By James Currie
Sept 12th, 2015
Tiki adorned building, surf and rock a billy bands playing in a corner parking lot, go go girls dancing, Dr. Fong drinks flowing, a great group of talented artists and a Polynesian market place, yep, must be Fong Fest time again!
The annual music and arts festival geared towards the kitschy 50’s vibe is back for another year. Fong Fest at Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside just might be the coolest little event like it this side of the Pacific Islands. Each year growing larger and larger. So much so that if the trend keeps up, they’re going to have to rent out the lots around them to house everyone.
The small, near western suburban restaurant, in an even smaller town, has been serving up Asian influenced foods since 1976. They are a blend of Chinese and Hawaiian dishes. The Tiki themed building on the corner of Des Plaines and 26th in North Riverside has a pretty amazing fan base all year round. Not only for the foods and drinks, but the unique atmosphere inside as well. People come from all over the Chicagoland area to experience it. The main bar looks like you’re sitting under a giant tiki hut. The dining room looks like a beach front Hawaiian luau. There’s live fish, turtles and creature in tanks and ponds scattered throughout the place. Floor to ceiling tiki’s guarding the entrances and unsuspecting diners and music to put you in the mood to set sail for the nearest island. But wait! There’s more! They also do luau nights with fire twirling dancers, Elvis impersonator dates crooning out the best leisure suit karate kicking, guitar flipping, hip waggling around and as of a few years ago, an annual outdoor festival – Fong Fest.
Chef Shangri-La was established by Paul J. Fong and his wife Suzie. Today, the kids have taken over the joint. Betty, the Fong’s youngest daughter, and her husband Dave have been running things since 2011 and really taking things to a new level. Fong Fest being one of their annual highlights. According to the Fong’s, this year was the biggest Fong Fest ever. The weather certainly helped. It was a perfect day for it. Not too hot and no rain! It was a pretty amazing how many attended since there were so many other festivals and events going on the same day like a Ribfest right up the street in Forest Park, Riot Fest to the East in Douglas Park and Kid Rock down south on Harlem to mention a few.
Fong Fest started at noon and continued through the night until about 10pm. Throughout the day you experienced plenty o’ fun like; Betty’s exotic cuisine, Fong libation creations with island themed names, rockin’ bands from all over (see more below on them), amazing artists, vintage market place with vintage fashion, vendors selling everything from Hawaiian shirts and moo moo’s to hand carved trinkets & instruments and so much more.
Let’s talk about the amazing artists at Fong Fest. There were some creative folks here folks. Don Picton created bright vivid horror and sci-fi, themed rock n roll prints. His work can be seen on several bands promotional material as well as horror, sci-fi and comic shops. Another artist and Fong Fest poster and t-shirt creator, Pete Klockau’s, was there offering limited edition tiki themed prints and more. If you needed a Tiki for your rockin’ joint, look no futher. Dave Hanson was there with a booth selling his own, hand made, wooden artwork that he carved himself. Mark “Tiki Topes” Thompson was there as well with his hotrod inspired tiki art that included sculptures, prints and paintings.
One of the top Elvis impersonators around, Rick “Elvis” Saucedo kicked the day off. Saucedo and his band, The Ambassadors, got the joint rockin and rollin as only he can do.
The Gin Palace Jesters took an early spot during the afternoon, and kept the rock rollin’. Ken Mottet, co-singer and guitarist from the band said, “This is one heck of a fine show we are so grateful to be a part of.” Side note, Mottet is a former VJ on Chicago public television. He hosted a music TV video show called, The Otherside and has a pretty vast knowledge of music and the Chicago scene. You can bet that if he likes it, you’ll want to check it out.
The rest of the day was filled with more rock a billy, rock n roll and rock n soul. Other acts on the bill included The Revomatics, The Amazing Heeby Jeebies, Rumble Train, 13Tikis, The Dyes, Alewife and ended with Barbara Clifford & Shakin’ Tail Feathers. These are bands from all over Chicago and beyond. No one wants to miss this one.
After all that, they even have a fun charity raffle where you can win great prizes like, food and drinks from Chef Shangri-La, limited edition art prints from artists at the event, Tiki wall hangings, instruments, bar supplies for your own tiki bar and more.
If these are things you like, you need to attend a Fong Fest. Betty already promised they will be back again next year with another. Fong Fest 2016 promises to be even bigger and better if that’s possible. In the meantime, check out their schedule of events. They have diner shows, special performances and live music every month.
To find out more about Fong Fest and Chef Shangri- La, click here.
To find out more about the bands and event itself, click here.
To see pictures of Fong Fest 2015, click here.