The Crusader Newspaper Group

The Stones hit Navy Pier with swagger on heels of Blues tribute

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism is now on display at Chicago’s Navy Pier. It is the Rolling Stones’ first ever major exhibition, delivered by DHL, and will run for a four-month engagement through July 30, 2017, proudly brought to the United States by Jackson. The extraordinary exhibit includes an expanse of more than 500 rare items covering the band’s influence on fashion, film, recording, art, and design, and is the largest touring exhibition of its kind ever to be staged at nearly 18,000 square feet.

The highly-anticipated Chicago engagement follows the exhibit’s global premiere in London and its star-studded U.S. premiere in NYC, both of which garnered rave reviews and drew huge crowds of music, art and fashion lovers. Exhibitionism is the first time in history the band has unlocked their vast private archive exploring the very beginning of their history to the Stones’ superstardom of today.

Exhibitionism tells the story of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll band in history, allowing visitors to experience firsthand their incredible journey from early days living together in a tiny flat to headlining the biggest stages in the world. Exhibitionism continues the Stones’ proud tradition of groundbreaking innovation combined with the highest production values.

From their most cherished instruments, onstage and offstage clothes, valuable works of art and handwritten lyric books to personal diaries, recordings, unseen film and photos, a screening cinema and interactive recording studio, all this culminates in an exciting and powerful backstage-to-onstage 3D concert experience.

Many things caught my eye at this exhibit, and the influence of Blues and R&B music is displayed in photos of Blues legends Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and a poster from the “Gather No Moss” tour, which featured James Brown, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye, among others.

In my opinion, the Blues influence has never been denied by the Rolling Stones or other groups, and I asked a couple of people their opinions about the music melding together.

“If you know even a little bit about the history of blues and rock music, you probably know that Chicago Blues records inspired a lot of early rock music — including the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion artists,” said Chicago journalist Robert Loerzel. “The Stones have always been very open about how much they picked up from listening to records by people like Waters. It’s a testament to just how important Chicago is as a sort of musical crossroads. The city can’t really claim to be the original birthplace of musical genres like Blues, jazz, ragtime, country, rock or soul — maybe gospel, depending on how you define it — but it did attract musicians from around the country who were creating and shaping all these styles.”

Loerzel mentioned Chicago’s negligence in tooting its own horn, as far as Blues music goes—even given the fact that Guy has been a mainstay in the city. “As many people have pointed out, Chicago doesn’t do that great a job of celebrating its musical heritage the way other cities have. That might change, if the Chicago Blues Experience museum opens downtown, as planned. As a Stones fan, I’ve always fantasized about the possibility that Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] and their band mates might spend a little more time in Chicago, working with local musicians or playing secret gigs at blues clubs,” Loerzel added. “I know that’s just pure fantasy, because the Stones seem to be too rich and famous to do that. But I bet they would have a helluva good time if they escaped from their rock-star bubble and jammed in our city for a while. At least they paid tribute to Chicago Blues musicians with their most recent album called “Blue and Lonesome.” And now they’ve sent a warehouse worth of band memorabilia for us to gaze on at Navy Pier. That’s something.”

While at the soft opening of Exhibitionism, I talked with a co-founder of the Chicago Blues Experience William Selonick, and he offered his opinion about the importance of the Stones in American pop culture.

“The Stones began their career as teenagers 54 years ago and became huge international stars and remained together as a unit over all of those years, collaborating in each decade with artists across a variety of media to retain their significance and celebrity.  Along the way they figured out things no one ever had to before, like how to perform in a meaningful way to 500,000 people at once,” Selonick said. There are many highlights of the exhibit, Selonick said. “For me, it was being allowed to see the entire arc of an amazing life that these guys crafted for themselves.”

The strength of the collaboration between Jagger and Richards was evident, as well as their ability to introduce mainstream populations to the goodness of the Blues. “As Waters and Guy reflected in videos in the exhibit, the Stones were able to introduce and educate especially white kids about the Blues in ways that were not available to the original Blues legends. It was the British rock bands that were so inspired by the Chicago Blues players.  As soon as they had their own success, they began to bring their Blues heroes to the United Kingdom and Europe to be opening acts,” Selonick added.

He notes that Jagger and Richards were schoolmates who joined forces when Richards noticed Jagger carrying an armful of Chess Records. In the beginning they only covered popular Blues standards.

According to Selonick, they met Waters while at the Chess studios.

“The Chicago Blues originals, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willy Dixon, Jimmy Rogers, and so many more, initiated the Stones’ career and permeates their work to this day,” Selonick concluded.

For more information about tickets for the Rolling Stones Exhibitionism, visit

For more information about the Chicago Blues Experience, a privately run 50,000-square-foot facility dedicated to the rich Chicago Blues legacy and slated to open in spring 2019 near Millennium Park, visit

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