Hello again, fellow roadies! This weekend, route roadies in Chicago are blessed with a full two days’ worth of worthy events (that’s in addition to everything else going on in the immediate area, like the special exhibits at the Art Institute and the usual tours at the top of the Sears Tower, etc.). First up today is the annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show, a don’t-miss, no-admission event in Illinois as it is second in size only to the Mother Road Festival in downstate Springfield. Flashy vehicles, food and fun, and did we mention it’s FREE? Yessir! Be there, or be square. Berwyn is the second suburb you encounter outside Chicago when traveling Route 66, one whose civic leaders very consciously promote Route 66 – and Berwyn’s history on the route – all year long. It’s also home to the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, which is one of the co-sponsors of the car show.
Then there’s the first annual CineFest in the Douglas Park area of Chicago, a weekend-long celebration of feature-length movies and TV series filmed in Chicago (many of which have been at least partially produced at fest sponsor Cinestage Chicago). And perhaps the best part of that festival is that the beverages of choice will be brewskis supplied by next-door neighbor Lagunitas-Chicago brewery, Chicago’s largest craft beer producer. Cinestage Chicago occupies the historic former Ryerson Steel campus, which is located between Western Avenue on the easternmost end and Washtenaw Avenue on the west, Route 66/Ogden Avenue on the north and the railroad viaduct that runs on an angle roughly between 17th to 18th Streets and parallel to Ogden. In fact, Lagunitas itself is in a former Ryerson warehouse that the brewery rents from Cinestage under a 99-year lease. So you have history all around you at both of these events this weekend.
In fact, our suggestion is that you attend the car show today and CineFest tomorrow – work them both in, if you can, then dine somewhere on the route afterwards.
Saturday: Berwyn Route 66 Car Show (new date)
It’s the 25th anniversary of the Berwyn Route 66 Car Show, and all day in Berwyn they’ll be celebrating nearly every iteration of personal vehicle to travel down our favorite iconic highway: classic and vintage cars, custom cars, hot rods, sexy sports cars, muscle cars, mad bikes, and tricked-out trucks. They’re SOooooo pretty, and about 60 or so of them will have won various awards by day’s end, some of which are categories with names raging from clever to kooky. Car heaven on the route! And it’s all happening today.
If you want a preview of what you’re likely to see, look here and here for our coverage of previous years’ car shows in Berwyn. It’s an event you shouldn’t miss if you’re anywhere nearby.
With this being such an important anniversary for the Berwyn car show, you’d think folks would want it to go off without a hitch. No such luck. This year’s car show coming a full two weeks before its usual time of year – the Saturday after Labor Day – will no doubt confuse some folks. Many folks, in fact. We have it on good authority that the organization of this year’s event has been a tad problematic because of the date change. Jon Fey, director of the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, explained that the date change was solely due to a conflict for the head judge of the car competition. Fey also informed us that the museum wouldn’t be having its usual tent/booth at the car show, but that we should feel free to hang out with our pals from the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway (which we would, were any of us able to make it this year; yeah, the date change messed us up, too). Perhaps next year will be back to normal – ? One can only hope.
For some reason (perhaps the special anniversary), this year the car show organizers felt the need to draft not only an Elvis impersonator but also a Frank Sinatra impersonator … ehhhh, we don’t understand this: there’s no need for ersatz-Elvis or the (near) ghost of Ol’ Blue Eyes, given that neither dead artist had anything to do with Route 66, road music, classic cars, hot rods, or souped-up muscle cars. Whoever thought that was a good idea goofed; a group like the Fabulous Thunderbirds or the Crown Vics would have been a better choice. However, getting the Rhythm Rockets to appear between 11am and 1pm was a spark of sheer brilliance: they not only play ’50s-to-early-’60s pop music, they also play swing and jump blues from the late 1920s through the 1940s – all of which together musically covers just about the entire history of Route 66. Excellent!!!
[Full disclosure: I already knew about the Rhythm Rockets ages ago because they really specialize in swing and jump jive; the ’50s stuff is like a sideline for them and not really their main playlist – which is absolutely fine by me. However, many Route 66 aficionados associate the music of the 1950s and early 1960s with Route 66 because that’s when the popularity of the route as a highway was at its greatest; yet these fans conveniently forget that the route had already existed for almost a quarter of a century by 1950. Remember: when the route opened for business in 1926, the Charleston was in vogue, jazz was growing up in Chicago, nobody had heard of swing music yet (though that would appear pretty quickly), Sinatra was a kid playing stickball in New Jersey, and rock ‘n’ roll was more than 20 years in the future. Just saying: that’s a lot of history to ignore, musically or otherwise. But I digress.]
What doesn’t change this year at the car show is that the event is still fun as hell, with Roamin’ Chariot’s flame-belching hot rods squaring off, live music all day long, awards handed out in the afternoon, and cute cars lined up all day for roughly six blocks along Ogden Avenue between Ridgeland Avenue and Oak Park Avenue. The usual parade that officially starts off the show will still begin at 11 am with a military color guard gleaned from local veterans. Vince Minogue of the local band Wireless Soul will once again be giving away a brand new Dean Guitar to some lucky visitor. And there’s food, as usual, plus our friends from the byway, the Heritage Corridor CVB, and the Route 66 Association of Illinois to visit with at their respective booths. Not to mention Route 66 tee shirts and related paraphernalia to buy. Naturally, the perfect way to end the day is to head afterwards to Berwyn’s own Cigars & Stripes on Ogden for post-show barbecue and drinks in Ronnie Lottz’s makeshift, one-day beer garden (i.e., the big tent in the parking lot). Ah! Sweet sunset.
