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Chicago Is the Place for Neighborhood Festivals

March 30, 1986|WENDY LEOPOLD | Leopold is a Times Chicago Bureau editorial employee.

CHICAGO — They began as neighborhood festivals and street fairs, rich in ethnic food, music and art.

The largest Polish community outside of Warsaw celebrates with polkas and sausages in a lake-front park.

The Irish dance jigs, strum ballads and dig into a a smorgasbord of soda bread, stout and Gaelic specialties.

Puerto Ricans, Lithuanians, Italians and Koreans, to name a few, have long celebrated their heritage outdoors on the streets of Chicago all summer long.

This year Chicago is packaging its free music festivals--celebrations of jazz, blues, rock and gospel--with 82 smaller neighborhood street fairs and with international theater and art expositions into one big menu of tourist attractions.

Chicago's home-grown festivals and fairs, originally designed for an ethnically diverse city rich in music history, have grown into lavish entertainment events as worthy of visitor attention as this Midwestern capital's famed museums and architecture.

"Chicago is a major producer of free festivals," says Lois Weisberg, director of the city's Office of Special Events that organizes four giant municipally sponsored music and food extravaganzas along the lake front.

Free Entertainment

"This year we're out to show that Chicago is the place for first-class, free entertainment," she says. "Tourists don't like to be exploited."

So while other cities spend the bulk of their tourist budget in marketing efforts to attract visitors, Chicago takes another approach. "We use the $4 million return on the hotel tax to entertain tourists after they get here," Weisberg says.

With "Celebrate in Chicago" as their theme, folks here claim that the free city-organized music festivals alone make Chicago the bargain vacation of the year. There'll be top-name and ordinarily big-ticket entertainment such as Sarah Vaughan, Chuck Berry and George Benson.

Here are some of the events you might wish to attend. For a complete listing, write to the Office of Special Events, 121 N. LaSalle St., Room 703, Chicago, Ill. 60602, or phone (312) 744-3315.

The Chicago International Theater Festival will be April 28-May 25. Theater lovers can catch productions by 17 of the world's finest companies, including the National Theatre of Great Britain, Israel's Haifa Municipal Theater and Japan's Suzuki Co. The monthlong theater celebration will include genres as diverse as classic Jacobean and Kabuki drama and the raucous farce of the commedia dellarte as well as works by contemporary playwrights Tom Stoppard, Frantz Kroetz and John Guare.

The Chicago International Art Expo is scheduled May 8-13. This juried show of contemporary works from more than 150 of the most prestigious galleries in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Australia and the Soviet Union has established itself as one of the world's best 20th-Century art expos. Held on Chicago's landmark Navy Pier, the exposition also features a lecture series sponsored by Art in America magazine.

The Chicago Blues Festival is June 6-8. The largest free blues festival in the world, this multi-stage event showcases the broad range of American blues from the Chicago sound to Delta blues to boogie-woogie piano. Featured artists include Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Memphis Slim, Otis Rush and Albert King. A Chicago Blues Plate Special food area will serve some of the city's most flavorful street foods along with its powerful music.

Polish Fest, July 18-20. The largest Polish population outside of Warsaw celebrates its heritage with kielbasa and pirogi, a continuous polka band stage and a reproduction of Poland's famed Chopin Park.

Taste of Chicago is slated June 30-July 6. The city's most successful festival combines great music with fine food. Sample pizza, catfish nuggets, turtle soup, lobster tails and other treats from 80 of Chicago's best restaurants while listening to big band, soul, classical and popular music. The entertainment is free, the food is delicious.

Third of July Concert & Fireworks, July 3, will draw more than half a million celebrants in a city tradition as spectacular fireworks choreographed to the "1812 Overture" illuminate the skyline and lake front.

Irish Festival, July 18-20 and Aug. 1-3, is the time to enjoy the music, dancing, eats and arts and crafts of Ireland.

Chicago Highland Games, July 26, the largest one-day Scottish festival in the United States. This gathering of the clans features colorfully kilted pipers, dancers and athletes performing along the lake front. The only free such event in the United States, the games include the U.S. Highland Dance Championship, the U.S. Invitational Pipe Band Competition and the North American Scottish Athletic Championship.

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