Windy City Smokeout hosts Chicago's first post-COVID festival outside United Center

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's first big music festival in more than a year kicks off Thursday night outside the United Center.

The Windy City Smokeout expects to host tens of thousands of country music and barbecue fans the next four nights, and they are using technology normally reserved for airports to do it safely.

Music comes from the stage as the band Walker County does a sound check. It is a glorious sound to fans who have been without live music for the least year and a half. Caitlyn Chapman was first in line to get in.

"Nine this morning. Got to get the best seat in the house," Chapman said.

"The vibe tonight is going to be one for the books, absolutely," said Sarah Christian, festival attendee.

Fans have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to get in, but thanks to the CLEAR app, which allows you to download all that information beforehand, the line moves quickly. The company started to help with airport security lines but in the post-COVID world, they have now branched out to events.

"It means when you get on site, you can breeze through, get right to the music. You don't have to wait in line," said Catesby Perrin, CLEAR.

With about 15,000 fans expected, this is the large first festival in the city since COVID-19. They have expanded the space by 30% to cover 18 acres in the parking lots next to the United Center to allow more space.

"We want to have the safest festival that we can, and we're just, you know, excited that the city is letting that happen," said R.J. Melman, Lettuce Entertain You.

Aside from the music, the festival is also about barbecue. Some have spent 24 hours smoking chicken legs and another couple hours marinating them to get ready for Thursday night.

The Windy City Smokeout marks a return to work for hundreds of restaurant employees.

"I'm really excited to get back, and I'm sure the staff is too, and everybody basically," said Rico Evanne, restaurant manager. "And they have a job again."
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