Patti Smith headlining Metro in a celebration of the independent spirit

Smith headlines Metro this week for the first time, to kick off 40th anniversary celebrations for the hallowed rock club.

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Patti Smith and Her Band perform on day three of Riot Fest in Douglas Park, Sunday evening, Sept. 15, 2019.

Patti Smith and Her Band perform on day three of Riot Fest in Douglas Park in 2019. Smith and the band headline Metro on May 4 .

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

One of the most esteemed musicians, artists, poets and writers of our time, Patti Smith will always be synonymous with helping to usher in the punk rock wave in New York City and becoming a cultural icon of the Lower East Side.

Yet, Smith’s roots can also be connected to Chicago, where she and her band return May 4 to play Metro for the first time, to kick off 40th anniversary celebrations for Chicago’s hallowed rock club.

Born in the former Grant Hospital in Lincoln Park, Smith grew up for a short time in Logan Square and still holds close to fond memories of her earliest days, like seeing a swan for the first time in Humboldt Park and recalling a picture she still has of her pregnant mother outside the rooming house they rented on the city’s Northwest Side.

patti smith

Patti Smith and Her Band

When: 8 p.m. May 4

Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark

Tickets: Sold out

Info: metrochicago.com

“My connection with Chicago is probably as much by blood and spirit … We left when I was still quite young but, as a child, I was proud I was born there. I loved Carl Sandburg and poems about Chicago. I always felt the fact that I was born in such a great city in the middle of a massive snow storm and the struggles my parents went through after the war helped shape us all,” she shared in a recent interview. It comes nearly a year after her abbreviated Out of Space concert in Evanston where her powerful voice all but summoned nature upon playing a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

The heralded “punk poet laureate” has marked many an important occasion in the city — like feting her 70th birthday in 2016 with a show at the Riviera where good friend Michael Stipe surprised her with a cake and birthday sing-along onstage. Her latest visit will also be personally meaningful, honoring a venue that has upheld the independent spirit so pivotal to her own career and helped to shape a music scene, not unlike what she saw in New York in the ‘70s.

“The romance of a venue is something we all hold dear. Young people always say, ‘Oh, I never got to be in or play at CBGB [in New York],’ but CBGB is a state of mind. We had nowhere to play and wound up in this empty space nobody seemed to want or care about. It takes people with an independent spirit and hopefully a scene is created by people that want to shake things up,” Smith shared, decrying the “strip-mall consciousness” that has impacted so many major metropolitan areas, and not the very least the effects of the pandemic that have sacrificed venerable arts halls.

“So when a good place survives, I’m always grateful and always happy to see people fight to keep their heritage, musical or otherwise. … It really is a collaboration between the people and the visionary to keep it going.”

Club owner Joe Shanahan says having Smith play Metro “is truly 360 and intentional,” adding, “I saw Patti play the Park West in 1978 when she heard about the burning down of the first punk club in Chicago, La Mere Vipere. She said during the set, ‘So your club burned down, start another one.’ And to me, I heard that and that was my rally call. Four years later I opened Smartbar. So she is part and parcel to why and how 3730 North Clark is standing.”

Ever the photographer, singer Patti Smith takes some shots during her concert at Riot Fest in 2014. She’ll be releasing a new book of her photos, “A Book of Days,” in November.

Ever the photographer, singer Patti Smith takes some shots during her concert at Riot Fest in 2014. She’ll be releasing a new book of her photos, “A Book of Days,” in November.

Peter Holderness/Sun-Times

Though the set list for the May 4 show is to be determined, songs like her perennial anthem “People Have The Power” are still front of mind for many people, including Smith.

“My husband [Fred “Sonic” Smith] and I wrote that song when Russia invaded Afghanistan in the ‘80s … it was his title and intent to write a song that people could have to inspire them for righteous causes,” Smith shared, noting how relevant it remains in modern times. “It was originally written with concerns about our climate in the first verse, concerns about war in the second verse, and discrimination in the third verse (‘We strolled there together with none to laugh nor criticize’), so it addresses different aspects of human concern, and these things are right in the forefront of where we are now. … I know people have written and told me they sang it in the Ukraine, so it’s always on my mind.”

Though she cautions, “A song hopefully can inspire people, but in the end only people can make change — artists can do what they can to ignite or inspire but it’s up to the people.”

That affirmation continues to be her stance on many causes, whether it’s human rights or climate change — Smith is a staunch supporter of Pathway to Paris, a nonprofit environmental organization co-founded by her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith. As she says, “There is no small action. If each person did what they could to magnify the good, we’d have a much better world.”

In addition to being a National Book Award winner for her 2010 opus “Just Kids,” about her life and times with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, more recently she received the 2020 PEN/Audible Literary Service Award. And on the morning of our interview, Smith was finishing up the final touches on her upcoming book release, “A Book of Days,” slated to come out in November. It is inspired by her Instagram feed and includes 366 pictures and messages (one for each day of the year and an extra for those born in a Leap Year).

Patti Smith signs copies of her book “Just Kids” at the Chicago Public Library in 2010. The book documents her days with Robert Mapplethorp and the 1960’s.

Patti Smith signs copies of her book “Just Kids” at the Chicago Public Library in 2010. The book documents her days with Robert Mapplethorp and the 1960’s.

Al Podgorski/Sun-Times File

Smith is also working on new song material for what she told The Guardian will be one more album. “I’m not close to releasing it yet. But once I’m back on the road again and back with my musicians and my son who I like to write with, I will be more inspired. … What I write about is ever-changing. I’m not going to be writing about the same things I wrote about in the ‘70s for various reasons. I’m different at 75 years old, I look at the world quite differently and the things that concern me have shifted.”

One thing that mains constant is her opinion on artistic freedom and how it relates to the punk rock ethos.

“Punk rock originated as an idea in the ‘70s and really, to me, the definition of punk rock is freedom. That’s what we wanted — freedom to write our own songs, freedom to express ourselves the way we wanted to and express new ideas, to dress differently. We just basically wanted the freedom to do our work the way we envisioned. How people translate that is really up to them — I don’t have any guidelines.”

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