Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lil BUB's Magical Yule LOG Video

No explanation needed. Just hit full screen and let the video play. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Now Playing: Christmas In Soulsville

The holiday season is upon us! I would like to share with you the greatest Christmas compilation album ever. It's called Christmas In Soulsville. I was turned on to the tune "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" last year during Sound Opinions' annual Holiday Spectacular. Every year they hand the reins (heh heh) over to Andy Cirzan and his themed mixes (and pssst...you're gonna love this year's too!).

May your holidays be funky and bright!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bud Tasting Lunch

Budweiser sent me their new 'Project 12' beers to try, and I decided that I wanted to do something a little more fun than just sitting on my couch drinking beer in front of the TV. So I gathered a few friends from my office, and hosted a small "tasting lunch" on a slow day. We just brought whatever we had for lunch into a conference room, shared small samples of each brew and discussed what we thought.

'Project 12' is Budweiser's new innovation arm that dabbles into the craft brew arena and gave us Black Crown. As VP Brian Perkins told PRNewser, "Budweiser brewmasters are the professional athletes of brewing. We threw them the ball and let them show off a bit." This year in their second endeavor, the result is three new beers, identified by the ZIP code where they were brewed. All of the beers were immediately identifiable as Budweiser, made with their proprietary yeast cultures descended right from the culture originally used by Adolphus Busch in 1876 (yeah, I also recently went on a Budweiser brewery tour...), but packed in new flavor.

Batch 94534 from Fairfield, CA is a North Pacific Style Lager that Budweiser describes as a "bold, hoppy lager brewed with a unique blend of North Pacific hop varieties, including Cascade and Palisade, that offers a distinct taste of the American Northwest." We all pretty much agreed that we aren't wild about beers described as hoppy, hoptacular or hoppilicous. The 94534 profile was fairly mild in comparison to craft beers that scream hops, but we were more excited about trying their maltier counterparts.

We saved Batch 23185 from Williamsburg, VA, the Vanilla Bourbon Cask, for last since we expected the "light amber lager aged on a bed of bourbon barrel staves and vanilla beans" to be the tastiest. 23185 did appeal to our sweeter, girly side, but Batch 43229 out of Columbus, OH proved to be our favorite. The Beechwood Bock is "brewed with chocolate and caramel malts for a rich auburn appearance and finished on Beechwood chips for a crisp, clean taste." There it is again, that signature crisp, clean Budweiser finish that is much lighter than most caramely craft beers. This is one we could drink all evening without having to "switch to something not-so-heavy" (how many times have we said/heard that).

As you might see in the pictures, our resident Nicaraguan co-worker also brought some rum for us to try as well. It ended up being a really fun lunch, something a little different to break up the day.

The three new 'Project 12' beers are available as part of a sampler pack in stores now.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A chance to see Le Sacre du Printemps cause a riot.

I almost didn't go to opening night of the Joffrey Ballet's "Russian Masters" program, but I'm so glad that I did. It's a special addition to the regular season, so it's only running this weekend. The thing that really made me want to go though, is the inclusion of Stravinsky and Nijinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, or Rite of Spring. This is the show that literally caused a riot in the audience on its opening night in Paris 100 years ago. You probably know Stravinsky's score which is generally attributed to causing the riot because of its percussion heavy avant garde nature, but it sounds like there were a lot of factors that led to the riot, not the least of which is Nijinsky's choreography (contorted movements and turned-in feet) and the piece's subject matter (oh ya know, virgin sacrifice).

I wrote a preview of the program for Chicagoist based on the press release and of course my previous experience seeing the company, but I get a much better perspective actually watching the pieces. Sometimes I'm invited to preview portions before the opening, which is amazing, but most of the time I write a review the day after the opening. This run however, is so short, and I was leaving town the day after it opened, so I didn't have time for a review, but again, I'm glad that I opted to go.

I should also mention that that there's another great piece on the program from modern day choreographer Possokhov called simply, Adagio. It's a pas de deux that he created for husband and wife team Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili and I swear, he just pushes to see what they are capable of. It's stunning, both in beauty and in breathtaking talent. Not just any dancer could take on this piece.

