Is this the year St. Louis finally turns the corner? Is 2003 the year we will remember as the point when the city became a City again, and not a collection of empty buildings and dusty memories? Downtown St. Louis has seen a resurgence of sorts, with the almost-but-not-quite-yet completed Washington Avenue improvements and the late-night hours of the always-evolving City Museum providing a few reasons to head downtown when the work day is done, but there are still many nights when the city is mostly empty and lonely. Sure, there are annual summer events such as Ribfest and the imminent Fair St. Louis, but those are weekend affairs of frenzied activity that come and go every year. There hasn't been much of a reason for people to develop a steady relationship with the city, something that affords them the opportunity to look around and say, "St. Louis, you're alright."
The Washington Avenue Summerfest Series seeks to alleviate that problem. Over the next four months, four free music festivals will be held on Washington Avenue between Tucker Boulevard and 14th Street. Yes, city-supported music events are usually lame (look at Fair St. Louis), but the first show (this Friday beginning at 4 p.m.) is coming out of the gate strong, with the moderately popular alternative rock of Eve 6 and the downright quirky brilliance of They Might Be Giants. There will be concessions, adult beverages (Jose Cuervo is a major sponsor, so you must be at least 21 to attend) and "vendors selling cool stuff" until 10 p.m. Is it a new idea? No, but it's an honest attempt to get people downtown to see what the city could be like if it had a nighttime population (www.entertainmentstl.com). -- Paul Friswold
Black vs. White
Chess brings out the beast
The combatants wage war on an intellectual plane of memory and intuition, feinting and dodging, looking for the barest sliver of a mistake that can be driven open by a swift and merciless attack. With mathematical precision the victor strikes, slashing through the paralyzed defense to claim his prize. On the physical plane, the drama is played out by a young man reaching across the board to topple the beleaguered white king of his older opponent, while a chorus of cheers and "no-you-didn'ts!" ring out in the night. This is the cutthroat world of the chess players who gather in the twilight of the Market in the Loop (6655 Delmar Boulevard) every evening to match wits and strategy. People of all ages, colors, nationalities and skill levels study the carefully orchestrated assaults and defenses of potential opponents, murmuring to one another after each move. To the casual observer, it is a strange combination of silent tension and sudden release, but to the players, this is life itself: a balance of caution and aggression, played out in growing darkness. Just don't say "king me!" when you get to the back row. -- Paul Friswold
Hurry, Make Something Up!
Two roads to Improv
One more way St. Louis comes "this close" to being as cool as Chicago: our budding improv-comedy circuit. While the Windy City can lay claim to the legendary Second City club, St. Louis now boasts a pair of improv showcases.
The big mama of the two is the aptly named City Improv, located in Union Station at 1820 Market Street; it mounts made-up-from-thin-air mayhem every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. (For a full schedule and prices, call 314-241-1527 or visit www.cityimprov.com.) Shows for summer include the punny "Camp Manihaha" and "Don Knotts Landing."
Elsewhere, Dressel's Pub, in the Central West End at 419 North Euclid Avenue, lets loose the NightShift Improvisational Theatre company every Thursday night at 8 p.m. (314-361-1060, $5). NightShift, an offshoot of New Line Theatre, specializes in a "Whose Line Is It Anway?" style of brief improv games with scoring by the audience. -- Rose Martelli
Newsman of the Weird
Longtime RFT writer William Stage gets off on the out-of-the-way, the odd and the half-crazy. His new collection of columns from the pages of this newspaper, Have a Weird Day, is a tribute to St. Louis oddities and odd St. Louisans. He introduces us to barroom brawlers, junk-pickers, foul-mouthed grandmas, dead dogs, nudists and a Bigfoot-like creature called "Mo Mo." In his own chronicle of the battle to catch a pesky mouse, "Stunted Raisins," he notes that "when something on your breakfast cereal that looks to be a stunted raisin or burnt Grape Nut turns out to be something else, something far less savory, then, by God, it's all-out war." Stage reads from and signs his book at John D. McGurk's Irish Saloon (1200 Russell Boulevard, 7 p.m., 314-776-8309, free). -- Byron Kerman
Cedric, you phat MF! Are you so goddamn big now, your manager, publicist and whoever put that fake-ass e-mail address on your slick Hollywood web page (www.ceddybear.com) can't respond to an interview request from your hometown alternative newspaper? Redd Foxx and Mark Twain must be rolling over in their graves (located, respectively, in Las Vegas and New York) with big smiles.
Cedric the Entertainer's Comedy Classic is at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at the Fox Theatre (tickets range from $32.50 to $52.50), where the Southeast Missouri State graduate-turned-State Farm adjuster-turned-Hollywood megastar will rock the house with mad jabs and cool jive. For tickets, call Metrotix at 314-534-1111. -- Tom R. Arterburn