In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire ripped through the city’s streets and spurred a massive urban renewal. On Saturday, in an attempt to honor that city-defining event, some kayakers paddled around the Chicago River and tried to light some fake houses on fire. It was all part of the $2 million Great Chicago Fire Festival put on by the Redmoon Theater Company. But on Saturday night, it quickly became clear that the festival would be neither great nor full of fire. You could say the festival fizzled out or that it failed to ignite. Both will do.
Like moths to a flame, 30,000 spectators gathered along the Chicago River to see the city ignite three old-timey, floating model homes. Before that could happen, we waited—and waited—for some local pols to light cauldrons underneath city bridges. There were also some actors from the NBC show Chicago Fire there to help out, so that was probably kind of cool if you watch that show. Oh, and Martin Sheen was apparently there too. Why not.
With the fires set, it seemed like it was time for the action (read: fire, lots of fire). But no, not quite yet. For close to half an hour we were stuck watching some fire-toting kayakers and mock paddle-wheelers tool around the river. After that second delay, the “Grand Spectacle” finally began. We were led to believe that the houses would be lit, they would ignite, and then disappear to reveal recreations of firefighters’ ladders, a skyscraper, and the Chicago flag. That didn’t happen because, well, nothing really happened. The houses barely caught fire; they just kind of floated there like uncooperative logs. Redmoon has said heavy rain in the days leading up to the event “tripped up” the electric systems in the houses.
When it became clear that the houses were not going to ignite, the city moved on to the fireworks part of the event, but by that point many people (myself included) had left the banks of the river and filtered back into the city grid. Behind all of us was the glowing Trump sign on the eponymous tower. “You’re fired,” the Don could almost be heard screaming to the organizers below. “You’re fired.”
Despite the rough reviews, representatives from Redmoon and the city said they hope to try this all again next year.