There are still two more chances to see "Russian Masters" today and tomorrow.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Riot Fest Is Upon Us

Riot Fest begins tomorrow, and like Labor Day is the official end of summer, lets call this one the official end of music festival season. It's been real, it's been fun, see you next summer and all that.

This is where we kick back with our friends, take in the crisp fall weather, reminisce of another great summer gone by, and of course headbang along with some punk bands. Maybe we'll even ride some rides or play some games at the carnival. And obviously we'll take our pictures with the John Stamos butter sculpture for posterity's sake.

We at Chicagoist put together a listing of our choice picks to see at the fest that aren't headliners, because you don't need a reminder to see the biggest bills. My picks were Kitten, New Beat Fund, Pet Symmetry and Peelander-Z, most of which I discovered from having my Riot Fest Spotify playlist on shuffle for the last several weeks. Obviously there are a lot of other acts I'm excited to see, but these are my lesser known recommendations. And there are still more intriguing songs coming through on my playlist!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Endorsement for The National Endowment for the Brents

My friend Brent Puls had some serious f'ing medical problems. Luckily he came through and is doing much better, but now he's got some serious f'ing medical bills to take care of. He's also pretty lucky that he has some pretty spectacular (and talented) friends that decided to put together a digital album to help offset some of those bills.

Who are these spectacular, talented friends, you ask? Well, Rachael Yamagata, Joe Pug, Pat Sansone, Tom Schraeder and JC Brooks are just a few. And Brent's a pretty talented guy himself. A couple of groups that he's been a part of appear on the album, too. There's even some previously unreleased stuff in there, and it's a steal for just $10!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Music Wednesday!

Janelle Monae's new album, Electric Lady, comes out next week, but you can stream it here. I'm only a few songs in, but so far it's pretty jammin, a lot more focused than her debut. It's almost like this girl is being groomed for prime time after moving on from of Montreal to Bruno Mars and becoming a Covergirl. I mean, she's got Erykah Badu, Solange, Big Boi, Cee-Lo and freakin Prince (among others) guesting on this thing.

Nine Inch Nails' new album, Hesitation Marks, is now available after some of the songs being previewed. I was kind of worried because one of the songs I heard ("Everything") sounded more like it belonged in an iPod commercial than on a NIN album. After finally hearing the whole album, I kind of wonder why they would choose to represent it with that track, since for the most part, it's roots-based industrial for the 20 year old group. Once again we're angry and we don't know why, but now we're sitting at desk job instead of behind a locked bedroom door.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Can you buy the song of summer?

I don't care how much you push a single, you can only try to influence the song of summer, Mr Thicke. While "Blurred Lines" is a jam, and the video is certainly, um, intriguing, I don't think it has the same allure as Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" or Icona Pop's "I Love It". But who am I to say that only one song should rock your summer? We took a cab across town last weekend and rocked out to all three of these songs, plus a little of Miley's new tune, "We Can't Stop", and you know what? If the windows are down and the wind's in your hair, and you're singing along and dancing in your seat, you're doing summer right.

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Some songs of summers past.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Taco Taco Tacos"

Hey everybody, guess what day it is!

Peelander-Z is playing Riot Fest next month.

As Heard On TV

This song was in Breaking Bad's season premiere on Sunday (you know, when Hank was hard at work in the garage), and I tried to Sound Hound it with no result. Then I came across this Vulture interview with show creator Vince Gilligan where he talks about the song by his former schoolmate, Jim White.

Bonus: Here's another one that struck me during the show. This was during the second to last episode of season 4 when "Walt sits at home, alone, with his 38 snub at his side. He mulls over his options, spinning the gun three times on its side as he does so. The first two times the barrel of the gun stops pointing straight at Walt, while the third points at his nearby flowerpot." (thanks internet nerds.)

