Great Chicago Fire Festival coming to Chicago River in October 2014

An artist's rendering of the Chicago Great Fire Festival (City of Chicago)

March 29, 2013 1:46:57 PM PDT
In a city known for its festivals, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to add one that's burned into Chicago's history and culture he hopes will capture the world's imagination: The Great Chicago Fire.

Imagine a festival of arts and culture and acrobatics along the Chicago River's main branch in downtown Chicago.

"You are seeing barges and boats that are floating by with wild, gigantic contraptions and machines, pyrotechnics and fire," Frank Maugeri, co-artistic director at Redmoon. "And beautiful sculptural items that, once set aflame, reveal all sorts of new things inside of them."

The city of Chicago is paying Redmoon, a South Side company that develops weird machines for public spectacles, $100,000 to develop The Great Chicago Fire Festival. According to a press release, the Great Chicago Fire Festival will be a large scale cultural festival that will culminate in a "fire spectacle" that includes "acrobatics, live music, fantastical machines, and more."

The event, named after the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed the city in 1871, will focus on the rebirth of the Chicago after the flames.

"Chicago is distinguished by the determination to innovate, to reinvent, to rise from the ashes. From the earliest prairie fires off Wolf Point to the City's rebirth following the Great Chicago Fire, Chicago's history is marked by episodes of destruction and renewal," Jim Lasko, co-artistic director at Redmoon, said in a statement.

On Thursday, Mayor Emanuel announced a $100 million federal loan to complete the Chicago Riverwalk along the Chicago River's banks. The Great Chicago Fire Festival would be the first major city special event to use the once-polluted river as its focal point.

"The truth is, we're now at a juncture in the history of the city of re-introducing the city to the river and the river to the city," Emanuel said on Thursday. "I want to make the Chicago River the next recreational frontier for the city of Chicago."

Lasko came up with the Great Chicago Fire Festival idea years ago, believing Chicago needed a unique city celebration.

"The intention is to create a public event for all of Chicagoans and hopefully people from many, many other cities to come to see Chicago at its most celebratory and in finest," Maugeri said.

There's no word yet on whether the festival will involve a cow.