There are no bigger delights than a free concert, and thanks to Millennium Park, you can enjoy them weekly in summer. The lines aren't long. The trip home is much shorter than that crowded train from Ravinia (and people don't tend to bring candelabras). And, of course, the acoustics are great and the city skyline view is breathtaking.
All summer Millennium Park has hosted a number of free, open-to-the-public concerts. I highly recommend these as wonderful cheap Friday and Wednesday nights. Folding chairs offer ample seating, and the space in back offers lawn area for anyone with a blanket. I caught part of the "Divas" performance on one Friday night this summer (think sopranos and showtunes); it was fantastic, an all-around great concert-going experience, with locals dining out of picnic baskets and drinking wine as the sun set.
So I was delighted to hear that Tori Amos, my very favorite singer/songwriter, would be playing at Millennium Park. I instantly bought tickets when they went on sale. Much a stink has been made about the concert: the park's first for-profit show. And when it comes to last Wednesday, the city's got some 'splaining to do...because it was an absolute disaster.
First, there was the ticket price. Erma Tranter, president of the Friends of the Parks watchdog group, told the Sun-Times this week that holding the private concert, at which lawn tickets cost $10, was in direct conflict of the park's "free for all" promise. However, park officials countered, saying other parts of the park were still open, so technically, the park wasn't closed.
Um, OK. But that was just the start of the mess. Yes, realizing I paid $10 to hear (and not see) a show I could have also heard (and not seen) from other locations in the park (or downtown) did make me feel silly, but not as much as when I tried to enter, complete with a backpack full of blankets, sub sandwiches and wine, which my friends and I had brought.
Now, I'm no amateur drinker. Not only did I check my ticket for the "No cans or bottles allowed" concert disclaimer (which wasn't on it), I also checked the Millennium Park Web site to make sure alcohol was OK. There was no listing for the Aug. 31 Tori concert, but apparently someone else had wondered, too, because here's what the site's FAQ section has to say about it:
Q: Is alcohol permitted in the park?
A: Alcohol is allowed in designated areas in the park - the Jay Pritzker Pavilion during public performances and the McCormick Tribune Plaza. Glass bottles and cans are not permitted on the Great Lawn.
Score! Our concert, according to the ticket was indeed in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. So we brought wine. But upon getting to the park, and waiting in a LONG, single file line that was filtering in through the haphazardly-added gates, we were told my backpack would be searched for bottles. I asked why, as the Web site said alcohol was allowed inside the confines of the pavilion and the ticket taker, wearily and a bit apologetically, said "I know, I'm sorry, but they set up a tent to sell beer tonight so they're not allowing anything else in."
I was less than happy. Had I known they were selling alcohol and that was our only option, I wouldn't have lugged over three bottles of wine. They're heavy! But as it stood, I wasn't about to throw them out (sacrilege!) or walk home and miss part of the show to drop them off, either. The ticket taker then directed us to a small grassy knoll just outside the gates where she said we could sit, still hear the show and drink. I asked her if she was sure it was OK to drink there. She said yes.
So, we figured we'd eat the $10 ticket and sit right outside. Same sound quality, right? And besides, the area was filled with other Tori fans that had BYOB'd it. It was sort of fun. But not 20 minutes after unpacking and uncorking, we were confronted by a man in a bright yellow shirt that screamed "SECURITY" in large letters, telling us we had to throw out our wine because liquor wasn't allowed in the park. Slowly, he made his way around to every blanket and had them dispose of their libations. (I don't know what he was keeping "SECURE," but apparently the city views Merlots as a huge threat, and was determined to rid the park of them, along with any potentially dangerous Chardonnays.)
By then, the Tori camp had gone from happy, chatty concertgoers into a patch of angry, thirsty Chicagoans. Quickly. And we were sorta screwed. Because we'd settled outside the park, the lawn area inside the ticket gates was so full at that point it seemed unlikely anyone could even get a seat inside. So we stayed out on the knoll, listened to the otherwise stellar show, watched the Navy Pier fireworks go off and then watched in wonderment as concert security dismantled the gates before the show ended (and before Tori's two encores) to allow people from the park to pour into the lawn area, among the $10 ticket holders. (What exactly was the benefit to buying tickets to this show, anyway?)
I love Millennium Park. It's been a great addition to the city. Here's to hoping the park can sort it out before the next pop show...you'll find me enjoying it from somewhere on Michigan Avenue, still clutching my unused Tori Amos ticket.
Read on for a list of what's going on for free in Millennium Park in September.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap.