Mayfest kicks off summer festival season in Chicago

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Courtesy of StarEvents

Local Chicago Two Live Crew cover band, Too White Crew, performed at last year’s Mayfest celebration in Lakeview. The band returns for this year’s celebration on May 16.

With temperatures warming and the sun revealing itself after months of hiding, StarEvents’ annual Lakeview Mayfest event, 3100 N. Ashland Ave., is jump starting the outdoor festival season May 15–17.

Featuring local bands, such as Smells Like Nirvana and Too White Crew, food and a circus-sized heated tent, the Lakeview festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary. 

John Barry, CEO of StarEvents, said the festival serves as a celebration of the approaching summer season and also as a time for families to enjoy the weather after months of freezing temperatures.

“It’s really the inaugural getting-ready-for-summer festival featuring all of the standard components of a summer festival,” Barry said. “It’s really an opportunity for Chicago to come out and enjoy the weather. And if that goes awry, we have a giant, heated circus tent, so if we need that, we have that because you never know with Chicago.”

The festival has been consistent throughout the last 20 years, Barry said. While Chicago has grown in the last decade as a go-to festival city, Mayfest has always been a welcome tradition in the neighborhood. Barry said when Mayfest began, there were about 20 neighborhood festival permits applied through the mayor’s office for special events. Now, there are more than 500 permits throughout the city, Barry said.

“[Chicago’s festival scene] has exploded over the past decade,” Barry said. “With the competition from national events, it’s hard to garner interest from the local public and getting attendees and sponsors and food vendors, but if you have a great event in a great neighborhood, you can find success even with all these events taking place.” 

Although admission to the event costs $10, all proceeds go to local charities and help support local nonprofit organizations, such as the Language Stars learning center in Lincoln Park. Richard Banden, center director at Language Stars, said the event helps members at the center reach out to local families and publicize its mission.

“We’ve done [Mayfest] now for the last three years,” Banden said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to meet with prospective families.”

Banden said Mayfest allows the center to showcase and interact with families and children at the annual celebration, helping the center to communicate its message.

“We provide a teacher and they play some interactive games with the children,” Banden said. “It’s an opportunity for us to share and demonstrate what we do at Language Stars with new families.”

Smarty Pants Yoga, a yoga studio that empowers elementary-age girls to find healthy ways to cope with everyday stress, is another organization that has benefited from Mayfest. Annie Warshaw, CEO of Smarty Pants Yoga, said her organization participates in Chicago Kids Day, an event at Mayfest that takes place on May 16 this year, and worked with Mayfest last year.

“We have a table that has girl-empowerment coloring tables,” Warshaw said. “We are a girl-empowerment company that serves elementary schools throughout the city and the suburbs. We would love to meet new families, and [Mayfest] is a way for us to do that.”

Barry said Mayfest stands out among the crowded music festivals in Chicago because of its dedication to small nonprofit organizations—something festivals like Lollapalooza do not offer.

“[Lollapalooza] and all those other festivals are corporate, for-profit monsters of companies that produce those and make a ton of money for doing those [festivals],” Barry said. “They all pre-sell tickets, and for us it’s all donation only. It’s a different feel, and those that know that love to spend their dollars on coming to these events because it does support such good causes.”

In addition to the other summer festivals, Barry said Mayfest has some of the best local acts in the city. Although the major festivals welcome some of the music industry’s names, such as Paul McCartney, Mayfest attracts some of Chicago’s best local talent, Barry said.

“Mayfest has some of the top acts in Chicago—bands that would typically play the Cubby Bear and [115] Bourbon Street—and we put them under one roof for one weekend,” Barry said. “You can come see three, four great bands a day. That’s just a great way to kick off your summer and enjoy a day outside while still benefiting your community.”

The 20th annual Mayfest takes place May 15–17 at 3100 N. Ashland Ave. Tickets to the event are $10.