Here’s the car show schedule:
7-10 am – Show car check-in and registration; cars line up at designated spots along Ogden Avenue
9-11 am – Frank Sinatra impersonator sings at the show center (Ogden Top & Trim)
10 am – Show Car judging begins
11 am – Military Color Guard and National Anthem at the show center
11:15 am – Parade from the show center to the World War I Memorial at Ridgeland and Ogden
10-10:45 am – Live band at Michael Anthony’s Pizza
11 am-1 pm – The Rhythm Rockets play at Ogden Top & Trim
11:30 am – Roamin’ Chariot flamethrowers perform at Ogden & Wesley Avenues
11-11:45 am – Live band at Michael Anthony’s Pizza
12-12:45 pm – Live band at Michael Anthony’s Pizza
12:30 pm – Roamin’ Chariot flamethrowers perform at Ogden & Wesley
1-1:45 pm – Live band at Michael Anthony’s Pizza
1-3 pm – Elvis impersonator is in the house at the show center
1:30 pm – Roamin’ Chariot flamethrowers perform at Ogden & Wesley
After the judging has been tallied – Award ceremony at the show center
Sunday: CineFest Backlot Party at Cinestage Chicago
Meanwhile, Cinestage Chicago has found a way to put its idle backlot to use. This weekend, it’s launching a 3-day backlot block party – with live music plus beer from nearby Lagunitas-Chicago – before it introduces its backlot tours in the coming weeks, for which it will charge admission. Food for the block party will be provided by Chicago’s most popular sweet and savory food trucks, which will be serving Chicago-focused treats. The daily general admission for the backlot party is $15 for adults, $10 for kids (though we doubt the kids will be interested in any of the 30-plus bands scheduled to appear; this doesn’t really strike us as a family affair). The block party is the first ever in what is supposed to be an annual event. We’ll see how that goes.
Cinestage’s offices are centered at 16th Street and Rockwell Avenue, which is where CineFest will be held as well. Handicapped parking will be in a lot across the street, whereas parking for the rest of us plebeians will be a few blocks east at 16th Street and Western Avenue. Parking is $10 a day.
Cinestage Chicago Film Studios, an offshoot of Cinestage Studios in Toronto, Canada, isn’t a film production company or film studio in its own right – rather, it provides facilities and equipment to out-of-town film production companies and motion picture studios that want to at least partially film or videotape movies or TV series in Chicago. Currently, NBC’s popular TV shows Chicago Fire and Chicago PD (both Dick Wolf productions) as well as the Fox network’s Empire are all filmed in Chicago, both on location and at Cinestage’s soundstages on the old Ryerson campus. Part of the recent film hit Divergent was also filmed there.
CineFest, however, will celebrate more than just films and shows that have used the company’s Chicago facilities. Scattered around the backlot will be exhibits about such productions as director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, The Fugitive, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Blues Brothers, The Untouchables, Barbershop, U.S. Marshals, Backdraft, A League Of Their Own, Home Alone, and the TV series Hill Street Blues, among others.
What’s new here is that Cinestage will shortly begin – or has already begun – transforming the exteriors of its soundstage buildings (i.e., converted warehouses) along Rockwell, 15th, 16th, and 17th Streets with long stretches of fake, period-looking street frontages designed to look like London, Paris, New York and other cities. (That is not what the exteriors of those warehouses-cum-soundstages looked like the last time yours truly visited Lagunitas’s taproom just months ago in the spring, mind you; it’s a very recent development and a way for Cinestage to reuse its idled sets by converting the look of these few city streets to period streetscapes in different parts of the world. Doing this also frees up storage space inside.) Cool.
We’re not clear yet on what the admission will be for the soon-to-begin backlot tours, which theoretically should be more interesting than CineFest, but at least it’ll be one more thing to do on Route 66 in Chicago. Cinestage’s complex is only two blocks south of Ogden in the Douglas Park area of Lawndale, and only a block away from the Lagunitas-Chicago brewery on 17th Street between Rockwell and Washtenaw Avenue. On the other hand, the brewery tour at Lagunitas is free, and at the end you get a beer tasting, too. Given a choice, we know which tour we’d pick … but you might want to do both, as long as you’re there already.
The Route 66 backstory worth mentioning
Ogden and Rockwell, as many Chicago roadies know, is where Chicago attorney, entrepreneur and racetrack owner “Artful Eddie” O’Hare was assassinated by the mob in November 1939 (probably at Frank Nitti’s behest: Al Capone was already quite gaga by then from his near-lifelong bout of syphilis and couldn’t have cared less about Eddie O’Hare, at that point, even though he had forced himself on the unwilling O’Hare as a business partner during the mid-1920s). This murder remains unmarked and unnoted by the city, as 1) the city government would like to forget our town’s mob connections of 80 or 90 years ago – especially Al Capone – and wishes you would, too, and 2) O’Hare was also the father of decorated WW II Navy flying ace Butch O’Hare, who downed a lot of Japanese planes before vanishing one night over the Pacific during the war; the pilot is the one for whom O’Hare Airport is named. Kind of inconvenient publicitywise for a war hero to be the son of a connected guy. The war hero never saw it that way, according to his diaries, correspondence and other writings that survive, nor did the rest of his family, but the city apparently does.
All that, however, is a fascinating story that is best left for another occasion. Suffice it to say that at Rockwell and Ogden, you’re rubbing shoulders with history – even if it’s history the city fathers would rather ignore.
And that’s it for this edition. Have a great weekend!
Until next time,