This Weekend: Beyond Lollapalooza

By Sophie on August 2, 2011


Lollapalooza is lighting up the blog universe here, there, and everywhere as its opening on Friday nears. But I find myself desiring a bit of perspective.  That is, an exploration beyond celebratory “Must See” and “Guide To” lists ranging from alternative weeklies and digital outlets to the mildly contrarian (though vital) opinions of local tastemakers like Greg Kot, Jim DeRogatis, et al. on the Clear-Channelization and/or Snobification of the outdoor music festival.

If Chicago’s motto Urbs in Horto (city in a garden) demanded an addendum, it might be “with music.”  Historically, the performance of music in outdoor public spaces has made for strange bedfellows.  From the avant-garde contours of Frank Gehry’s Millennium Park Pritzker bandshell, to that particular Chicago penchant for political scandal that surrounded Mayor Jane Byrne’s ChicagoFest of 1982 and its subsequent boycott by various African-American coalitions, the history and participants in this scene offer any savvy explorer of Chicago history tantalizing prospects for digging.

So while Chicago is often characterized as a city of extremes, the “hog butcher of the world”, the “city of big shoulders,” etc.—consider the mortar that holds together our already superlative Jazz, Blues, World Music, Gospel, and Indie music fests blessed with greater marketing visibility. Let me heartily recommend to ambitious promoters out there to resuscitate some of these historical gems with the mighty forces of social networking and promotion at your fingertips in the age of the internets!

Political Correctness Festival

-In 1914, Chicago’s Civic Music Association began promoting “music for the people” at parks around the Chicagoland area. Some of these events included “Americanization” public “sings” in parks and at Navy Pier involving thousands of children and their immigrant parents.

Disco Event as Participatory Art Installation

The Anti-Disco “movement” reached a tipping point one summer night in July, 1979 at Comiskey Park during the infamous Disco Demolition Night.  Sox fans (or disco haters?) were given 98 cent tickets to the game in exchange for their unwanted disco records, which were all to be blown up in a crate at centerfield.  A riot ensued.

Anti-Fork Festival in Chicago

While it may be arguably the best music fest on the margins with commendable three years under its founder RottenMilk’s belt (it doesn’t even publish the address of its festival location, and yes, that is the founder’s legal name) it is definitely the best music festival website.  Ever.

South Side House Music Festival

The world’s largest house music festival also resides in the hometown of the genre’s birth.  Chosen Few’s House Music Picnic, though consistently moved in location and duration, calls the South Side’s Jackson Park home every year since 1989.  So party like it’s, well, ‘89.  Or 2011.  Or both!

Pitch Pitchfork from Union Park!

Operating in the shadow and filth left behind by Fork revelers, the steadily growing North Coast Music Festival invades Union Park from 9/2-9/4 with some tunes geared a bit more toward electronic than rock.

If none of these festivals strike your fancy, see the secret history of Chicago music on Chicago’s only multimedia experiential bus tour: “Our Chicago Sound: Jazz, Blues, and Beyond” running Saturdays only for a few more weeks.