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Meet five gentlemen who make this city laugh, cry, applaud and gaze up in wild wonder.

 

TORONZO CANNON 
Chicago blues lives on in the hands of a gunslinger beginning to get his due.

The demise of the blues has been greatly exaggerated. For evidence, we need look no further than into the heart of Toronzo Cannon. Or at least at his hands as they roam the neck of one of his guitars. The man is living and breathing the electrified blend of Southern swamp and urban troubles that defines the Chicago sound. And it is a role he takes absolutely seriously. “You can’t be half-stepping in Chicago. You can’t,” he says. “You gotta be it. You gotta do it. Some people like to call themselves musicians who play blues. No. For me, either you’re a blues man or blues woman, or you’re not.” Cannon’s dedication led to two recordings with stalwart local label Delmark, and is lately taking him to stages ever farther afield—he has recently toured Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France and Sweden, among other gigs. His newest recording, perhaps unsurprisingly titled The Chicago Way, from Alligator, has made him even more likely to be seen out of town than here—unless you happen to be a regular rider on the CTA’s Cicero route. Cannon is now in his 24th year as a city bus driver. Which is, when you think about it, as indigenous a blues origin story as you’ll find in this century—a modest man moving about the city, taking in all its heartaches and triumphs. It has given Cannon perspective. “We have some giant shoulders to stand on,” he says. “Know what I mean?” –DZ 

Shot on location at Chicago Music Exchange

WELZ KAUFFMAN
The head of Ravinia has laid down the soundtrack of summer for 16 years. He’s not finished yet.

It is difficult to imagine a music venue anywhere in the world with more wide-ranging offerings than those that have for decades been presented in the verdant paradise of the Ravinia Festival. It is every bit as difficult to get the CEO of the festival, Welz Kauffman, to take credit for the success the facility has enjoyed. As he enters his 17th season at the helm, though, there can be no denying the improvements in the audience experience: Dining options have expanded; the approximately 600,000 people arriving by car or train each year no longer have to cross an active train track to get inside; a short list of performers who have played there includes Lady Gaga, Maroon 5, Paul Simon and Diana Ross (from the more popular worlds of music), and a roster of classical players, including the recently announced conductor emeritus, James Levine—a who’s who of virtuosi. And yet Kauffman is filled with longing. “I just think Stevie Wonder should come here and do a week,” he says. “It’d be the first time we’ve ever done it. His attorney lives here; she’s been trying to get him to come. We’re all working on it any way we possibly can. I’m a huge fan; there’s no question about that. Maybe someday.” Mr. Kauffman: To crib a phrase from the aforementioned Paul Simon, you have given us a dream of summer. Keep dreaming. We think you can make it happen. –DZ 

Shot on location at Ravinia

STEVE DOLINSKY
A shelf full of awards proves the Hungry Hound has not lost his appetite.

As food correspondent for ABC 7, co-host of The Feed Podcast with Rick Bayless and recipient of 13 James Beard Awards (he was nominated again this year), Steve Dolinsky’s relationship with food is a far cry from the kosher meals he remembers from his childhood. “My mom was not the greatest cook,” he says. “She’s going to kill me for saying that. But it was very 1970s—lots of casseroles.” As he left for college, his sister-in-law gifted him a stack of Australian cookbooks that opened his eyes to what food could be. “She really showed me that food was not just sustenance,” he says. “It could be pleasurable.” Dolinsky took his broadcast degree and curiosity for cuisine to a gig at CLTV, where he could pick the minds of food editors every week and interview chefs right in their kitchens. “I took it as a challenge to learn as much as I could,” he says. In recent years, Dolinsky has embraced the improv comedy statute of “yes, and” by writing a book about Chicago pizza, improving his social media presence and offering his expertise as a food and beverage consultant—all on top of his already-busy reporting schedule. Thankfully, he never gets tired of talking about food. “I still get a thrill out of telling people about a great Lebanese place in Albany Park, or ‘this is how you’re supposed to eat sushi,’” he says. “I’ve spent most of my career trying to make up for that lost time I had as a kid in Minnesota.” –JJ

Shot on location at MingHin Cuisine

 

BILLY DEC
The veteran nightlife impresario branches out with a film company.

Billy Dec is a household name in Chicago. As the CEO of Rockit Ranch Productions, which owns Sunda, The Duck Inn, the Underground nightclub and other notable spots, the Chicago native has been a power player in the nightlife scene for almost two decades. He has appeared on the Today show and Windy City Live, but it was small roles on Friends and Entourage that gave him the acting bug. “I was addicted and started taking acting lessons at the Piven Theatre Workshop,” says Dec. “The first time I crossed the line to start auditioning was 2008, when I landed a role as an FBI agent on The Beast. I had to hold a gun to Patrick Swayze’s head. It was so surreal.” Since then, Dec has appeared in American Crime Story: People v. O.J. Simpson, Empire and Criminal Minds, but about two years ago, he stepped it up a notch with the launch of Elston Films, a production company. With his partners and director Anthony Hemingway (American Crime Story, Shameless), Dec is now preparing to film Bury The Lead, the story of a journalist who concocts a conspiracy in order to win a Pulitzer. The project will be made in Chicago. “When we founded Rockit Ranch in 2002, we wanted to elevate the level of entertainment and hospitality in Chicago,” he says. “Elston Films helps me continue to contribute to that mission in new and different ways.” –KH

Shot on location at Cinespace Chicago

 

LOU RAIZIN
The head of Broadway in Chicago brings us big tours—and big bucks.

Lou Raizin is addicted to making money, but we shouldn’t call him selfish. After all, he gave us Hamilton. And The Producers. And Wicked. And Kinky Boots. In his 16-year term at the helm of Broadway in Chicago, he’s brought carefree happiness to thousands of audiences. And yet his focus is unwavering: A great show is a show that helps pay a city’s bills. “The show has got to be commercial,” he says. “That’s where we focus.” The five downtown theaters for which Broadway in Chicago claims the exclusive theatrical rights comprise one of the biggest touring destinations in the country. Raizin uses what he calls “calculus” to analyze what factors and variables make mounting a big production here worthwhile. And he takes action, too—for instance securing tax credits for producers. These days, serving on the board of both Choose Chicago and the Magnificent Mile Association, he’s focused especially on the big picture. When he talks about mounting a new show, he’s talking about job creation. “It’s not always about us,” he says. “It’s about raising the tide. It’s something that all of us here think about. How can we help? How can we continue to make a difference?”­ –JJ