From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
ChicagoFest at Navy Pier.jpg
ChicagoFest at Navy Pier
Status Defunct
Genre Music Festival
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Navy Pier (1978–82)
Soldier Field (1983)
Chicago, Illinois
Country United States
Years active 1978–1983
People Mayor Michael Bilandic

ChicagoFest was the world's largest music festival sponsored by the city of Chicago, started in 1978 by Mayor Michael Bilandic that reopened Navy Pier resulting in the venue becoming Chicago's leading tourism destination. It was held annually at Navy Pier for 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, Chicago Tribune Jazz, 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, as well as a Main stage seating 30,000. There were approximately 600 concert performances by headline artists 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 Blues Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Journey, The Commodores, Kool and The Gang, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Charlie Daniels Band, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Aretha Franklin, Ben Vereen, Dick Clark and Muddy Waters and a live TV broadcast of Bozo's Circus and productions for HBO and PBS.

In addition to its 30,000 seat Main Stage, ChicagoFest featured 16 other stage areas that seated 2,500 to 5,000, that presenting nationally known recording artists. 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, Wet Willie, and many more on the Rocks, Asleep at the Wheel, Carl Perkins, and Bullseye on the Country Stage. The Buckinghams and Jan & Dean were among oldies stage headliners. 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 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, 100 local food vendors sales grossing ten million dollars annually.[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 Jerry Weintraub Jr 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 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. ^ "August 7, 1982 - 3 acts set to replace Wonder at Fest | Chicago Tribune Archive". 1982-08-07. Retrieved 2016-10-13. 
  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. Archived from the original on 2006-09-10. 
  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". Archived from the original on 2008-09-28. Retrieved 2008-10-19.