The Friday Flashback: Chicagofest
By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 1, 2008 1:00PM
The focus this weekend is on Lollapalooza. For this week's "Flashback" we want to take you back to the early 80's and another music festival that brought out people from all over.
With Mayor Michael Bilandic providing the impetus, Chicagofest didn't just last a weekend. It ran for a solid two weeks at Navy Pier. This was back in the days when the U of I Chicago campus long abandoned the location and it seemed more likely that Navy Pier would crumble into the lake. With the campus set up like a carnival midway, there was a main stage where the headline acts would play every night and themed stages running the length of the pier. At its height, Chicagofest drew an average of 500,000 people a day. We can remember seeing Cheap Trick, Willie Nelson, Blondie and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. For this post we've included video of Muddy Waters at Chicagofest in 1981.
When the Blizzard of '79 sealed Bilandic's loss to Jane Byrne, one of the first bright ideas Byrne had was to end Chicagofest. Residents complained to the point where Byrne reversed course and added her name to the marquee. Eventually, Chicagofest was ended by Harold Washington.
The success of Chiagofest led Milwaukee to adopt the model for their annual Summerfest. It also inspired the creation of Taste of Chicago and the smaller organized neighborhood festivals that dot the city every year. That's a hell of a legacy.