Great Chicago Fire Festival, Better Luck Next Year

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Other than professional sports, I try to take advantage of all Chicago has to offer, from dining to neighborhood diversity, storefront theater, gallery shows, and public art. When it comes to live music, my focus tends toward the classical variety, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, choir and organ concerts, and season tickets for Lyric Opera (for the past 20 years!)

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First set of the night at Andy’s Jazz Club.

But when it comes to jazz and blues (Chicago’s own!) I’m something of a slacker. Thanks to the gumption of friends, I’m filling in the gaps with visits to local music venues made famous by the likes of The Green Mill (which I finally visited for the first time this year.) Last night, it was Andy’s Jazz Club for dinner and a couple of sets of a quartet led by a talented, and loud, trumpeter. (Probably not the best choice for any conversation.)

We were downtown and just a few blocks from where the real action was last night–the first annual Great Chicago Fire Festival, put on by one of my favorite theater companies, Redmoon. At about 6:30, crowds had already started to form along the Chicago River, between the Michigan Avenue and State Street bridges. I walked across the State Street bridge for a view of one of the floating buildings, due to alight at eight o’clock, when flaming cauldrons would be lowered from the bridges.

Unfortunately, the weather (a tremendous amount of rain fell over the previous day) and technical difficulties prevented the building bonfires to go off as scheduled, and in some cases at all. By all reports, the flames were minimal and the pyrotechnics mostly confined to the brief fireworks display that was originally to follow the buildings burning away to reveal surprises hidden inside. Sadly, with such a lengthy delay and pathetic payoff, many disappointed spectators left early, missing a parade of grass boats (kayaks) that sounded like quite something to see.

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Guarding a cauldron and what turned out to be an inflammable prop house on the river.

By the time I left the jazz club, the Fire Festival should have been wrapping up, however it had yet to burn. People were three-deep to the riverfront, and the bridge was packed with some standing on the metal railing dividing the pedestrian walkway from traffic. I couldn’t see a thing, nor was I willing (or able) to climb a tree, as some did, for a better view. Instead, we walked a few blocks over to Xoco and grabbed a churro snack–the best churros, anywhere, hands down–before beating the crowds home on the el.

I’m disappointed the event didn’t succeed and feel bad for all the volunteers who put in many hours to create the spectacle. The floating buildings certainly looked impressive (and so Redmoonesque) but the execution was obviously flawed. We needed Robin Hood with a flaming arrow to save the day or at least tarps covering the structures, preventing them from becoming waterlogged in the rain.

Hopefully the city will treat this as a dress rehearsal (albeit an expensive one) and make adjustments for next year. I’m sure the first Macy’s Day Parade didn’t go off without a few hitches. It was nice to see a cross-section of Chicago gathering together at the river, despite the unseasonable cold (there were snow flurries that morning!) Colorful buildings floating on the Chicago River, set off by the amazing cityscape around them, were definitely something to see; it would have really been something had the  spectacle ignited as planned.

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2 Responses

  1. Tracy

    There was a great attemp to manually start the fires and even that sizzled. I think the down pour of rain was not taken into consideration. However the fireworks were speculator!

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