Looking for a way to keep celebrating the Blackhawks Stanley Cup win this weekend? Join nearly twenty thousand Chicagoans and head downtown for the 29th annual "World's Largest Block Party" at Old St. Pat's (featuring performances by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Phil Vassar, Gretchen Wilson and more). Earlier this week, I talked with Old St. Pat's pastor, Father Tom Hurley and Vintage Blue frontman, Ben Bassett in an effort to figure out what it is exactly that makes the block party an annual stand out in an increasingly crowded Chicago summer festival landscape...
One of the annual highlights of Chicago's outdoor, summer festival scene is also one of the oldest: The World's Largest Block Party at Old St. Pat's church.
In it's twenty-ninth year, the block party continues to celebrate Chicago culture, music both local and national, gorgeous summer weather and more in one of the city's most unique festival locations: the heart of Chicago's west Loop, outdoors, in the shadow of picturesque Old St. Pat's church.
Twenty-nine years and still going strong has made the World's Largest Block Party an institution in Chicago... but why?
"Well, I think a couple of things: Number one, it’s age. I mean, twenty-nine years for a festival like this… I don’t recall too many festivals that have that type of longevity... so it’s got a lot of name recognition because of its longevity... People always leave satisfied, having a great time. I think we throw a good party" says Old St. Pat's Pastor, Father Tom Hurley.
Hurley, pastor of Old St. Pat's since 2007 and a lifelong Chicagoan, has memories of the festival that stretch back before his days as one of its organizers. "Officially, this is my tenth one. I came [to Old St. Pat's] ten years ago so this is my tenth one being on staff. But I remember coming to this when I was right out of college. I think the Counting Crows is really when this thing went gangbusters."
Music has always been the key component to the World's Largest Block Party. An ability to feature contemporary acts that remain culturally relevant set the block party apart from the redundant classic rock bookings that so often permeate the festival scene.
"Getting this gig is a real score because we are given unprecedented hospitality and awesome access to the other talent. Last year we got to hang out with and chat with Lifehouse and Ben Folds Five... This year we look forward to meeting Edward Sharpe and Phil Vassar" says Ben Bassett of local pop and rock quintet Vintage Blue.
Hitting the studio in August to work on the followup to their 2011 hookladen affair Strike the Mics, Vintage Blue performs Friday night at 8:15PM on the south stage.
"Friday is going to be crazy! There is so much going on in the city and it will be a great day for all Chicagoans. Vintage Blue is about dancing, smiling and having a great time. All we can say is that we have built a very special set of covers and originals that will keep the party going all night!" asserts the frontman.
And while live music is all well and good, the World's Largest Block Party is actually famous, perhaps even infamous at this point, for something else: an ongoing and incredible ability to unite Chicago's singles population.
"I don’t think we have any exact figure but what we know of is I think in the area of about one hundred couples. I mean, it could be more for all we know. And I’ve done some of those weddings for people who met here" says Father Hurley.
Both Bassett and Hurley went on at length about the sense of community that enables the World's Largest Block Party to stand out in an increasingly crowded Chicago festival scene.
"I have attended the festival several times in the past! This will be my third consecutive year as a volunteer, as several of our band members and friends will be on hand to assist behind the scenes on Saturday" says Bassett.
A downtown fixture for over one hundred and fifty years, Old St. Pat's continues to attract a young, passionate, motivated crowd dedicated to service throughout the city. As one of, if not the biggest, annual Old St. Pat's fundraisers, the World's Largest Block Party goes beyond merely raising money (and drinks).
"I think one of our exemplary aspects of mission has been our whole sense of reaching out to the world. People know that when they come here, they want to get involved, they want to serve. And this allows us to keep doing a lot of that service. There are a lot of people that benefit from this party which is really good... This party is going to continue to do our work to educate, to serve the poor, to help people find jobs... It’s a party with a purpose and people benefit from it" explains the pastor.
Known for his 2011 foray into stand-up comedy via the locally produced reality show The Stand-up Comedy Project (WTTW, channel 11), Hurley can be quick with a quip which will suit him well onstage all weekend.
"I don’t know if I have any one favorite moment of these ten years that I’ve been here but my favorite annual moment is getting up on the main stage and looking out at a sea of humanity. I always find that to be fascinating. Getting up on stage and seeing our parking lot packed... It’s fun to see that."
With a decent weather forecast (and by virtue of the fact that the entire city remains in a frenzy following the Stanley Cup championship earlier in the week), there's no better reason to stay downtown Friday after the Blackhawks parade/rally than the World's Largest Block Party. With live music Friday night courtesy of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Vintage Blue and the festival's first country night Saturday featuring Phil Vassar and Gretchen Wilson, each paid admission includes four drinks.
Father Hurley sums it up nicely: "Come on out! It’s a great time. It’s always fun. It’s always good music… I just think it’s the signature summer party here in Chicago." Amen.
- Jim Ryan
(Details on Friday and Saturday at the World's Largest Block Party after the jump)
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The World's Largest Block Party
Old St. Patrick's Church
700 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60661
(Main festival gate located at Madison & Des Plaines)
Friday and Saturday, June 28 and 29
5:30 - 10:30PM daily
Friday performers: The Shams Band, Punch Brothers, No Love for Linus, Vintage Blue and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Saturday performers: South of 80, Out for Hours, Michele McGuire, Gretchen Wilson and Phil Vassar
Tickets: $40 per day in advance, $45 at the gate
VIP tickets and two day passes also available
(Each paid admission includes 4 FREE drinks)
Click HERE to purchase tickets
*** Proceeds support Old St. Patrick’s Church and the Center for Social Concerns on the Old St. Pat’s Campus which houses the following outreach programs: Horizons for Youth; Career Transitions Center of Chicago and the Global Alliance for Africa ***
Tags: Ben Bassett, Chicago Blackhawks, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Father Tom Hurley, Gretchen Wilson, Michele McGuire, No Love for Linus, Old St. Pat's, Out for Hours, Phil Vassar, Punch Brothers, South of 80, Stanley Cup, The Shams Band, Vintage Blue, World's Largest Block Party