Summer Music Sound Off: Neighborhood Festivals

While other bloggers are bringing you fall’s trends and frocks, I’m still brooding over summer. Anyone who has ever spent the summer in Chicago can testify to the way the city comes alive. The beautiful Michigan beach beacons tourists like a siren to wayward sea men; Mag Mile is a throbbing throng of department store bags and beautiful displays to fulfill any shopaholic’s wet dream; the Bean glitters like the face of a thousand suns (because it well.. reflects the sun). However, for those of us residing in the city, we escape the tourist traps (sort of) by attending the hundreds of neighborhood festivals and city sponsored activities.There are farmers markets, weekly performances and movies at Millennium Park, walks through Lincoln Park Zoo and the Botanic Gardens. Then there are the festivals – food festivals, dance festivals, art festivals, kid festivals, beer festivals, festivals to celebrate the diverse Chicago urban scape, even shopping festivals (I’m not sure what this festival entails but I saw a flyer for it once; I assume it involves shopping). And each neighborhood isn’t limited to just one, there were at least 5 in the Lake View vicinity this summer. Regardless of which neighborhood festivals you choose to attend there are 3 things you will always find: booze, grub, and most importantly, tunes. Best of all, these festivals are donation based (so you don’t have to pay, but you should if you want them to continue).  I’ll be honest, I didn’t attend nearly as of these as I would like, partially because I wasn’t prepared for the sheer mass of activities going on every weekend, but also because I still enjoy the tourist traps. There were a few performances and festivals I thought deserved honorable mentions, namely Wicker Park fest.

Wicker Park Fest: hung over hipsters mixing with burnt out bros

Gentrification:  n; the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses. (

Since it’s difficult to have small talk in Chicago, especially concerning the western-most neighborhoods, without the word gentrification, I thought it was a good place to start. Though I’m not sure this definition is spot-on, you get the gist. The gentrification of Wicker Park was underway long before I got here, but even the changes I’ve seen in the past two years are startling. I love hanging in Wicker as much as the next Lake View square, but it’s almost unsettling the rate at which new shops and restaurants open, and the gradually shifting demographic (all of which I’m a contributing factor). This was all especially apparent at Wicker Park Fest this year. The only reason this festival was even on my radar though was all for Lydia, so I won’t bore you with anymore of my observations on gentrification.

I was introduced to Lydia Loveless early in the summer and have since been obsessed, she’s my summer fling that turned into a full-fledged relationship. So when I found out by some small miracle she would be playing Wicker Park Fest, I had to go. I can’t really describe Lydia’s music in a way that would do it any justice, but it’s country music for those who don’t like country music. She’s twangy and raw; morbid and upbeat; anecdotal, yet honest and not overly indulgent. I think why I like her most, aside from the fact that her and her band are actually talented, is that she’s got the country sound, but the rock ‘n’ roll soul. Her songs are about booze, heartbreak, partying, and being a bad ass female. If you haven’t checked her out I suggest you go do so now.

After dancing like a total goof and being a fan girl at Lydia’s show, it was time for a chicken break. One of the highlights of these things is the food, you can literally get a bucket of fries or elephant ears bigger than your head. I went with the bucket-o-chicken, but was sorely disappointed when my chicken was not served in a bucket, instead it was served in a pile in a cardboard box (should have gone with the bucket of fries – i really wanted that souvenir bucket). Then onto rjd2.

I had actually seen him a few years before randomly, and totally dug his chill vibe, but as we neared the stage it was clear that this crowd was anything but chill. Since, these shows are essentially free, every teenager from the surrounding suburbs flock to them. And when a 16-year-old sees ‘d’ and ‘j’ in the same area they assume they are in for a sweaty, grind-fest with lots of lights and heavy beats (I don’t actually know if this is what sixteen year olds are thinking these are just assumptions I make based on their obnoxious behavior). Fortunately, rjd2 is funky and cool, more the kind of music you groove around to. Unfortunately, the general area was still packed with lost looking teenagers, making it impossible to groove or move – so we left, but what I heard was still good.

The following day we missed a lot of the day-time shows, but made it in time to catch the end of el Ten Elven, a sort of electronic, experimental, rock duo. I hadn’t really heard of them before, but I believe they have some semi-well known song out there. For whatever reason their music reminded me of days I used to sit on the quad and do homework in college.Next was Odesza, who we initially came for. Now to be fair to the teenagers there, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into since Odesza is electronic music, but I was particularly irritated by the behavior at this show. Grinding, pushing, cigarette smoking, beer flinging. One barely legal blond bambi burned me with her cigarette, and while I was debating to pull her hair or call her mom, she had the audacity to call me ‘mam’. Granted, I was probably a little sh*t just like this girl at her age, but had some respect for those older than me. I didn’t end up smacking her as I should have, she was pushed out of the crowd later on anyway (kbai). Which, brings me to another subject – crowd pushers. If you are not in the front when the show starts, don’t ruin everyone’s experience by pushing through with your lame friends, stepping on everyone’s toes and spilling everyone’s drinks (clearly this is a sensitive subject for me). Luckily we were surrounded by some like-minded people who created a human wall against these interlopers. Odesza was great regardless, and hail from Seattle, so considering my fondness for all things Northwest, I automatically loved them.

Though I spent a lot of time lamenting over the crowd, it was still totally worth it. I got to see 4 really good artists for only 5 bucks! And could have seen even more if I got there early, this was my only regret, not getting their early enough and seeing more! Regardless of what summer festivals you attend, there will always be obnoxious people, be they teenagers or tourists.

Northhalsted Market Days: Pride, with less pomp and circumstance

The Annual 2 week Pride Festival that takes place in Chicago is phenomenal; the parades, the dancing, the color – but it can be overwhelming for some. Market days is like getting a dose of Pride, with less of a crowd. The Northhalsted Business Alliance hosts both events, as well as a Halloween event, in the Lake View/Boystown Neighborhoods and in general encourages positive change and growth in the community and its businesses. Market days still has the dancing, the lights, the shirtless men, and gorgeous queens, in addition to a huge music line up. This year they had Neon Trees, Aaron Carter, Karmin, and dozens of other artists. Though I didn’t go to see any of these artists in particular, I still had fun dancing in the crowd, playing with a genius bubble machine that somehow got smoke into the bubbles, and soaking in the festive vibe. To be honest, my favorite thing about Market Days are the piña coladas served in full pineapples. I was devastated this year when I found out they had actually run out of pineapples to serve my drink – this is why I stress actually showing up to festivals during the day.

Summary: Okay, this was kind of a bs post where I just discussed my disdain for teenagers and love for music and food. But the point I want to get across, is that if you live in this amazing city don’t get sucked into your routine. We are always telling others that we love Chicago so much because of the culture and music and blah blah – so my goal for the new fiscal year is to actually go out and do these things – broaden my horizons if you will. And there were so many other great festivals I didn’t go to/mention; Riotfest, WestFest, Northcoast, Pitchfork, and the list goes on. I know it’s hard to tear yourself away from Netflix, your favorite brunch spot, and/or sports bar – but you’re only young in Chicago once. So to stick with my new fiscal year resolution I’ve listed some great fall activities I hope to check out between costume making and pumpkin carving. See you there Chicago.

Fall Festivities: