The Great Chicago Fire Festival Is Ready For Its Closeup

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 3, 2014 7:00PM

Call it Chicago’s latest cultural spectacle or a Burning Man on the River. Either way, The Great Chicago Fire Festival is ready for its denouement after months of preparation and buildup. The festival, which has been ongoing in the city’s surrounding neighborhoods since the summer, culminates with a daylong downtown celebration, capped by the lowering of cauldrons of fire from downtown bridges to the Chicago River at 8 p.m. Saturday, symbolizing the strength and resiliency of Chicago residents rebuilding the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

For a spectacle as large as this, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events tapped Redmoon Theatre to set the river aflame. Of all the theater companies in Chicago, Redmoon may have the most experience with staging elaborate and exciting productions in the city’s parks and open spaces. Redmoon is aiming big, with Victorian-era-inspired steamboats puttering on the river along with 22 kayaks, each pulling fire buoys that will be used to set aflame recreations of 1870s-era homes, symbolizing the Great Chicago Fire. A total of 15 flaming cauldrons will be lowered to the river from the Michigan Avenue, Wabash Avenue, and State Street bridges. The main cauldron at Michigan Avenue will be lighted by actors Jesse Spencer and Taylor Kinney of the NBC drama Chicago Fire. The Chicago Children’s Choir will be on Shoreline tour boats singing throughout.

There will also be plenty of spectacle in the hours leading up to the fire on the river. A neighborhood bazaar will be set up along Upper Wacker Drive starting at 3 p.m. with 15 designated areas, each representing the following neighborhoods: Albany Park, Austin, Avondale, Bronzeville, Englewood, Humboldt Park, Little Village, North Lawndale, Old Town, Pilsen, Roseland, South Chicago, South Shore, Uptown and Woodlawn. Each will have kiosks selling food, arts and crafts from their respective communities, as well as photographs of residents and community leaders taken over the summer with Redmoon’s Mobile Photo Factory by noted photographer Sandro Miller.

From 5:30 p.m. until the Grand Spectacle on the river, two stages will provide live entertainment. The EnjoyIllinois.com Music & Spoken Word Stage will feature local musicians and poets, located in Pioneer Court at 435 N. Michigan Avenue. Three blocks west in the AMA Plaza by the Langham Chicago Hotel at 330 N. Wabash Avenue, the BMO Harris Dance Stage will feature an Urban Dance Battle as some of Chicago’s top hip-hop, breaking and footworking crews go head-to-head.