Rio Bamba’s jazz started in Kovler Family Hall and washed over me by the kaleidoscope of the Caribbean Reef exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium

Seems even when I get out, it is work related. Take the members-only, media-night kickoff Wednesday for “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” on a perfect evening on the lakefront.

A blue wristband gave me entrance for the start of the 22nd year of Jazzin’. A green band showed I was over 21.

This year, Jazzin’– food, drink, fish, people, lakefront – runs Wednesdays, beginning at 5 p.m., through Oct. 10. It is $25 or free to members, a brilliant membership hook.

The busiest evenings tend to come early. The September and October dates are free for Illinois residents. This Wednesday, the regular kickoff, should draw a huge crowd with local favorite Detour JazFunk featured.

Beside running longer this year, Jazzin’ has new features, including nights for LGBTQ Pride (June 27), Fourth of July, Shark Week (July 25), Women in Science (Aug 15), Youth Night (Aug. 29) and six nights for Latin jazz (TBA).

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Exhibit with ciscoes and other fish at the Shedd Aquarium.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

I began wandering basic exhibits. Even with all the exotic fish, my favorites remain “At Home on the Great Lakes.” By the sturgeon-touch pool, Bartholomew Webster sounded like carnival barker hawking, “Come touch a sturgeon.”

When I overhead a kid ask, “Do they bite?” I resisted my anarchic instinct to twist the classic line in “A Christmas Story” and blurt, “They’ll bite your hand off, kid.”

Webster said a frequent question is whether they are sharks. No, though both are very old fish. He said sometimes people ask if you can eat them.

I found the backup food service racks behind a curtain by the paddlefish and Australian lungfish exhibits.

On a perfect evening, I found where everybody was: On the terrace. It was so jammed I could not find a seat, so I came back inside to people watch on a wooden bench by the Caribbean Reef. Time for a can of Anti-Hero, the signature IPA from the North Side’s Revolution Brewing. (When the revolution comes, it will be less hoppy.)

Members night had more families than during regular Jazzin’ when there’s far more knots of women, clumps of guys and coupled-up sorts.

I’ll put it this way, if by some chance my wife goes before me, I would be trolling or at least volunteering at Jazzin’.

Volunteer Karl Reko, who had been a Lutheran pastor for 50 years, anchored the key intersection. When I asked him why he volunteered, he said, “I like fish.” It’s more than that. He also volunteers on Frank Lloyd Wright tours.

He launched into a tale of a 35-inch northern pike killing a small walleye he was reeling in on Roderick Lake in Canada. The pike would not let go, so his buddy netted both. The pike was released. An eagle swooped down and flew off with the dead walleye.

Now there’s a story for the Shedd.

I walked outside again, but the terrace was even more packed as evening settled over Lake Michigan, so I came back to the Caribbean Reef with a second Anti-Hero.

Life’s collected detritus washed away under the sounds of Rio Bamba. It was time. A perfect evening to stroll the Museum Campus back to the Metra stop.
Jazzin’ details are at sheddaquarium.org/Jazzin.

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Relaxing by the Caribbean Reef exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times