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Chicago summer festivals measure big success

  • Thousands of people turn out to see Jennifer Hudson perform at the Taste of Chicago in Chicago on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Thousands of people turn out to see Jennifer Hudson perform at the Taste…
September 21, 2012|Adam Lukach, @lucheezy | RedEye

Despite being the drought-iest summer the city has seen in a while, there was no shortage of Chicagoans coming out to derive pleasure from all the summer affairs put on by the city: A few Chicago festivals this summer achieved record-breaking turnouts--and total attendance topped 4 million.

"Chicago came to life this summer, filled with the smells of our world-class cuisine, the spectacle of our thrilling air show, and the sounds of our greatest musicians--all free of charge," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

The Chicago Blues Festival, which featured headliners like Texas Johnny Brown and Mavis Staples, saw a 26 percent increase in food and beverage sales and crowds of more than 500,000 people, according to a press release. Former President Bill Clinton was also on hand for the fest.

The new five-day format for the Taste of Chicago still drew an increase of an estimated 5,000 people per day from 2011, totaling 1.2 million people. The new addition of the Celebrity Chef du Jour area, a $40 ticket for a sit-down meal prepared by noted chefs, yielded an extra almost $300,000 for the festival.

The Chicago Gospel Music Festival, returning after a year hiatus, and the Chicago Air and Water Show both escaped any unruly weather on their respective weekends. The Gospel Fest in late June drew a crowd of more than 30,000 people to Ellis Park while last month's Air and Water show drew more than 2 million people to the shores of Lake Michigan, making it the largest free show of its kind in the US.

Despite the Labor Day storms during Saturday of the Chicago Jazz Festival, the remainder of the festival was packed with fest-goers, overflowing Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall and flooding 20,000 people into Grant Park on Sunday for pianist Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi.

"We are looking forward to planning the 2013 season which will include milestone celebrations of the Chicago Blues Festival (30 years), Chicago Air and Water Show (55 years) and the 35th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival," Commissioner Michelle T. Boone said.

After the successful summer season, the city will kick off its fall slate of shows with the World Music Festival, which begins tonight with performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park among other places. This is the first year ever that it will be free.

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