And one more...Madrigal. Walt and Jessie search for the ricin cigarette.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Good Times Were Had

The boyfriend and I took a last minute trip up to a friend's lake house party in Wisconsin this weekend, and it was just what I needed. We were barely gone 24 hours, but I feel so refreshed and relaxed. Sometimes a quick road trip and a few hours on a lake are better than a full blown vacation. I had so much fun just hanging out with friends, swimming, camping and dancing late nite at #ClubPontoon. We even made the requisite stops at Mars Cheese Castle and Bobby Nelson's for some cheese spread, summer sausage, and a whole bunch of Spotted Cow.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Recapping Chicago's Biggest Music Weekend

I shared some of my thoughts on Lollapalooza and life in a music scene yesterday, and believe me, there are so many aspects of that post that I could develop into different longer-form pieces if I was more focused and less lazy. Perhaps one day...

But here I want to share our cumulative reviews of the weekend on Chicagoist. With the different views of Chuck, Jim, Jessica and me, I think we offered a well-rounded recap. I didn't write about every single thing I saw, but all was at least covered by someone else. One act I'm bummed I did miss though was HAIM. Hopefully they come through town again soon, and ya know, I can see them in a smaller venue.

Lollapalooza 2013 Day One: Yup, It's Massive

Bonus: Watch Lollapalooza Security Tackle A Stage Crasher

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lolla-ing, Reflecting

It's always hard to encompass a whole weekend as long as Lollapalooza into a single post, it's hard to even quickly recall everything that happened. Thursday night feels like forever ago. I have developed a quick answer to 'what were your favorite performances that you saw,' and honestly most of them weren't even at the actual fest. My absolute fave was Nine Inch Nails on Friday. I've heard a lot of people didn't think it was very good, and I know exactly why. They didn't have the side screens on, so you couldn't see shit if you weren't up close, and the shadow screen stage show wasn't much to look at, but we moved over to the far right of the stage where we could see the stage perfectly, and it wasn't at all crowded. Reznor showed off his guns in a sleeveless shirt and they played a ton of old stuff from the Downward Spiral years, so those of us of a certain age were happy as pigs in, well, you know.

That same night we went to see The Thermals in Logan Square. They weren't even on the Lolla roster this year, but they did a free show at Ultra Lounge that was one of my top shows. I was dragging by midnight when they went on, but seeing them in that tiny club amped me up and reminded me that this is why we cover music, not free parties with plastic girls who are way to pretty-fied to have even seen a band anywhere all day (well, not playing on a stage anyway). I even got a high-5 from the drummer after the show!

The next night we braved the crowds at the Hard Rock for the #ASOSRocks party to see the special guest that they hinted on facebook on Thursday, Salt-N-Pepa, and it was rad. The bf had me pushed close to the front of the room thanks to an open side door, and they bantered and played all the hits for all the ladies. A big fuck you though to the obnoxiously tall basketball players that wormed their way to the front towards the end though. I don't care how famous of an athlete you are, you stand in front of the ladies at a Salt-N-Pepa show, you ain't nothin but a jerk. Read up on how not to be a jerk at a concert.

And finally, as my two legs could barely hold me anymore, we made our way to the Metro for the final Postal Service show. I'm realizing now that not everyone knows the whole story behind this band. Basically Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) sent tracks back and forth via the mail (hence the name) and they ended up with this really well received album, oh and Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) did some of the vocals. That was ten years ago. I forgot how well I knew those songs, singing along, right along with the whole rest of the venue. Ben Gibbard wasn't quite as nerdy as I thought he would be, even with those dance moves, and Jenny Lewis is my hero, my spirit animal, my whatever. I want to be her. She had kitten heel saddle shoes on, played the drums, and played the guitar with her face. We got a little clip of the last song they'll ever play together for Chicagoist, a little ditty that might sound familiar...

