Sometime in the early part of the millennium I had a poet friend who called herself Kelly Bundy online even (no she did not resemble Christina Appelgate.) She used to sometimes meet me at certain art and lit activities over the weekend, and she always encouraged me to go the Burkhart Underground (I remember one time she called him up on the phone and kept asking questions and he got really mad at her.) I don’t remember her whole real name but I think her first name was Ashley and she was published in After Hours magazine.
I kept resisting going because on the day he had the Underground I always went to meetings of the Ever so Secret order of the Lamprey meetings which I loved the time (they were an art collective that met in Pilsen.)
I did start attending Burkhart’s gatherings the last several years, and they were enthralling and often reinvigorating. There was an interesting group of people that I only ever saw at his house. Poets, musicians, burlesque dancers, and playwrights plus many other people to congregate in his house every Sunday. The performances sometimes went on from early evening to 2 am in the morning.
Since Fred was an ex alcoholic, he would not allow any food or drinks on the premises (plus there might have been some underage people), but he had many types of tea to choose from and some snacks to much on. I think everyone was supposed to put in three bucks for the event, but some people put in more or less.
My late buddy, Lee Groban (who I miss greatly) often appeared there with his giant bags of magic stuff, and he sometimes read on stage there from his epic poem, “The Cure for Insomnia. “ Other semi regulars included Dennis Frederick, who is associated with the Peace Fest, and lots of younger artists that were just passing through town or a phase in life.
Even though there were people from all age groups there, most were bound by a common creative impulse and there was real rare sense of community there. It was also always great to see Burkhart’s photos (he specialized in taking photos of street people and artistic types and there was quite a few Art Ensemble of Chicago member pics) as well as his terrific Ken Kesey inspired magic bus.
Unfortunately, Fred passed away on August 30 from prostate cancer. The last I heard he was trying to fight it through natural remedies. I saw his last and first ever exhibit at Albini Gallery in the Uptown neighborhood , and I regret that I did not get a chance to say hi to him (the place was packed with people). Fred was always a friend to me and he was generous with his time. One time I was having problems with the sound equipment at my poetry show at Mercury Café, and he rushed right back home and got his own speakers and mic, and he even set them up for me.
The memorial for Fred is going to be this Sunday at 6:30 pm at the Wilson Abbey at 9:35 W. Wilson. He deserves a good turnout.
Here’s a link to a few pics that I took of some Burkhart Underground shows.