Chicago’s size and diverse population make the city a unique cultural hub, with numerous events taking place across the year. We explore what’s on in Chi-Town in this curated selection of internationally renowned festivals, chances to keep up with artistic Chicago’s art scene, festivals, outdoor activities and food blow-outs.
Early 2014 will go down in history as one of the coldest winters in recent decades in North America, when even the polar bear in Chicago zoo was kept indoors for its own good. And so whilst the transport infrastructure and sanitation system struggles to cope, the temporary ice rink is in perfect working order. The Millennium Park ice rink, flanked by a dazzling downtown backdrop, is open for free to the public until 9 March. A regular event in the country’s second biggest city, it is attended by over 100,000 people through the cold season.
Teen Paranormal Romance at The Renaissance Society
9 March 2014 – 13 April 2014
The Renaissance an incredibly self-aware gallery, which describes itself as ‘a place to experience the art history of generations to come’. It therefore constantly exerts itself in the direction of the utmost contemporary artistic and cultural explorations, choosing in 2014 to focus in part on a phasic phenomenon: Teen Paranormal Romance. It may seem to be a profoundly niche subject to choose, but its relevance in current media output is undeniable, and the exhibition is a testament to the forward-thinking cultural flow of Chicago in 2014. Reconsider Twilight, The Hunger Games and True Blood under a new, starker light of surrealism.
Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair at the Field Museum
Until 7 September 2014
In 1893 Chicago hosted the World’s Fair and the most enduring physical reminder of this honour is the Field Museum, widely recognised as one of the largest and most prominent museums of natural history in the world. It is therefore apt that the museum should host an exhibition celebrating the 120th anniversary of the fair and therefore of its own existence. The fair celebrated the arrival of Columbus in the New World and was an extraordinary feat of organisation and construction on a perplexing scale: 200 temporary buildings, elephants, replica warships, and more than 27 million visitors whose attendance blurred class distinctions, national borders and human capabilities. The exhibition, running until 7 September, explores the cultural significance of the fair and displays previously un-showcased fair exhibits.
Despite the gradual waning of the Irish lilt in the typical Chicago accent, the Celtic presence in the city is as prominent as ever, and so the St Patrick’s Day celebrations remain a big green mark on the city’s cultural calendar. The particularity of the celebration in the Midwestern capital is that the green theme is pushed to the limit by dyeing the river a garish grassy colour to coincide with the parade. The river spectacle is best viewed from the East side of Michigan Avenue Bridge or the West side of Columbus Drive Bridge, and the parade starts at Balbo and Columbus. The dyeing and main parade occur on 15 March, and the sister event, the South Side Irish Parade, takes place the following day, if you happen to miss the main show.
For one day a year, the Lake Shore Drive, the expressway running through the city and along the shore of Lake Michigan, is closed to motorised traffic, and the bicycle is king. It only lasts five hours, and you’re invited to go for as much as possible of the 30-mile scenic route with pitstops, refreshments and music along the way. Bring your own bike (or rent one in the city) but make sure that you set your alarm on the morning of 25 May, as the waters are parted at 5.30 a.m. to make room for two-wheeled vehicles, before the cars return at 10.30 a.m. There is also a reward at the end, whether you complete the course, only do part of it, or just turn up at the finish line: a festival at Butler’s Field.
The various nicknames attributed to Chicago are all as explicit as each other: the Windy City (no doubt due to the usually breezy air), the Second City (its national population status) and the Blues Capital of the World (no clarification necessary). The annual Blues Festival is a very clear nod to this, and also to the need to open up this music genre to as wide a population as possible, which explains why the concerts are free and held in the city’s principal open space. The three-day festival hosts internationally acclaimed blues artists Bettye Lavette, Aaron Neville, and Dr. John amongst others to be released in the spring.
The biggest, the oldest, the tastiest: many claims have been made about the Chicago food festival, but none can compete with the gastronomic sensations which can be engendered by the local specialities served up by the ever-changing array of chefs, bakers and pizzaiolos. Now into its 33rd year, Taste of Chicago takes over Grant Park, along with more than a million visitors, over several days in high summer, and fills the grassy expanses with the aroma of pizzas, doughnuts and gourmet chef concoctions accompanied by sweet notes of music by the likes of Carlos Santana and Stevie Wonder.
Alternative music is a vast term, which encompasses a multitude of styles for any one person or music fan, but Pitchfork has found the magic method to captivate a horde of followers who cling on to the magazine’s recommendations and opinions as if they were melodic gospel. The annual Pitchfork Festival is a mecca for those searching the epitome of the alternative. From 18 until 20 July in Union Park there will be rap, rock and hip-hop aplenty. 2013 headliners were Bjork, Bella and Sebastian and R. Kelly, so we are expecting 2014 to be equally nostalgic and bizarre.
There is almost as much fun to be had taking part in Lollapalooza festival as there is in saying its name. Although the reliability of the first claim can only be tested on 1 August, the festival’s longevity (ongoing since 1991) and copy-cat manifestations – Lollapalooza Brazil, Lollapalooza Chile, and Lollapalooza Argentina – are reassuring signs. For a completely fabricated and unscientific line-up guess for the three-day event, see Red Eye’s suggestions, bearing in mind that it constitutes more of a wish-list than an educated guess. What is certain is that there will be a vast array of underground and not-so-underground artists from around the world and that the part atmosphere won’t leave a silent moment over the three-day festival.
2014 is the pilot year for this festival, which is set to be an annual occurrence, co-organised by the City of Chicago and Redmoon, an events agency whose sole aim is to bring innovative and modern stimulation to the people of Chicago. The Great Chicago Fire Festival, harking back to the Great Fire which destroyed large parts of the city in the late 19th century, will enliven the riverside district, recently renovated and for one night only lit up by acrobatics, live music, and of course a light spectacle. The cultural significance lies in the organisers’ aim to draw focus onto the culturally diverse canvas of the city’s population. Ensure that you’re able to say you were at the first Great Chicago Fire Festival on 4 October, even if you are not a born-and-bred Chicago-dweller.