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Suburban Chicago Will Host The Country's Only Gathering Of Redheads, Again

By Emma G. Gallegos in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 11, 2016 4:10PM

Jim Stoecker at last year's festival (Redhead Days Facebook)
The first and only festival in the United States dedicated to the glory of red hair will be returning the burbs just north of Chicago for its second year.

Last year's event in Highwood was successful enough that the festival's organizer Jim Stoecker has plans to do it all over again. Last year 1,100 redheads registered, and 2,500 came out of the festival over two days. Most of the people came from all around the Midwest, but Stoecker met a woman from Phoenix, one from Albuquerque, a few people came from Louisiana. Some people came out from Washington, D.C., and one from England.

"Everyone was just smiling so genuinely," Stoecker told Chicagoist. It was an unusual fest, but it didn't seem too far of a stretch in a town that has hosted festivals dedicated to Bloody Marys and pumpkins. And he had some previous experience in the glory that is a redhead festival.

Stoecker stumbled across his first festival by chance. In 2012, he bought a one-way ticket to Amsterdam, so he could bike through Europe with the goal of ending in Munich. He asked for a recommendation for a place to stop along the way, which was how he ended up in Breda, a town in the Netherlands that was hosting Roodharigendag or Redhead Days. Stoecker was intrigued, and he found a place to stay in the town overrun by redheads. The festival had an effect on him.

"Being in a crowd of thousands of redheads made me feel differently about myself," Stoecker said.

Redhead festival (Redhead Days Facebook)

It's not always easy being a redhead: they have been kicked and teased. The only thing more neglected than a stepchild is a redheaded one, apparently. Redhead ladies are weirdly sexualized, but until recently, redheaded gents weren't seen as particularly desirable. Some sperm banks have even announced they weren't taking any more redheads.

"I've been teased my whole life and picked on. People still say things that they would never say to any other minority group," Stoecker says. "At my ripe old age of 58, I've gotten used to it."

But he appreciated the sense of solidarity he experienced in Europe. Which is why when the Redhead Festival announced they were looking for affiliates around the world, he jumped at the chance to bring it to Highwood, where he lives and runs an Italian restaurant Alex’s Washington Gardens.

The Redhead group set up his event with publicity and a Facebook page. He put the event together himself mostly. "Everyone in my town thought I was crazy," he said, laughing.

He's hoping to double or even triple last year's turnout. There will be food trucks, face-painting, bouncy castles, a petting zoo, red cocktails and a carrot cake contest, since that is the dessert that most resembles red hair. Everyone will be wearing a T-shirt in the same color (TBD at this point) that sets off their hair color and to pose for a massive group shot, like the one above.

It's funny to find out which sponsors consider themselves redhead-friendly: Van Gogh Vodka (the painter was redheaded), and McDonald's (Ronald McDonald, though a clown, has fiery red hair).

The festival itself doesn't have any particularly extraordinary gimmick or draw; it's just about redheads getting together, enjoying each other's company and not being in the minority for a couple of days.

"We're just trying let redheads come out and see each other," Stoecker says.

Redhead Days Chicago will be a free festival held in City Hall Park, 17 Highwood Ave. on June 4 and June 5 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Redheads are asked to register.