While many Chicago neighborhood street festivals book one-hit wonders and cover bands to provide their musical entertainment, the 28th annual Old St. Pat’s World’s Largest Block Party will once again opt for more current and nationally known headliners.
Ben Folds Five and Lifehouse will take the stage in the Old St. Patrick’s Church parking lot Friday and Saturday, respectively, and join a list of past headliners that includes Counting Crows, Barenaked Ladies, Gavin DeGraw, Kris Allen and Plain White T’s.
What’s Old St. Pat’s secret?
“Bands know us and the caliber of talent we’ve had,” said Sheila Greifhahn, Old St. Patrick’s director of special events. “And they know, as we like to say, we’re a party with a purpose. ... Also, we’ve had help from Jam Productions.”
It also helps that the block party, which raises money for the church, technically isn’t a neighborhood street festival.
The block party takes place on private property, which means it can charge at the gate and sell tickets in advance (general admission is $40 and includes four drink tickets). Neighborhood street fests, on the other hand, generally take place on public streets and, by law, can only request donations.
“We’re just going off of $5 donations — and only 50-60 percent (of guests) pay donations,” said John Barry, founder and CEO of StarEvents, which organizes the Taste of Randolph Street, Summer on Southport and Retro on Roscoe fests, among others. “We can’t always afford a $15,000-$35,000 headliner because if it rains that night, we lose.”
Barry, who has to keep a close eye on the bottom line because the fests are fundraisers for the neighborhoods, has heard complaints that his fests repeatedly feature the same cover bands — 16 Candles, Hairbanger’s Ball and Wedding Banned. He argues those bands are the safer bets because they have strong local followings and play music that appeals to the masses.
But that’s not to say StarEvents won’t pay for original acts.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, featuring Black Crowes lead singer Chris Robinson, and indie bands Empires and Los Campesinos! played Randolph Street this month. Barry said Randolph can take that risk due, in part, to the fest’s location and attractive lineup of West Loop restaurants. StarEvents is more willing to book lesser-known original acts when the fests are located in indie-friendly areas such as the Logan Square neighborhood, where The Boulevard will take place Aug. 24-26.
Old St. Pat’s two-day lineup features lesser known original acts (Joe Pug, Number Nine) and cover bands (The Spazmatics) in addition to its nationally known headliners. Greifhahn said the fest started booking the latter after it accidentally discovered the power of name recognition.
“We made the decision in the mid-’90s to up the caliber of talent,” Greifhahn said. “We were very fortunate to book Counting Crows right before they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (in 1994). After that, we saw how successful a fundraiser could be and decided to continue with that thought.”