Chicago in Chicago, by Rich Paschall
The first big concert that I attended in my life was at DePaul University Alumni Hall on May 13, 1971. Three DePaul alumni and two other DePaul music students, along with a Roosevelt University music student and a local musician were making it in the big time and they were coming home to play a benefit. The concert ticket prices were rather high at 3.50 and 6.50 US dollars. I am sure I went for the cheaper ticket. I had been to many Blue Demon basketball games in Alumni Hall so I knew there would not be a bad seat.
The band’s first album came out 50 years ago and was the self-titled The Chicago Transit Authority. While on tour the local transit authority actually threatened legal action if they kept the name. Thus the band name was shortened to just Chicago. The first album was doing OK but did not garner any individual hits in the beginning. We didn’t care. We liked what we heard. Then something happened.
While the boys were on the road, their songs were finally making it from the FM album-oriented stations to AM radio. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, Beginnings and Questions 67 & 68 climbed the charts. When Chicago the band made it back to Alumni Hall, they were rock stars, “rock with horns,” that is. The student newspaper noted at the time: “The memories are there, as are the photographs and copy, but no camera or pencil could have successfully captured the exchanges of expression between the members of the band and the proud, beaming faces in the front row of Alumni Hall – their parents.”
CTA, as we liked to call the album in Chicago, stayed on the Billboard 200 for a record 171 consecutive weeks. It was helped along by the success of the next album just titled “Chicago.” The album that followed in 1971 was “Chicago III.” Singles were making it to the AM radio where we could all hear them without buying the album. There are now 36 albums, the most recent being “Chicago Now,” or Chicago XXXVI.
I have seen Chicago in concert about a dozen times over the recent decades. Besides seeing them at the site of my high school and college gym, Alumni Hall (now gone), I also saw them at Poplar Creek (also gone), Soldier Field for a “Saturday in the Park,” Northerly Island, Chicago (more of a peninsula, methinks), Grant Park for “Taste of Chicago,” and several times in recent years at Ravinia Festival just north of Chicago.
Ravinia Festival is reported to be the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States. It began in Ravinia Park in 1905 and now runs from June to about mid-September each year. The calendar of events typically contains 120 to 150 events. In addition to the 3400 seats outdoor pavilion, there is the 850 seat Martin Theater used largely for classical works and the 450 seat Bennett Gordon Hall.
The outdoor concerts encompass every type of music from classical to jazz, show tunes to opera, rock to blues. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra finds a summer home there and they perform many outdoor shows. The popular site can fill the Pavillion and put thousands more on the lawn.
The original purpose of Ravinia Park was in support of the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad. This stop along the line was meant to provide a variety of amusements just a short distance from the city. The railroad went bankrupt in 1911 putting the festival in jeopardy. A group of local residents, including prominent Chicago businessmen, purchased the park and secured its future as an entertainment spectacular.
Ravinia Park is spread across 36 acres. Theaters, restaurants, souvenir shops, refreshment stands, a food court, and a beverage store help to fill the space. The lawn frequently includes a giant screen for all those who can not see the stage. The sound is great everywhere.
Unique to this venue is the picnic aspect of the lawn. Not only can you bring in your own lawn chair, but also your own food and drink. People arrive with coolers and picnic baskets. Even low tables to hold your candles, and wine and cheese are allowed. If you forget anything or did not want to carry items in, just run to the store on site.
I like to take the Union Pacific North line from the Ravenswood stop at Lawrence Avenue, just two stops from downtown Chicago, right to the gate at Ravinia. The entrance is literally steps from the train. On the return, they hold the train until the show is over, including encores, and people have a chance to get to the platform. Don’t be too late or you may have to call an Uber! Of course, you can drive out there. The park has adequate parking if you did not make it to the train on time, or have a lot of picnic gear to bring.
Chicago the band is 10 now instead of just 7 they had at the start. There are two percussionists, not a single drummer as in the beginnings. Replacing the multitalented Terry Kath following his death in 1978 added to their numbers as well. When Jason Scheff (Pete Cetera replacement in 1985) recently left the band, a bass player and singer were added to cover the parts. In fact, many lineup adjustments have been made throughout the years.
The current line up still provides the same great sound. Remarkably, original trombone player James Pankow and trumpet player Lee Loughnane are as strong as ever. Robert Lamm (from Roosevelt University), the heart and soul of Chicago, still delivers on multiple instruments and lead vocals.
Chicago the band is a major component of the soundtrack of my life. Even though it is 50 years on, the music never gets old.
Sources include: “Sweet Home, Chicago,” resources.depaul.edu/newsline, Patricia Chavez, November 16, 2017.