11 October, 2014
HOT METRO FINDS: The Great Chicago FIRE FESTIVAL – 2014
CHICAGO: I don’t know about you but I detest the idea of another winter. And if it’s going to be anything like the one in 2014 then I know I am not up for it. In fact, I am already secretly planning my getaway and looking into other cities to hang out in such as Miami Beach, Pompano, and Las Vegas. As I creep along to the winter months I am occupying myself with concerts and shows and am making the most out of these gorgeous Fall days. With that comes generous amounts of Pumpkin Ale, IPA’s, and of course HARD ROCKIN’ experiences.
And with that…. I’ll roll out my travelogue notes.
THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE FESTIVAL
As soon as I heard about this experience I was hooked on the idea. I found a picture on social media about a 1871 style Chicago wooden house set on a floating barge in the river with the sign, “Come Watch Me Burn” and I was intrigued with it. I made it a point to get over there to see what all the fuss was about. Now of course this type of thing was hyped up for months on the radio and social media and it got the locals all riled up. There was a reported $2 Million dollars roped into this deal and some of the residents didn’t like the idea of it getting thrown away on an arts festival.
The idea was to have this floating river festival with these burning houses. To me, that was all I really needed. I might grab some food down there and people watch – you know? No big deal. I disregarded all of the social media yammering from the local, “crabasses”, my new favorite word, (thanks Chicago) and went there for a good time. Lo and behold there was a reported 10,000 people at the river front and the crowds were building up by the minute. This was no small thing and there was a lot of media coverage overhead with helicopters and spotlights. It turns out the locals arrived in droves. Over the river I could see the patio for Dick’s Last Resort and it was jam packed with party goers. There were people celebrating this event on the big river cruise boats and to my right it looked like some people even rented out rooms in hotels and were throwing parties. There was lights, people, and car traffic backed up all around the Michigan avenue bridge and the State street bridge.
Now, you know how this story ends right? It’s all over the news as being one of the biggest busts in Chicago history. But before I get to that part I want to get into the drama of this thing. People were waiting for something to happen. The sky blue and magenta lights were focused on the floating house raft. No fire but we were hopeful. Apparently there was supposed to be some sort of pageantry from the Red Moon Theater people. I was like, “Okay, but hurry it up – we’ve been standing here for almost an hour already…..”, (we got there early). First this boat comes out with the Chicago Children’s Choir on it singing about the loss of lives to the people who died in the fire. I’ll be honest with you I got a little emotional. I mean I was nice and I got a little weepy. But damn, they didn’t stick around long they just sort of zipped right though and cleared out of the way fast.
Then we got these kayaks out there with these flaming cauldrons attached to the back ends of them. It was kind of confusing because they were slow. People started cheering and we thought they would light the houses on fire. Nope. They just kind of circled around them while people cheered. I didn’t have the printed program in front of me so I was unclear of the events. There was some guy on the loudspeaker who was narrating the thing but there was no clear objective to what we were supposed to be experiencing. Sometime either before or after the kayaks there was some guy on a boat banging on some kind of gong for whatever reason. I totally didn’t get the reason why or what he was even there for but I’m sure it was significant. I just missed the reference because I had no guide and was just kind of going with the flow but now by this time my foot was falling asleep. I wanted this thing to get on already. It was about 8:45 PM by this point and I couldn’t stick around much longer I had tickets to go see Agent Orange at the Double Door.
There was a weird steamship that came out too. It was zipping around the houses shooting fire out of its steam stack or something. It was odd looking and was definitely homemade for the festival. It has been referred to as the Steampunk ship but it looked out of place with the theme of the festival. Speaking of festival I didn’t see any food trucks or beer tents from where we were standing. I wished I had stood over by Dick’s Last Resort… I’m serious.
Sometime around this point the narrator comes back on and is talking about the actual fire. Back at the time of the Great Chicago Fire the whole city was made out of wooden buildings and wooden sidewalks. There was talk of a drought and how the whole city was a tinderbox. The lights on the houses were now orange and red to give off a firey glow. The music was cranked up and it was a Tim Burton-esque kind of sound on a loop. This horrific music permeated the air for about 2 minutes and I could see the crowd get agitated because by now we were all elbow to elbow and there was still more people coming down the stone staircases to join us by the river. That music continued to blare on and after about 10 minutes it felt like torture. I was worried that it was going to enter into my subconscious and stay there infinitely.
There was an announcement telling us about technical difficulties. There was moans in the audience. I assured the crowd, “Hey I can start a fire faster than these guys can…. Anybody want to see a fire?” the whole crowd cheered, “YEAH !!!”. It turns out that some rain had damaged the ignition switches on these floating houses and this prevented a fire from happening.
A cow wiped out half of the city. That’s what we have all been told and I’m thinking we should’ve hired a cow to run this thing right. What a disaster. I couldn’t wait around any longer I had to get going so I could get to the show. I had four bands to review so I started to make my way back to the stairs. People were still waiting around for something to happen when I left. There was supposed to be fireworks too. I understand those did happen.
I was looking forward to seeing these houses burn on the river. To me that sounded like a pretty interesting time. But the pageantry or program as it were was a confusing fiasco to watch. The overall experience was that of frustration and confusion and turned into a test of endurance. We stood on a grassy river embankment at an angle so the calves on my legs were feeling great strain after almost two hours of nothing.
There is supposed to be a second annual next year to this thing. So I’ll tell you what. I will be there but will be watching it either from Dick’s Last Resort enjoying a nice drink and some appetizers. I won’t be standing on the riverside waiting for things to happen. I hope next year’s presentations is shaved down to about 30 minutes tops.