With all the talk around town about cutting back on the big name acts at Taste Of Chicago, and then tossing Celtic Fest and other formerly stand-alone events into the watered-down mix, it might be a good time to remember ChicagoFest. This 10-day outdoor celebration sprang to life on the lakefront every August, from the late 1970s through 1983. From what I can remember, ChicagoFest was always viewed in some quarters as an extravagance the city could ill afford, but for music fans, it was pure heaven. If one of the current mayoral candidates could figure out a way to bring it back, and make a profit, that would be something worth voting for.
ChicagoFest already had one foot in the grave by the time number VI came around. It had been abandoned by the mayor’s office and shagged from its normal home at Navy Pier (before its transformation into a major tourist attraction) and relocated to Soldier Field (before its transformation into whatever it’s supposed to be now). Still, this Chicago Park District managed version drew an amazing assortment of acts that could be enjoyed for a paltry $8 per day admission.
Rock and roll headliners on the Main Stage that year included Sammy Hagar; Charlie Daniels Band; The Beach Boys; Chicago; The Hollies with Graham Nash; and a Joe Walsh/Cheap Trick double bill that also included The Elvis Brothers. The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Mary Wells performed on opening night, and other Main Stage attractions included Alabama, George Strait and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; and The Impressions featuring Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield.
The Pepsi-Cola Rock Stage offered a mix of local acts like Heavy Manners, Scraps, Bohemia, B.B. Spin, Sirenz, The Kind, Phil ‘N’ The Blanks, and Spooner (actually from Wisconsin), with national acts like Red Rockers and Marshall Crenshaw. The Budweiser Blues ‘N’ Bud WXRT Stage served up the likes of Koko Taylor, Son Seals, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, Luther Allison, King Sunny Ade, Corky Siegel Band, Willy Dixon, and Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows. Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, Heartsfield, Doug Kershaw, and Jethro Burns kept things rocking at the Old Style Beer Country Stage, and Stanley Turrentine, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Judy Roberts, The Original Ramsey Lewis Trio, Angela Bofill, and Wynton Marsalis were among the better known acts who performed at the Miller Highlife Jazz Scene. There was also a Vintage Rock Stage that brought in The Turtles, The Buckinghams, The Association, and David Clayton-Thomas.
As an avid Hollies fan, I was thrilled with their performance. A mist rolling in off Lake Michigan gave that night’s performance an added tough of magic as the band played a number of its biggest hits. The Allan Clarke-Graham Nash-Tony Hicks harmonies were perfect, and the concert ended with an extended version of “Long Cool Woman” that included a bit of the old standard “Shakin’ All Over.” Afterward, the crowd was chanting, “Hol-lies, Hol-lies, Hol-lies!”
Each year of ChicagoFest brought another banquet of astounding talent. I can still remember picking up the schedules in record stores, and planning how many nights I would be going. By comparison, Taste Of Chicago, even before its recent downsizing, has always seemed like barely a mouthful.