* * *

Call me a snob for saying that most of my favorite shows were at small after parties, but there's something special about experiencing a band in a small room. Festivals are great for what they are, a shared experience with tens of thousands of other people who can say they were there when it happened, man, and that experience goes far beyond music. Bottom line I guess is that we all deserve to just lose it for a couple of days, forget all those daily responsibilities of school or work. But, as Lollapalooza gets closer to celebrating a decade in Chicago, it's changed, and it changes more every year. It shifts, it morphs, it gets bigger and bigger and the attendees get younger and younger as the fest becomes more accepted in the mainstream (that's the only reason I can think of why these teen's parents would let them go), and I keep getting older and older. The experience has changed for me, too as I've gotten more involved. In 2005 I was camped on a blanket with my friends all day balancing out our drug/alcohol intake. Now I'm moving around so much I barely get to sit down unless I take a quick break in the media area. Sometimes drinks are free, especially at parties, but I barely drink anything in order to keep my shit together. Also, I get invited to parties now, and I have friends that take me as their guest to other parties. I get to meet cool people, have celebrity sightings, but I also want to be a reliable writer so I try to balance fun with responsibility. There is a lot more stuff happening outside the festival than ever before--day-parties, after-parties, official and unofficial after-shows, some of them exclusive and some of them not. One could still have a Lollapalooza experience and never even step foot inside the festival grounds, whether you're some level of VIP or not.

Oh, and those small venue shows?? They're happening all around the city all the time. The names might not be as big as The Postal Service or the Foo Fighters, but I guarantee that you can have just as good of a time, maybe even better times. And then when that tiny little band you saw at the Empty Bottle headlines a festival in five or even ten or twenty years, you can say that you were there when it really happened, man.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lolla Storm

Lolla 2008

A storm is rolling into Chicago and it's called Lollapalooza. No, I'm kidding, Lolla is here, but it really is supposed to storm this afternoon/evening which is going to make for a wet, muddy fest, and maybe even an evacuation! Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be beautiful though, and not too hot. I don't even know how to handle that though, how do you dress for a fest when you're not sweating like crazy?!

I'm still sitting in my office writing this, but I'll be there this evening (maybe even sneak out a little early if the office empties out). If you're not already there, check out our Chicagoist previews and recommendations below of who to see at the fest. Our review coverage will be somewhat different this year, as Lollapalooza has morphed into something so much more than just a music destination, we'll be taking stock of all aspects of the festival and events it's spawned, so look for that next week. Most importantly, HAVE FUN this weekend!

Lollapalooza 2013 Preview: Friday

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pitchfork 2013 Edition

We made it through another Pitchfork Music Fest weekend mostly unscathed, besides a couple of ink marks. I was unsure I wanted to go this year since I didn't know many of the bands in the lineup and I'm not really a fan of Bjork or R. Kelly, but I'm really glad I went. I had a ton of fun. It's always good to see friends in the music community, and I got turned on to some great new bands. Of course we partied a little bit, too.

Here are links for the daily wrap-ups on Chicagoist, including a couple reviews from me!

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013 Day One: Hot And Groovy

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013 Day Two: Don't Stop The Rock

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013 Day Three: Let's Dance!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hockey Hooky

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on Monday and today is the victory parade downtown, just a few blocks from my office. While I'm admittedly not a huge hockey fan, and I only watched a few minutes of one of those playoff games, there's nothing like being in a city like Chicago when a beloved sports team wins a championship. I'll probably head down towards the rally during my lunch hour just to see what it's like down there with the masses of people celebrating, just like I did when they won the Cup three years ago. It's something you don't get to experience often, if at all, so how could I pass it up when it's just a short walk down the street?!

Here's a live stream of the festivities if you can't make it:

View more videos at: http://nbcchicago.com.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Breaking Drums

I find this endlessly amusing, or, at least amusing for the next seven hours.

Andrew W.K. is currently attempting to break the world record for drumming. He's gotta play for 24 hours straight. There's a live stream. I already have to go to the bathroom.

Get More: 
O Music Awards

Friday, May 31, 2013

Outdoor Om

Some friends and I are headed to Wanderlust's Yoga In The City this weekend, just one of the events I listed in my recent Outdoor Yoga roundup for Chicagoist. There were a surprising number of offerings that I found including regular classes on North Avenue Beach from Sun & Moon, and a few free options including Sunday's YITC in Grant Park. You just have to register for a class in advance, and then b.y.o.m. (bring your own mat).

