenching. That realness and her subtle hilarity continue to draw me in to her comedy, and I’m sure it’ll draw you in as well. (JM)

Janelle James w/ Kristen Toomey and Christopher Hightower, The Iron Post, September 26th, 8:30 p.m., $15 ADV / $20 DOOR

Maybe some of you remember when Janelle lived in town here, and then whimsically decided to start showing up to Open Mic nights at Memphis on Main where she basically blew the place out of the water. I sure do, and it has been so fun watching her go from that stage, to some of the biggest in the world, having recently opened tours for the likes of Chris Rock and David Cross. 

True story: I booked Todd Barry to perform at Canopy Club back in 2012, I submitted Janelle to open. It was accepted. Soon after, his agent, (Andrew, whose band Red Switch played with my band way back in 2001 in Tuscon at Skrappy’s) asked if she might be interested in also performing in Iowa City with him the next night. The caveat was that he needed a ride. She was down, so they connected, and that was that, right? Wrong! Janelle blew him away (of course she did!) and they became buds over the next two days, and by the end of the trip, she had been invited to open for him on a 10 date swing coming up later that year. 

Janelle’s star is going to continue to rise. She is honest and daring and she makes a man like me just uncomfortable enough to be reminded that I am the butt of the joke and fuck yeah, that’s how it should be by now. Her new special on Netflix has been making the rounds to rave reviews, and her album Black and Mild was met with incredible acclaim. 

That she agreed to do a low key show at The Iron Post is a testament to the type of person she is. Tickets will likely be gone before doors open, so be aware that walking up might not get you in the door. (SF)


The Made Fest, Goodwin Avenue (outside Canopy Club), September 28th, 5 p.m. to midnight, September 29th, 3 p.m. to midnight, free to browse but you’ll want to buy stuff so bring the wallet

I’m a shopper. It’s a part of my genetic makeup. So this component of PYGMALION speaks to my soul. But even if you are not a shopper, please take some time to stroll through the vendor tents. The Made Fest brings in a host of talented local and regional artists and makers to show off their unique wares, none of which you need, but all of which you need. You’ll find jewelry, body products, apparel, functional and decorative art, and more. You can find the full list of vendors here, but my favorite is just to wander the booths and impulse buy. (JM)

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