Monday, October 15, 2012

Chicago Bucket Boys

Most people who've walked around the loop have seen or at least heard the Chicago Bucket Boys. I don't know what it is about percussion, but there's something about the way you just seem to pick up a spring in your step walking past them...

There have been days where it's gloomy, you're upset, or your mind is just occupied until you hear the rich beats of a drumline, bump bump bubump, followed by a tattat tat of an even faster beat that seems to wash away all the other noise. Your heart almost feeds off the beat, picking up the pace, getting back on track. You perk up, attentive, and you somehow forget whatever it was that was distracting you. You realize the value of the moment. In cherishing that singular moment, in embracing the beat, you gain clarity.  
Mariam and I met the Bucket Boys, right outside the Art Institute. I'm going to be frank. I was frustrated that day. Not with anything in particular, but my mind was cloudy and I felt like I was spinning my tires. Stepping out of the Art Institute, I was hit in the face by the energy of the boys and their performance. I couldn't help but smile and take a moment to enjoy the environment. We met Dominique, Rob, KD, and Charles playing their buckets. They were younger than us, 14 to 19 years old, and they all grew up in the same neighborhood.
We asked them how long they've been playing for, and they all said they've been "beating" since they were 7 or 8. They said that the Bucket Boys have been around for a while, and there are hundreds of boys who play in groups all around the city at different times. According to their website, the Bucket Boys was started in the mid-90's by five boys who had been playing for years and tried to take their skill to the streets and make a little bit of money. Most of them grew up in rougher neighborhoods and playing buckets downtown give them a chance to help themselves.

You can check out the Bucket Boys playing outside the Art Institute in our video (above) and maybe head out to see them in person. You'll find them around the city, especially at Cubs games. Thanks so much for talking with us, guys. It was a pleasure meeting you. You really brightened our day. :)


  1. Here's the negative side of the bucket boys:

    1) they play hooky from school (the "crew" you spoke with are far from the only ones, and as you note, the start at age 14).

    2) the Sun-Times reported that some crews fund gangs.

    3) they violate the city noise ordinance and are a nightmare to businesses who don't want to be forced to listen to them. this results in calls to 911 (anything that needs a dispatcher in Chicago gets routed to emergency) in a city that 1) desperately needs police resources and 2) desperately needs businesses to stay in the business district.

    4) they damage babies and toddler hearing. check out the decibel levels. at one of their favorite locations (randolph/michigan, across from millenium park and at the cultural center) you always see strollers stopped next to them - their moms don't realize what's happening.

  2. One additional comment - the reaction " Most of them grew up in rougher neighborhoods and playing buckets downtown give them a chance to help themselves" - I've always sensed some latent racism when we accept that from people who say they've been blowing off school to beat drums at age 8. In any white suburbs they'd be rounded up and put in school, but we think every black kid in a bad neighborhood is going to be a gang banger, so anything short of that deserves praise.

    1. Thank you for sharing your comments. On this blog, we try to be positive about everyone's position and decision in life. We appreciate the people who take the time to talk to us, and the stories they have to share. What we write in our posts is almost directly what we are told by the subjects of our posts. It's what they choose to share! That being said, I respect the Bucket Boys, just as I respect the businessmen, mothers, fathers, entrepreneurs, writers, artists, students, and various people we meet. Their decision to join this crew of drummers doesn't seem so different from choosing to be a writer or a dancer or artist. It's just how you think about it, which is precisely the purpose of the blog - to ask you to consider that something might be a little different, but possibly better than what you have in ways you didn't expect. Allow yourself to experience the vast and plentiful variety of the human race.


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