See my full list here. Namaste!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dance Away

I've been busy covering a bunch of dance stuff for the ol' -ist lately, and totally neglecting to talk about of any of it on the ol' blog. Here's some of what I've been up to:

Shaping Sound

  • Saturday was opening night for Chicago Dance Crash's new program, The Cotton Mouth Club, and as usual they stun and delight with an unconventional mix of disciplines. Check out my review here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bloody Bloody Marys

Today we posted a list of our favorite Bloody Marys in the City on Chicagoist as part of our "Best Of" series. Man, do people have strong feelings about their bloodys. As Chuck says, we almost got into a virtual fist fight on the list over it. I am very particular about my bloodys as well, and my contribution had to be edited way down, but here are my complete feelings on the drink, and my favorite in the city. 

I’m picky about bloody marys, but I’m no good pinpointing exactly what it is that I love. I can tell you what I don’t like: one that’s too watery, too thick, too much worcestershire, not enough worcestershire, too lime-y, too spicy with not enough flavor. I don’t mind a little bit of beer in there, but what am I supposed to do with that beer back?? If I want a tiny beer, I’ll order a half pint. Don’t bother with all those meats and cheeses either, I ain’t looking for a meal here, or even a celery stick. Just stick a pickle wedge in there and be done with it.

While appreciate the concept of a Bloody Mary Bar (you’re in control! make it how YOU like it!), I don’t want to be responsible for ruining my own drink, and I’ve ruined plenty of bloodys. When I’m hungover on a Sunday, the last thing I want is a crappy bloody mary, especially one that I paid for and ruined. I want a bartender that can make me a rich, tasty bloody that is consistently delicious.

Enter AJ at the Corner Bar in Bucktown. He’s usually manning the bar on Sundays for whatever sporting event is going on (sometimes they’ll even have Popeye’s chicken), and he makes a mean (read: delicious) bloody mary. You won’t find any pre-made mix in a jug here. He makes each one from scratch: tomato juice, vodka, worcestershire, horseradish, (I’m sure I’m missing lots of important things here), a celery salt rim, and of course, a pickle. I’ve watched him make 'em many times, but I still can’t put it together as well as he does.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grillin' Weather

It's finally starting to feel more like spring outside, and that means it's time to get the grill out. I've stored my Weber charcoal grill under our deck without a cover for the last couple of years, and it's filthy. I was looking into how to clean it so it has that new shiny black look again, and came across this Weber video on how to spring clean the whole grill. Turns out you don't need a special cleaner, just warm soapy water and a sponge will do the trick for the exterior.

I'm also going to go ahead and order one of these vinyl covers to keep it protected during the winter storage months. If I had realized they were less than ten bucks, I would have gotten one a lot sooner!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Before and After: Home Edition

I said I would do this a loooong time ago, but I just ran across these living room photos that I had set aside for showing our before and afters. Maybe I was waiting to post until I found some better befores, but these still do the job. Having lived in the after for so long now, seeing these old photos proves just how glad I am that I painted and decorated! Personalizing really does make the difference between a house and a home, even if it is a rental.

A lot of these photos have a certain Beagle in them who has since passed, and it's reminder of how much having her around made the house a home, too. Though, for someone who hated having her photo taken, I don't know how she managed to end up in almost every shot :)

Before/in progress: 

This is the best shot I have of the boyfriend's old mod couch. 

The red loveseat that Betty claimed for herself. 


(We've since gotten a fancy new coffee table, too.)

(Note that Betty's bed got an upgrade, too.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two Snow Things

There's another snowstorm happening outside my windows again (yes I know it's March, please tell that to the sky) and this is my friendly reminder that Chicago Municipal Code sections 4-4-310 and 10-8-180 state that property owners and occupants are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice.

I had this really clever idea to make stickers to put on those neighbors' gates who don't shovel that say "Thanks for not shoveling your sidewalk. I'll be sure to send the hospital bill for my broken bones to this address." Of course I would have a friendly one for nice neighbors, too, that says "Thank you for shoveling, neighbor!" It probably has a heart or a smiley face on it, too. But the city beat me to it with this door hanger. Look, it's friendly AND official!

Thing numero dos: With any snowstorm comes snowball fights, and tonight Chicagoist, RedEye and Do312 face off in their own Snowbrawl 2013 in Wicker Park. Okay, really anyone can show up and start throwing snow at other people and its a good time. Last year was super fun. The news even thought so. The real news. See you there!

