Wicker Park Fest | 07.25 & 26 | Chicago

Words by: Pat Knibbs | Images by: Julie Collins/Rose Mountain Photo

Wicker Park Festival :: 07.25.09 & 07.26.09 :: Chicago, IL

Wicker Park Festival '09 :: Junior Boys fans
Chicago has become one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. (boasting a cost of living rate on par with both New York and Los Angeles). Everything costs more here, especially during the summer. Sales tax is a whopping 11.5% in certain areas downtown (highest in the nation), employment is down across the board, and finding any sort of economic relief is hard. Thankfully, summer in Chicago, a city defined by its diverse and plentiful neighborhoods, is also synonymous with uniquely distinct neighborhood festivals that place emphasis on the people and businesses that define a particular area. The majority of these summer festivals offer a heap of local entertainment (mostly music), alcohol and of course, tasty food for free or a very reasonable price.

This year the Wicker Park Festival offered one of the best values this summer: three stages of music with 40+ bands over a two-day span for only $5 each day. Settling into its new locale, the fest offered more room for people to peruse these offerings and sample delicacies from restaurants and shops that line Milwaukee Ave from Damen South to Wood, which in turn drew the largest number of attendees to date.

Saturday, 07.25

The first band I encountered was Vampire Hands. This quartet from Minneapolis was loud, a little spacey and had a touch of rockabilly, all of which intrigued me enough to float around for the conclusion of their set before making it down to the opposite end of the fest for the end of Mickey Factz's set.

MoneyPenny aka the Rocktapussy DJs :: Wicker Park '09
Factz, a Brooklyn-based MC, has received recent notoriety for his single "Rockin' N Rollin'," which featured a cameo by Chicago's hipster hip-hop crew The Cool Kids. That said, Factz's final minutes had the crowd at the South Stage bouncing and waving to the slow, rhythmic beats. Diversity was rampant over the course of the weekend, and each stage offered something different, so options were available for those looking for variety.

Bouncing between the Center and South Stages following Factz's set, I began to notice the swells of people gathering in the surrounding areas. It was also around this time that a handful of unsavory clouds began to assemble and spurts of rain fell sporadically for about ten minutes, after which the skies cleared, giving way to a beautiful July evening.

Deep, thumping bass grooves electrified the air surrounding the South Stage, as Heavyweight Dub Champion blasted through their set of dub-laced, mid-tempo songs. A gaggle of hula-hooping fans and a surprising abundance of dancing children lined the street during the warm afternoon set. Meanwhile, on the Center Stage, a mid-afternoon dance party was concluding with MoneyPenny aka the Rocktapussy DJs. The two ladies (DJ A-Cup and DJ Mother Hubbard) had the crowd working up a sweat to their mash of infectious mixes, with my fav being the "My Name Is Toxic" mix that revolved around The Ting Tings "My Name Is Stacy."

I hung around the Center Stage as the hipster dance party intensified for The Glamour. Sophomoric party bangers like "Rubbin' & Bumpin'" and "Respect The Party" kept the crowd involved. The duo lacked lyrical depth but succeeded with tight, danceable tracks that overshadowed the lyrics and helped keep the atmosphere carefree and fun. Old Boy even gave the only shout-out to "all my gingers" that I've ever heard.

The New Deal :: Wicker Park '09
Dancing was the common theme Saturday, Sunday, too, but just not as much. So, the frenzy that began near the Center Stage during The Glamour spilled back towards the South Stage as the hometown electro/noise/funk trio Future Rock hit the stage. I have seen this band's evolution first hand, and their set on Saturday night was the best I've ever heard from them - easily the highlight of the weekend (musically). They exploded on stage, consistently feeding off of each other's energy and leading the gigantic crowd through numerous climactic twists and turns throughout their extended set. The placement of Future Rock back-to-back with headliners The New Deal brought out some of the rowdiest boogieing I've seen all year and made it almost impossible to physically leave the South Stage. Closing the night with a rousing cover of Death From Above 1979's "Romantic Rights," FR nearly blew the lid off the fest. The punk/funk groove thrashed delightfully amongst the throng, which gathered anywhere they could squeeze in, even onto neighboring rooftops that surrounded the stage.

Not wanting to be outshined by Future Rock, The New Deal kept the party moving at a ferocious pace. Anchored by their tight rhythm section - Darren Shearer, a machine on drums, and Dan Kurtz on bass - the trio ran through a set of improv laden jams that kept a rolling theme while allowing room for peak tempo shifts and key changes. I knew that Shearer and keyboardist Jamie Shields could rip it up (their late night set with Umphrey's McGee bassist Ryan Stasik and guitarist Brendan Bayliss on Sunday night as the Omega Moos was hot), but it was the impressive in-the-pocket work of Kurtz that kept the extended pieces fresh and chugging along. All in all, a very solid day musically, and the Future Rock and New Deal sets were the shit! And only $5! Can't beat that.

Continue reading for Sunday's coverage...

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