First campfire festival aims to warm up Chicagoans


James Tsitiridis

First campfire festival aims to warm up Chicagoans

By Arts & Culture Reporter

As the weather gets colder and jackets heavier, the desire to feel the warmth of a campfire grows. For Jeff Fearon and Katie Neenan, the president and the chairperson of, the “charisma” of a campfire deserved its own kind of celebration.

The first Chicago Campfire Festival, scheduled to take place Oct. 15 from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., will offer a variety of events for all ages at Chase Park, 4701 N. Ashland Ave., in conjunction with the Chase Park Advisory Council.

Daytime activities will include tractor rides, live music, a corn maze, a pumpkin patch and bounce houses, while nighttime will feature ghost stories read around a campfire by professional storyteller Mark Kater.

According to Fearon, eight to 10 small campfires will be reserved for marshmallow roasting, with a larger bonfire for ambience. Guests are encouraged to bring picnic baskets and enjoy the warmth and entertainment.

“Growing up in a city, you don’t get to experience [campfires],” said Jennifer Zacarias, director of marketing and events for Logan Theatre, a sponsor of the festival. “For some, it may be nostalgic or a whole new experience altogether.” 

The event will be kid- and pet-friendly, but adult supervision is mandatory at the fire pits, Fearon said. Although attendants will be on hand, the long sticks for marshmallow roasting will ensure children remain a safe distance from open flames, he added. 

“[Creating this event] has been a really positive experience,” Fearon said, citing the “tremendous response” from organizations willing to sponsor the event. 

Zacarias said she learned about the event from Chicago Park District’s Facebook page, and the sponsorship developed from there. 

“Being raised [in] a Chicago Park District as a kid and knowing that they had these programs, we thought it would be a perfect fit,” Zacarias said. “Anything that has to do with the community, we want to be a part of.” 

For Chicagoans, campfires are rare because of city regulations. The City of Chicago prohibits open fire when wind is above 15 mph, according to the “Open Fires Prohibited” section of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

“There is something primitive in our DNA [and] roots [that makes people] want to gather by light,” Fearon said. Fearon added that the Natural Resource Department of the park district will be in attendance to help set up the bonfires.

Fearon and Neenan came up with the idea for the celebration when they were planning seasonal events. After doing online research and receiving permission from the Park District to go forward, they began contacting sponsors and live performers, who include 2014 music alum Rebecca “Bex” Chapman and performers from Fury Theatre who will act out seasonal, themed stories.

Chapman said Fearon came to them after hearing their solo music and is excited for the opportunity to play and attend. They added that fellow musician Ben Malby will accompany them for renditions of different genres. They added that everybody loves the feeling of fall. 

“[Chicago Campfire Festival is there to] celebrate the season,” Chapman said. 

Other sponsors include Tiny Giants Early Learning Center by Lake Shore Schools, and Campfire Marshmallows, which donated more than 5,000 marshmallow packages for the event.

“[Campfires] bring small communities together and more intimate friends together,” Fearon said. “Even if you’re not an outdoors person, it sounds appealing.” 

Whether for the “magical dancing light” or the relaxation campfires can bring, Fearon said he hopes the feeling of familiarity at the festival will resonate with the city.