Eyewitness accounts show that the minute it becomes warm in Chicago, people put on shorts and head outside. A recent trip to Chicago in early November -- unseasonably warm, topping out around 60 degrees -- attests to just that. Seemingly every runner took to the streets and headed to Millennium Park, the newest and arguably most intriguing public space the city has to offer.
Chicago is a city of outsize proportions -- big buildings, big winds, big pizza, big hot dogs, and tons of big, round smiling faces. You could land in Chicago with no specific agenda this spring and summer, but a little planning goes a long way to getting the most out of Chi-town. There's plenty of music -- Chicago blues anyone? -- theater, historic baseball teams, comedy -- think Second City, launching pad for the careers of many famous comedians. We have rounded some of the most promising events for spring and summer, but here are a few general places to start.
The city's own website (www.cityofchicago.org/ExploringChicago) is helpful for first-time visitors. For a more comprehensive listing of events, with links to hotels, restaurants and news, try The Chicago Search Engine (www.chicago.com) or the site for The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau
(tel. 877-CHICAGO; www.877chicago.com). For those who prefer opinionated guides of the newsstand variety, which are far more portable, Time Out Chicago (www.timeoutchicago.com) was recently added to this family of organized and exhaustively detailed weekly magazines. Or find the free, irreverent alternative weekly Chicago Reader (www.chicagoreader.com), available readily on street corners and hotel lobbies.
Historically, Chicago has always been at the forefront of groundbreaking architecture -- this is the city of the first skyscraper, after all. Millennium Park (www.millenniumpark.org) is no exception. It was conceived in 1998 as a way to hail the turn of the century, expand Grant Park and turn abandoned railroad tracks and parking lots into an urban landscape of interactive public art, beautiful landscaped garden areas and a seasonal ice-skating rink. The most obvious addition to the stretch of this Michigan Avenue block between Randolph and Monroe is the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a technologically and acoustically advanced amphitheater whose band shell bears the architect's signature abstract curls of stainless steel. The Park is home to many festivals and events all spring and summer long. Check out Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (March30 - April 17) performing at Joan and Irving Harris Theater, just footsteps away from the pavilion. The company's innovative works from worldly choreographers are set to the music Zap Mama, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, Rolling Stones and Leonard Bernstein. Or try the Chicago Opera Theater from May 4-14 for Mozart Le nozze di Figaro or Chicago Opera Theater's A Midsummer Night's Dream. May 18-28. Other events include the Grant Park Music Festival (tel. 312/836-7000; www.grantparkmusicfestival.com), which is hailed as the country's "only remaining free, municipally-supported, outdoor classical music festival;" the festival runs June 15 - August 20. The Grant Park Orchestra and Grant Park Chorus perform and concerts are scheduled for most Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:30pm and most Saturdays at 7:30pm and are held at the Pritzker Pavilion.
Baseball lovers interested in a mid-week getaway or an excuse to take off a day from work in the burgeoning spring can opt for opening day game for the city's two teams, the White Sox and the Cubs. The Chicago White Sox (www.whitesox.com) play at US Cellular field (formerly known as Comiskey Park), which has been used in several movies including My Best Friend's Wedding. They open up a three-day home stand against the Cleveland Indians starting the afternoon of April 4 and recently acquired Yankees pitcher El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) and former Oakland A outfielder Jermaine Dye. For tickets and more information, visit. For The Chicago Cubs (www.cubs.com) fans on the North Side, visit Wrigley Field, the second-oldest ballpark in the country after Boston's Fenway Park, for opening day on April 8 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Although there is no more Slammin' Sammy Sosa -- he's in Baltimore now -- the Cubs recently acquired Jerry Hairston and Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
For thirteen days in April, the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago presents the 21st Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival (tel. 312/431-1330; www.latinoculturalcenter.org), with over 100 short and feature length films screening throughout the city, examining the culture and identity of Latinos -- from more than 20 different countries in North and South America and Europe, including Spain, Portugal , Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Special programming areas during the festival, which runs from April 8-20, include animation, women in film, gay and lesbian, and Made in Chicago -- films from Chicago filmmakers. Screenings take place in three places: Landmarks' Century, Facets Cinematheque and Pipers Alley.
