Groovin’ in the park

The third annual Celebrate Hyde Park festival draws thousands of visitors despite threatening thunderstorms.

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Around 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, skies over Hyde Park turned from beautiful—even if the temperature was a bit too hot—to apocalyptic and torrential. Fine weather for spending the afternoon curled up with a book or finally working through a season of Breaking Bad, but not for attending the third annual Celebrate Hyde Park festival.

The festival's Facebook page documented the hiatus during the rain. By 3:45 the storm evaporated, and an assurance was posted: “Ok people. The sun is out again. We are still on.” As the saying goes: if you post it on Facebook, they will come.

And they did. No doubt the storm kept some visitors at home—the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce had originally expected a turnout of 60,000—but when the sun reemerged, thousands crowded onto 53rd Street between Kimbark and Harper Avenues, chowing on grilled corn, veggie tacos, and jerk chicken and waiting for Average White Band to kick up some funk nostalgia.

Funded largely by sponsors such as the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement, South East Chicago Commission, and Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, and by assertive donation solicitations at every entrance, the two-day festival featured more than 50 art, food, and specialty vendors and 13 performances on two stages. Headlining the event on Saturday was '70s funk and soul artist Roy Ayers (think of the soundtrack to any Pam Grier movie), and on Sunday the Scottish funk and disco-playing Average White Band (I wish I could hum you the saxophone hook to “Pick Up the Pieces”). In a neighborhood that still celebrates Gil Scott Heron’s birthday, the performers hardly had to do their job—there were more than enough stand-ins grooving in the sea of lawn chairs facing the main stage.

Throughout the festival, the crane over the Harper Court development stood conspicuously as the centerpiece of the skyline, making it clear that 53rd street will soon offer much more than funk, funnel cakes, and free face painting. Maybe if it rains next year, we can all seek refuge in the new movie theater.

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