Sam lewis 

As Sam Lewis recalls, the idea for Chicago’s new monthly music series “Off the Record: A Listening Party” happened almost by accident. “We had a separate meeting at the DCASE offices last December to talk about a night-time farmer’s market in Logan Square, [but talk turned to a music series],” he relays as we meet up for some vinyl shopping at saki record store.

Lewis is the director of the Elastic Arts Foundation, who, along with saki, were each provided a one-year contract by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) to produce free monthly events celebrating a local musician or band with an upcoming release. The one caveat: it must be on vinyl.

The advance listening party also features a performance by the band and interactive elements like Q&A, plus light food fare from a local vendor. DJ Ayana Contreras (the host of “Reclaimed Soul,” a weekly radio program at Vocalo) keeps the momentum going in between programming.

Lewis produces the events with artist/urban planner Theaster Gates, and together they have welcomed musicians including The ONES and Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society at the inaugural event in January and David Boykin in February, all at the University of Chicago’s Washington Park Arts Incubator (the events saki produces are all in-store).

“The community we are building will have ripples,” Lewis says of the attendees that have included university people, neighborhood revelers, and even north siders. “I’m happy we can be part of the catalyst in reviving the arts scene on the south side. Of all that’s happening in those neighborhoods right now, this sends a good message.”

While at saki, Lewis picked out albums from three of his favorite artists—a dream list for Off the Record; or maybe just fodder for DJ Ayana.

Curtis Mayfield
“I was in New York when he had the stage accident, and he was never the same.”

Isaac Hayes
“We’re from the same town of Covington, Tennessee.”

John Lee Hooker
“I always appreciated his longevity, to be relevant for so long. And he always had an excitement for playing music.”

Off the Record’s next installment features experimental rockers ONO, who will preview their first album in 26 years. Check them out on Saturday, March 9 at the Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 East Garfield Boulevard. The event is free.

Selena Fragassi is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine.