We were so fortunate to have members of the group, Chicago, join us on Saturday to sing happy 25th to the Taste of Chicago and Eli’s Cheesecake. The group was in town with Earth, Wind and Fire to open the new Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island. The response to the opening weekend was just phenomenal. Chicagoans have grown very tired of driving to the Tweeter Center or Alpine Valley for an outdoor concert. Now Chicago has a unique venue on the lakefront to enjoy the summer and great music. As you can see below, the praise by music critics of the Tribune and Sun Times is almost unprecedented.


Stunning skyline

The setting is a jewel that merits equally memorable bookings

By Greg Kot
Tribune music critic
Published June 27, 2005
It’s about

For decades in Chicago, fans of contemporary music had to drive to the suburbs or a neighboring state if they wanted to see an outdoor concert that wasn’t for classical music buffs. Despite the occasional attraction at Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest or a once-in-a-lifetime Radiohead concert, pop music and city parks usually didn’t mix.

But with the opening of the Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island over the weekend, Chicago finally has a first-rate concert venue on the lakefront that even the iPod generation might one day come to enjoy. It bodes well for an outdoor season that also includes the debuts of the Intonation Festival at Union Park on July 16-17 and Lollapalooza in Grant Park on July 23-24.

Friday’s Charter One opener kicked off what could be a turning-point summer in determining the future of entertainment in Chicago’s parks, and Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire put on an ebullient and generous display of horn-inflected nostalgia for the capacity audience. When Earth Wind & Fire hit its stride during “Boogie Wonderland,” and the audience turned the amphitheater into one giant dance floor, it was difficult not to get caught up in the possibilities and promise of what this venue could mean to Chicago.

The 7,500-seat venue on the former site of Meigs Field is a jewel in the making. A combination of gravel, asphalt and freshly laid sod, the setting is elevated considerably by its surroundings; the views of Lake Michigan, Soldier Field, the Adler Planetarium, the sunset and the skyline are glorious.

For those who couldn’t afford one of the pricey tickets ($39.75 to $72.25, plus service fees), it was still possible to enjoy the concert from a lawn chair on the beach outside a 6-foot wire fence. The sound system was powerful enough to be heard clearly throughout the surrounding park property and provided a buoyant soundtrack for nearby boaters and picnickers.

Parking was steep and not particularly convenient; it cost me $18 to park at one of the Soldier Field lots, and 15 minutes to walk to the venue (trolley rides also are available). Once inside, concessions offered a limited and expensive menu ($6 cheeseburgers, $7.50 for a large beer, $3.50 water). Bathroom facilities — trailers with seven stalls apiece — were narrow but clean, and they were plentiful enough in number to avoid long waits.

Sight lines were particularly impressive in the three sets of grandstands. At the peak of the 33-step ascent, patrons were in for a panoramic treat with unbeatable views of the stage, skyline and lake, while basking in cooling breezes. The sound system was loud yet crisp, with individual instruments clearly audible in what could have been a complex mulch of horns, guitars, voices and percussion.

The poor location of several hundred floor seats on the farthest flanks of the stage provided the only quibble with the layout; it was impossible to see much of the stage from these vantage points. These obstructed-view seats should be offered at a steep discount for future shows or, better yet, eliminated.

It was otherwise a solid debut for a venue that is getting a major push not only from promoter Clear Channel but from the City of Chicago, traditionally averse to large gatherings of young people in the name of rock in city parks.

Park District Supt. Timothy Mitchell hailed the venue as the first step toward building “the next world-class park” in Chicago. The amphitheater is a temporary facility (with a three- to five-year lease) designed to raise a minimum of $800,000 annually for a nature park on Northerly Island. But it’s already apparent that the venue, or something like it, should become a fixture of the city landscape.

The more immediate question is, can Clear Channel book talent as memorable as the facility? What Northerly Island shouldn’t become is an outlet for Taste of Chicago main-stage leftovers, and the upcoming season offers few reasons to suggest it will become more adventurous than that.

Exploiting the city’s homegrown talent would be an excellent way to spice up the still-young season. How about lower-priced gigs that expand on the promise of the city’s fine Wednesday-night dance-music series in Grant Park? Or Mavis Staples sharing a stage with Shemekia Copeland in a blues bill? Billy Corgan, Robbie Fulks, Tortoise, Kelly Hogan, Buddy Guy and Wilco belong out on the lakefront too.

There’s nothing not to love about Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire jamming on “September” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” on a sultry summer night. But here’s hoping that the city and its high-powered promoter recognize that Charter One Pavilion can also be more than that.


Chicago Sun Times
Northerly Island gets rave reviews from concertgoers
June 26, 2005
The band started 40 minutes late Friday, but you didn’t hear any grousing concertgoers.

No, fans were too busy downing their ice-cold beers, cooling off in the air-conditioned bathrooms and, in some cases, celebrating 360-degree views of the lake, the stage and the downtown skyline.

Fans showed up to watch the horn sections of Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire breathe new life into Northerly Island at a sold-out concert on Friday night, and they offered near-rave reviews.

“This is the bomb. I’ve got a view of the lake over here and the skyline [there]. This is really cool,” said 22-year-old Ken Dooley of Wrigleyville.

OK, so the staff couldn’t answer every question, and more than a few people complained they couldn’t find an ATM — even though the new lakefront concert stage is named Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island.

And some said the food, while good, and parking, while decent, were a bit steep. (The higher-priced spots were $20, and beer in souvenir guitar-shaped cups ran $10.) Plus, it was confusing finding your way from the Soldier Field parking garage to the shuttle trolley, but most chalked it up to opening-night snags.

Airport ‘proponent’ sold

“I mean $4.50 for a hot dog? You could get a pack of hot dogs and the buns for that at the store,” said Deborah Lindsey, 55, of the Bronzeville neighborhood. Still, she commended the staff for serving the food piping hot, quickly.

Several concertgoers said they were fans, but many also said they were just plain curious about the new venue on the site of the old Meigs Field.

“I’ll tell you, I was a proponent of the airport, but I’m sold on this. Maybe this was a good idea,” said Rob Eiserman, 59, of Naperville.

At the nearby 12th Street Beach, Lucy Mendoza, 50, of Chicago’s Portage Park, made a vague reference to Mayor Daley’s midnight raid two years ago. That is, March 30-31, 2003, when a fleet of bulldozers rolled over Meigs Field.

“I think Mayor Daley did a good job here. Whatever his intention was, this has turned out to be a good thing,” Mendoza said.

“And this is great, I mean for people who might not be able to afford it, they can sit out here and listen to the music,” she said.

Indeed, families with picnic dinners gathered along the lakefront, and cyclists and walkers stood by the fence separating beach from pavilion to catch a glimpse of the 41/2-acre lakefront site and listen to some good old rock and R&B.

“The breeze is nice, and the price is right,” said Ed Stasica, who is “over 45″ and a resident of Arlington Heights. He preferred the beach to a front-row seat.

Ron Lee, 51, of Bronzeville, also on the other side of the fence, said not paying for a ticket doesn’t mean he didn’t pay. “It’s not free. We’re taxpayers,” he said.

Nature park planned

Saturday night, Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire were scheduled for a second show at the 8,000-capacity venue, which includes plastic chairs at ground level and bleacher seats on what appear to be risers.

The Chicago Park District will reap an average of about $250,000 a year in return for naming the venue for a bank.

The music venue is intended to be temporary, and the Park District plans to use the cash generated by the venue — expected to total as much as $1.5 million annually — to develop a nature park.

Intimate lakefront venue headlines the show

You may miss Meigs Field, the airport that once occupied Northerly Island. You may pine for the parkland the city says the area will one day become. And you can certainly quibble with the uninspired collection of recycled talent booked into the site’s new, supposedly temporary concert venue, the Charter One Pavilion.

Yes, there are reasons to complain, at least in theory. But on opening night Friday, with a fresh breeze off the lake, the city aglow and a capacity crowd of about 7,500 fans dancing to the strains of ’70s superstars Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire, even a curmudgeon could find much to praise.

Even without a roof, the venue felt far more intimate than a yawning shed like Tweeter Center. Seats on the floor are very close, and those in the three grandstands aren’t far away.

Arrayed in a slight horseshoe around the floor and stage, those bleachers offer what may be the best seats in the house. Besides being close to the performers, the grandstands caught Friday night’s cooling lake breeze (while the main floor sweltered). And the seats in the south and center stands commanded a terrific view beyond the pavilion to the illuminated colonnades of Soldier Field and, farther north, the twinkling skyline.

Loud and clear
On the down side, hundreds of seats at the extreme left and right of the stage afford little or no view of the performers. The angle is so sharp that the stage is simply not visible from entire sections on both sides, in the bleachers as well as on the floor. Frankly, the venue should flag at least some of these as obstructed-view seats when selling them. And the large video screens that flank the stage aren’t much help. In fact, for the first hour of Friday’s show, there was simply too much daylight for the on-screen images to be visible at all.

No matter where one sat, though, the sound was both loud and clear. A couple of minor bouts with static didn’t fluster Earth, Wind & Fire during its opening set, and the big band’s brass, guitars, percussion and vocal harmonies all came off sharp, bright and remarkably well-defined from every vantage.

The volume was so strong, in fact, that dozens of folks simply set up lawn chairs and picnics outside the venue itself, especially on the site’s east side, where a narrow strip of grass and trees abuts a sandy beach. For the price of exactly nothing, these enterprising souls enjoyed the concert with their feet up and coolers close at hand.