By Vern Hester
The 2018 edition of Wicker Park Fest turned out to be a jolly boot camp for one of the biggest and most crowded Chicago weekends in memory. Not seven days after the last crumpled Wicker Park Fest brochure was swept off of Milwaukee Avenue by city workers, the monster known as Lollapalooza descended on Grant Park. As if that weren’t enough, the following weekend also saw the Chicago Cubs play three consecutive home games while St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger led an anti-gun and protest rally which shut down the northern section of Lake Shore Drive. If WPF prepared the masses for summer survival in the coming weeks that was actually beside the point. The point was, ‘did this festival measure up to the previous fourteen incarnations?’ The answer is a very enthusiastic and exhausted yes.
This year the festival offered more stuff besides just music and beer with painters creating works of art in the throughway, a Hip Hop freestyle dance stage, an array of ping pong tables, a jazz dance performance and God only knows what else. To be honest there was so much going on that it was impossible to see everything and that says nothing about the live music on three stages.
Still what I did see left quite the impression for a neighborhood street festival, in fact it was nearly overwhelming. On Friday night at the Goose Island Stage The Brokedowns joked their way through a ragged set of hard rock (“This song is about yoga!!!!!!,” various members would shout while introducing each song) setting the stage for headliner Against Me! Now a Chicago resident, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace was so joyful that the contrast between her mood and the thunderous music (“Revolution is DEADDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!,” she screamed at one point) gave the set an added boost.
Saturday was a bit calmer with 15 year old Lindsey Jordan leading her band Snail Mail through an articulate though subdued set. I found the way she slurred her lyrics rather endearing, and the downright hostile glares from bassist Alex Bass off putting. New York band Lemuria offered a set of intelligent winsome pop which was followed up by a brutal blast of bama lama from headliners The Get Up Kids who were celebrating the end of their tour.
Sunday night at the Espolon Stage saw Minneapolis teens Remo Drive rip through a muscular set of radio friendly pop to the delight of their adoring fans who squealed non-stop and literally whet themselves. I had to admit that that was a bit much, but Ezra Furman’s set, featuring large segments of 2018’s Transangelic Exodus was nothing short of sublime. Tossing in a few older chestnuts with the new material (a free flowing reworking of “My Zero” gave Furman and saxophonist Tim Sandusky the chance to turn the song into a mid-tempo slow corker) Furman sang and played with the kind of unguarded passion that’s made him famous worldwide.
To say the least, after those last two sets, I carried my tired ass home…
For photos of Wicker Park Fest 2018, click here