For those of us who came of age in the 1980’s we will always remember fondly the Star Plaza Theater formally known as the Holiday Star Theater in Merrillville Indiana which will close at the end of the year and be demolished.
Before the casinos had beautiful theatres and booked top acts, before places like Country Club Hills and other suburbs had wonderful outdoor venues for R&B and headlining jazz cats.
Before outside venues like Hollywood Casino Amphitheater (previously known as First Midwest Bank or Tweeter Center or the World theatre), in Tinley Park IL or Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island (formally Meigs Field), had great urban and rock acts on the majestic lake front stage.
Before many suburbs like New Lenox & Romeoville had nice outdoor places to see god music and older music acts in the summer.
Before all that the Holiday Star was the place to see top talent in a great venue (3,400 seats), get a good meal and stay the night in the old Holiday Inn and later the Radisson Hotel.
The urban radio stations (WGCI 107.5 & WVAZ 102.7 aka V103), would advertise the upcoming shows playing there.
Sometimes those acts would also play the long closed Regal Theater on east 79th & Stony Island or the still going Arie Crown Theatre within McCormick Place in the south loop.
But often the allure of the Holiday Star was you could make an evening or a weekend of a good show and still be close to home and not pay the outrageous city prices. It was like a little getaway.
And for a young person like me it was “grown folks” entertainment. These were mature shows in comedy & R&B, not necessarily R rated but definitely for an older audience.
I only went to one show there in its heyday in 1991, the “Sound of Philadelphia” tour with the late saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and the late R&B diva Phyllis Hyman.
I was all of 15 years old and went via my mother’s alumni group at Chicago State University.
Man I felt like I was “grown”, I was familiar with Grover’s songs but was enamored (and still am), with Phyllis Hyman.
Honestly Grover put on a much better show than she did though she was funny in between songs.
Still to be out late and go to my first "real" R & B gig that was not a kiddie show was huge. I still consider this the second best concert (Stevie Wonder is 1st), I ever saw, the glamour of the Holiday Star first class accommodations and not a bad seat in the house.
Of course in the years since so many other options for shows, the aforementioned places along with we now have a theatre district in downtown Chicago, The Rialto Theatre in Joliet now has live music concerts, the Paramount in downtown Aurora is magnificent. Even in Waukegan they have the Genesee and Skokie has the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.
There’s a lot more options now for your entertainment dollars.
Also remember not a lot of places booked R & B or Country music acts back then and the Star Plaza had headlining acts of all genres (The Oak Ridge Boys have played there every year and are the closing act), its common now, was not when they started in 1979.
The hotel is being demolished right now and the theatre will last until the end of the year and then an era will end but the memories and music will play on.
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Filed under: Chicago