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Genre Music Festival
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Navy Pier (1978–82)
Soldier Field (1983)
Chicago, Illinois
Country United States
Years active 1978–1983

ChicagoFest was a summer music festival in the city of Chicago, started in 1978 by Mayor Michael Bilandic. It was held annually at Navy Pier, and lasted for roughly two weeks. It featured sixteen separate stages, each sponsored by a national retail brand and a media sponsor compatible to the stage's format, e.g. Rock WLUP and The Chicago Tribune, Jazz and Miller Brewing Company, Blues and WXRT, that broadcast live from the festival. The stages were: Rock, Classic Rock, Country, Blues, Comedy, Roller Disco, Pin Ball Arcade, Jazz, Children's, Variety, Ethnic, and Main stage seating 30,000. There were approximately 600 performances produced each year.


Some of the hundreds of superstars that appeared over the years were Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Carole King, George Burns, Chicago, Willie Nelson with Waylon Jennings, The Lennon Sisters and Bobby Vinton, Journey, The Commodores, Kool and The Gang, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Charlie Daniels Band was scheduled opening night but was unable to perform for emergency health reasons, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, John Prine, Big Walter Horton, Charlie Musselwhite and Muddy Waters (who performed opening night at the request of the mayor's office since Charlie Daniels Band cancelled) and a live TV broadcast of Bozo's Circus. The Blues Brothers, who had been tying up traffic throughout Chicago while filming the movie, were introduced by the new mayor Jane Byrne and backed by the Muddy Waters band.

In addition to The Main Stage, for each day's headliner, ChicagoFest featured 16 others, that presented four acts a day. Acts early each day drew from area bar bands, but the final act of each night on each stage was usually a nationally known recording artist. Iron Maiden,[1] Spyro Gyra, Chick Corea and Gary Burton - Jazz, Joan Jett, .38 Special and Point Blank, The Joe Perry Project, The Scorpions, Krokus, and many more on the Rock on The Dock Stage, Asleep at the Wheel, Carl Perkins, and Bullseye on the Country Stages. The Buckinghams and Jan & Dean were among oldies stage closers. In 1979, when Germany's Scorpions played one of their first American live Concerts on the floating stage at Chicagofest, the Chicago Police Department furnished over one hundred patrol men for show security. Admission to the fest was $5 General admission per day. The Web site includes an image of a rock stage schedule, along with other ChicagoFest memories.

In addition to music, ChicagoFest also featured a carnival-like midway, a cinema at which the premier of The Buddy Holly story attracted Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, The Premier of MTV was mounted at ChicagoFest, A Laser Light Show, The Mike Douglas Show originated at ChicagoFest, with other areas for crafts, and 100 local food vendors.[2] As the festival grew over the years, it attracted roughly 100,000 visitors per day[3] The idea for ChicagoFest was taken from Milwaukee's Summerfest.[2] by the special events office of Mayor Bilandic who hired the staff from Milwaukee. That staff - formed as Festivals Inc. included food managers Tom and Bill Drilias, entertainment producers Joel Gast and Lou Volpano, and public relations maestro Joseph Pecor. The success of the festival led to the creation of the Taste of Chicago, Loop Alive's restoration of the Chicago Theatre, and other event at Navy Pier such as Art Expo Chicago.


Jane Byrne became mayor in 1979, largely due to Mayor Bilandic's failure to remove snow quickly enough in the previous winter. Bilandic was the hand-picked successor of The Boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley; Byrne was the first non-machine mayor in decades. Byrne attempted to cancel ChicagoFest. However, a subversive public relations campaign mounted by the Chicago Tribune and Labor Unions created a demand for the new Mayor to reverse that decision, and she instead embraced the festival and renamed it "Mayor Jane M. Byrne's ChicagoFest".[4]

In 1982, after black Chicago residents were angered by various events, including Mayor Byrne's nomination of three white board members to new positions in the Chicago Housing Authority, Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders called for a boycott of ChicagoFest. In solidarity, Stevie Wonder and over one hundred other local black entertainers cancelled their scheduled performance, and a picket line was set up outside the festival. The city said the boycott was ineffective, but it came out later they had lost millions of dollars.[5] [6] ChicagoFest was cancelled by Byrne's successor, Mayor Harold Washington.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Robbins, William (1980-08-11). "Festival offers Chicagoans grand diversion from woes of sports, politics and winter". The New York Times. pp. A16. 
  3. ^ , and approximately 1,000,000 people attended Navy Pier for the fest. Klose, Kevin (1983-08-03). "Chicago Shenanigans; City Council Members Ignore the Mayor's Call". The Washington Post. pp. A2. 
  4. ^ Davis, Robert (February 1995). "Running Chicago". Illinois Issues. pp. 22–24. 
  5. ^ Sheppard Jr., Nathaniel (1982-08-02). "Angry blacks may boycott mayor's ChicagoFest". The New York Times. pp. A10. 
  6. ^ Jackson, Jesse L., Jr. (2005). "What Does A Shining City On A Hill Look Like? The Legacy of Mayor Harold Washington". Retrieved 2008-10-19.