No, this is not a blog post about the oldest profession in the world…. although I’m sure I could provide some amazing insight. This is about street festivals that Chicago just loves. Coming off this weekend’s Randolph Fest that took place in my neighborhood, West Loop, I kinda want to shoot myself for living here. Thing is this city used to have 4-5 really big fests in the summer that were fun to go to, see your friends, listen to great music and have a few cold beverages while soaking up the summer sun. However, in recent years, for some reason, every little corner has a street fest and every weekend has at least 3-4 per day! I mean it’s insane! How much overpriced cheap beer does this city need to have? How many funnel cakes and overpriced hotdogs do they want to sell? How much does the city actually get from these sales? Or is it just a way to get people to the city? Most likely it’s a weird combination of all of the above. Let’s first talk about the good ol’ days where street fests were FUN!
When I first moved to the heart of the city, I had no idea these things existed. These fests were created in local neighborhoods around the city to bring people to a new neighborhood and increase that local commerce. I went to bars and clubs, never thought walking around aimlessly could be fun. Then as I discovered that day drinking can be more fun, well that meant being outside more and finding these fabulous fests. It was fun meeting up with different friends throughout the day. You know, work friends in the afternoon, then close friends you party with at night with the best cover bands like Hairbangers’ Ball and 16 Candles. Beers back then were like $5 and food was no more than $4-5 and you were home by 10, tucked in. The crowds weren’t overwhelming back then and honestly, maybe because I was younger, I just felt like the level of stupid wasn’t off the charts. Then again, I could have been part of the stupid, so just like you can’t smell yourself, you can’t see yourself as stupid? Right? No? Sounds good to me! Just sayin’ We didn’t loiter past 10pm, we’d go home or duck into another bar. We didn’t obnoxiously throw things onto someone else’s balconies and crowd Metra trains because WE WERE 21 and didn’t have to go home to MAMA! (prelude to my next paragraph). Aside from all that, there were only about 5-6 huge fests that everyone had to go to with the good bands and were sprinkled out throughout the summer. You could actually make plans on off weekends and not around a festival due to traffic and scheduling. The best thing was also that I could go there by myself and actually FIND my group of friends! There were maybe 2 main beer tents, not 60 and usually 2 stages, not 6. It was really a hassle free, spur of the moment, fun day in the sun. These fests were made for those that lived IN the city, not for those to TRAVEL to the city. These days…. sheesh.
Ok, fair warning, some of this might come from the fact that I am 35 and that my social tolerance levels have diminished.
Let’s talk facts first before I get on my soapbox. First off, there are now fests every weekend, if not more than. On top of that, sometimes they are even in the same areas. Fest hopping is now a thing, screw the bars. The beer has gone up about $2-3 per pour and has reduced about 4oz. That seems like a fair trade off, which makes me laugh because the bar that’s on the street behind that obnoxious Coors Light tent is open and selling the same beer for about $3. Now, yes, you can’t drink it outside and walk with it, for the most part, so there’s that. These fests are now not targeted for city dwellers and to bring business to neighborhoods and provide awareness, I see more people from the suburbs at these fests that are usually underage and complete idiots. I can’t tell you how many times I have been pushed by an 18-year-old slutbag with her high rise granny shorts, higher than a kite on everything and anything and of course holding a beer. How do I know she’s 18? She has her high school hoodie with her. No self-respecting 21-year-old has their HIGH SCHOOL stuff on, it’s more like COLLEGE stuff at this point. I’m sure there are exceptions. Don’t jump down my throat. Now food, here’s the fun part. You know, I am totally fine with over paying for fries, burgers, hotdogs, mozzarella sticks and the usual festival fare, why? Because you pay for those things at ballparks, movie theaters and amusement parks…it’s just a norm that we understand. What I don’t understand is that the same bar with the $3 beer, has a tent selling their “Angus Beef Slider with Aioli and Cheese” for $6 when again,you can go in there and get 3 of them for that price. Really? $6 for a 2oz or less meat patty with cheese and mayo? I mean that’s what that translates to! The other side of the food phenom at these fests are the nicer pubs and neighborhood spots that have fancier version of salads, sausages and burgers. The ingredients are higher in quality than most and the food is set at a different standard, so the price points are $8-10. Fair. Okay. The problem is that first off, they don’t even serve that in their restaurant, so sorry for the blue balls as you really got into that burger and will never get to enjoy it again. Second, it still costs more to eat on the street than to eat in the establishment. I can’t justify it at all. It’s so frustrating. I can’t even. Now, on to logistics. Too many people, too many stands create too many bottlenecks, thus creating basically a huge 6 block oven. You can’t eat and drink at the same time, as your elbows are glued to your sides, if you dare to move them, you will most likely “assault” someone and start a huge fight. So just out of that pure fear, you basically walk around like the tin man. At the end of the night, NO ONE GOES HOME or to another bar, I don’t know why!! Everyone is outside, screaming on the top of their lungs, flinging garbage on to balconies (no joke) and it’s freaking free for all. When they do go home, they take the last train at 12:30am because staying in the city would get them in trouble with their parents…. REALLY. I don’t know who’s more delusional. Oye Vey.
Listen, I don’t know if I am just more cynical now or if these fests have just gotten worse, most likely a little of both. I worry about having to reroute my traffic now, not the fastest route to the beer tent. But even as my priorities have changed with age, my desire to have fun and hang out with my friends hasn’t. These fests have created awareness sure, but for the wrong reasons. The one thing I can say, is that with the fests getting larger, smaller bands are getting the chance to perform and aren’t always beat out by headliners, at least someone is benefitting appropriately. However, I think these fests have come off the notion of being a casual block party with local vendors to let’s pack everything and everyone into a sausage casing and do it every week, 3 times. See, the thing with stuffing sausage, as strong as the casing may seem, one false move, it will surely burst.