History of ChicagoFest: Summer’s Greatest Music Festival

Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic created the summer party called ChicagoFest in 1978 as a response to Summerfest, which began in 1968 along the Milwaukee lakefront. Change had been percolating in Chicago. In July 1976 a “World Series of Rock” with Aerosmith, Jeff Beck, KISS, and others was held at Comiskey Park in the Bridgeport backyard of poker-faced mayor Richard J. Daley. The last of the big city bosses would suffer a fatal heart attack later that year. Chicago’s Steve Goodman wrote the 1977 ballad “Daley’s Gone,” singing how no job was too tough for Daley because he built McCormick Place twice.

Steve Perry of Journey on the PBS Soundstage at the 1978 ChicagoFest.

But when ChicagoFest started, it was Navy Pier that required a major facelift. Navy Pier was a dank, industrial place sticking out in Lake Michigan like a shipwreck. Pigeons and rats were comfortable at the pier, built in 1916 as a dock for freighters. Navy Pier was so creepy, it made the idea of seeing ChicagoFest headliners like Frank Sinatra, Etta James and Willie Dixon super exciting. This wasn’t the “my kind of town” that Sinatra sang about… read more >

ChicagoFest on The Pier 1978 Vintage Men’s T-Shirt

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