Home to the landmark Second City (tel. 312/337-3992; www.secondcity.com), which you can check out for its own original comedy revues on two stages, its accomplished alumni include Saturday Night Live players John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, and The Daily Show's Steven Colbert. A haven for underground comedic talent since 1959, performances there are not to be missed. If you can't get tickets, opt for The 8th Annual Chicago Improv Festival (tel. 773/935-9810; www.cif.com), running from April 22-May 1. The festival's lineup includes over 200 sketch comedy groups from around the world on more than a half-dozen forums: main stage, showcase, sketch, solo, duo, fringe, special events, and the dubious but humorous sounding "implosion" category, dedicated to college improv troupes. There are workshops, forums, and weekday intensive sessions. Main stage performers include MAD TV stars and writers, Saturday Night Life writers, and Emo Phillips, among others. While it's based in Chicago, performers and troupes come from across North America. Main stage events take place at the Athanaeum Theater, and Theater Building Chicago. Incidentally, this year is the 50th anniversary of the Compass Players, the theater company that eventually spawned the Second City; look for a "Happy 50th Birthday, Improv," party on July 3.
Cycling enthusiasts may want to Bike to Chicago for a three-month celebration. May marks the start of Bike Chicago (tel. 312/744-3315; www.bikechicago2005.org), a successful 15-year-old program designed to spread the word about the many benefits of bicycling. The event, also sponsored by the Mayor's office of special events, includes clinics and discussions on bike safety, mechanics, health benefits (biking as away to combat growing obesity epidemic), special events, guided bike tours around the city, Tour De Chicago (May 14), Bike the Drive (May 29), a 15 or 30 minute ride on Lake Shore Drive; Bike to Work Week/Commuter Challenge (June 11-17), a contest designed to encourage people to bike to work; and the L.A.T.E. Ride (July 10), which takes place from midnight to sunrise through Greek Town and North Side neighborhoods. (To register for this particular event, call tel. 773/918-RIDE; www.lateride.org)
Chicago Blues, pioneered by Muddy Waters and popularized by B.B. King, Buddy Guy and others, and characterized by its inclusion of the electric guitar, is celebrated at the Chicago Blues Festival (tel. 312/744-3315; www.cityofchicago.org/specialevents) from June 9-12. This year's 22nd annual festivities celebrate the centennials of Jimmy Walker, Big Maceo and Meade Lux Lewis. The programming reflects said honorees, each of whom bears a connection to the city; Thursday's theme is dubbed "Honky Ton Train Blues" and honors Lewis with performances including John Mayall and the Blues Breakers with special guest Mick Taylor, a Chicago Blues poetry showcase, and more. Friday's theme is Wang Wang Doodle" and look for Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine. "Where's My Money" is Saturday's theme, and feature a salute to Jimmy Walker by Homesick James Jake Crosby and others; the evening wraps up with a performance by Buddy Guy. The festival ends Sunday and Mavis Staples closes it out. The festival takes place lakeside at Grant Park and the best part? It's free! Thank Mayor Daley -- the Mayor's office of Special Events assists with hosting the blues festival, among other events during the summer.
A haven for great restaurants -- Rick Bayless, Charlie Trotter and, until recently, Wolfgang Puck, run some stellar ones here -- the Taste of Chicago celebrates food, glorious food. (tel. 877/244-2246 or 312/744-3370; www.tasteofchicago.com). It runs from June 24-July 4 in Grant Park This year marks the silver anniversary of the celebration of all things food, with over 60 restaurants offering a variety of "tastes." The food is joined by other entertainment at the Petrillo Music Shell (at press time musical acts were not finalized), cooking demonstrations from local chefs. The festival, which now draws several million, started as a humble, one-day event and featured Eli's Cheesecake; each subsequent year has been celebrated by giant cheesecake made to feed the masses. Tickets are required -- it's $7 for a strip of 11 and prices vary. It's the perfect opportunity to sample famous Chicago foods; deep-dish pizza, i.e., is more akin to a savory pie than anything anyone in the New York metro area has likely ever tasted. The whole feeding frenzy wraps up on the 4th of July with fireworks and a performance by Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Other highlights and good bets include an exhibit of the photographs of Chicago native Edmund Teske (May 21-July 31) at the Art Institute of Chicago (tel. 312/443-3600; www.artic.edu) Toulouse-Lautrec and Monnmarte (July 16-October 10), followed by Paris, City of Light (August 14-November 6). While you're at the Art Institute stop by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (tel. 312/922-3432; www.architecture.org) just a few blocks away on South Michigan Avenue (tours leave from the gift shop). Book one of dozens of tours available, organized thusly: bus, lunchtime, happy hour, neighborhood, river, downtown, and Frank Lloyd Wright. From neighborhood brownstones to skyscrapers designed by minimalist Mies van der Rohe and suburban homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Chicago is a must for any architecture buff. The foundation even offers a tour of the lakefront by Segway -- the self-propelled, eco-friendly, scooter-like apparatus that runs on a battery. The tours include training on how to use it and are scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays from April 8 through October; reservations are strongly suggested.
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