Friday, February 22, 2013


Sure it snowed a bunch last night, but we didn't get any anticipated thundersnow, and you know why? Because Jim Cantore wasn't here, that's why.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sound City Playlist

Because I'm a total nerd, and because I've been gushing about the Sound City doc ever since we saw it last week, I made a Spotify playlist of all the albums recorded at the studio. Now, this is the list from their own website, so I don't know how accurate it is so much as touting (for example, I know some of those albums only recorded a couple of tracks there), but nevertheless, it's a fun listen through a certain part of history. There are some surprises in there, and some that I skip right through, but it's been great to throw on shuffle for the work day.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sound City

This movie follows the life of a legendary recording studio called Sound City. Well, it really follows the story of the sound board inside, a one of a kind custom made Neve Console, and that board has life after the studio (spoiler alert: it involves Paul McCartney). Dave Grohl is the man behind the documentary, his band Nirvana, you may have heard of them, recorded Nevermind there, and once he heard the studio was closing, he snatched up that Neve and it now lives in his own studio, 606. Anyway, with a cast that includes Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Rick Rubin, Trent Reznor, and more, so many more, well, don't you just want to watch for yourself?!

They had a one-night showing of the movie in some select theaters last Thursday, and there a few more screenings scheduled, but you can watch it on online for only 12 bucks. Now we just wait for the album release...

You can also hear a couple rad interviews with Grohl on Marc Maron's WTF podcast and The Nerdist podcast. I seriously wish I could get as excited about anything as Grohl seems to be about everything.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Community Daybreak

I'm in the midst of a "Community" marathon, and I finally caught the name of this Troy and Abed favorite: "Daybreak."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A letter to Betty the Beagle...

Betty, it's so hard without you here in this house, but I know that you're in a better place, especially given the last few days and weeks as you got skinnier and weaker.  It must be a relief. It was tough watching your health decline, having to help you up and down the stairs, coerce you eat, and god, that last night just trying to get you to drink some water out of a medicine syringe.

But I won't remember you that way. I'll remember you as the spritely, tenacious pup that you were, running with me in the park (and then suddenly stopping because you smelled something). Who would trick us for treats. Who would open the fridge right in front of us. Who would hide cheese in the couch (yes, we know about that, we caught you on video). And I was right about those scratches on the furniture, I'm glad they're there. I don't think about how mad I was at the time, I just remember how smart and sweet and persistent you were.

I know we had a contentious relationship. It was difficult for me to adjust to living with a dog--a senior at that-- having never lived with one before at all. You certainly tested my patience, and often won.

When I moved in with your dad, I felt like I had joined a cool club, the dog-owners club, joining neighbors who said hi and chatted when they were out walking their dogs. (Hey, remember that time we locked ourselves out of the apartment and had to extend that walk around Humboldt Park waiting for Dad to get home? Best walk ever, right?!)  But then I realized I was in an even more exclusive club, the Beagle club. Goodness you little guys are determined, and from what I understand, you were an elite member. And I loved you. Still do. Always will.

I was always surprised but delighted when you walked over to me (specifically to me! not Dad!) for some love. And I'm thankful you did last night, your last evening with us.

It's weird to leave the house without dog-proofing everything and making you a kong to distract you while I leave. It's going to be even weirder coming home from work without being greeted by you. This house is certainly empty without you. I even miss your snoring.

Goodbye little B, Bagel, Beagle Pants.

Enjoy raiding that fridge in the sky.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Your Credit

January is a great time to remind yourself to get those annual things done, like doctors appointments, changing passwords and checking your credit report.

Did you know that by law, you're allowed to check your credit report with each of the three major agencies once a year for free? The FTC lays out the deets here. They'll direct you to annualcreditreport.com, which is the only site that is government sanctioned legitimately free with no strings attached, so don't waste your time with other sites like freecreditreport.com, no matter how catchy those songs are. 

This doesn't include your credit score (you still have to pay to see that), but it's still good to keep an eye on your credit reports to make sure there aren't any errors, and that no one is out there living as you, destroying your good name.