Do Division Street Fest was the kick-off to the 2019 street festival season in Chicago. Summer’s in Chicago are beautiful, but unfortunately short, and so Chicagoans make the most of them while they are here. Street festivals let you meet up with friends for beer, food, (hopefully sunshine) and of course great music, that can be heard from blocks away - the sound of summer in the Windy City!
One of Chicago’s many great assets is it’s vast array of music venues, including two that book the Do Division Street Festival stages: Empty Bottle stage and Subterranean stage. So why not match the two stages against each other, looking at the lineups for each. Which venue has booked the most interesting bands? The most diverse? Personal favorites?
Coverage for this review is for Saturday and Sunday of the three-day Fest (which also included performances on Friday night). Saturday kicked off at the Empty Bottle’s stage with State Champions from Louisville, Kentucky, a nice chill grunge-tinged southern rock outfit. During the band change overs, there are plenty of other things to check out at the festival, including food and merchant vendor tents, local restaurants on division street and the fashion corridor of the festival, which included the doggo fashion show on Saturday.
The smooth music continued at the Empty Bottle stage with hometown sweetheart Paul Cherry. He gave the crowd a Mr. Roger’s like welcome with his song “Hello Again” which he ended with “hello again my Do Division friends.” Unfortunately, the Chicago weather was not on our side Saturday, as heavy rain and hail set in, cutting Cherry’s set short.
The skies cleared in time for the next act, Varsity with their glistening keys, shredding guitar, and boppy grooves this time at the Subterranean (SubT) stage. The SubT stage was stacked for the rest of the day. Sweet, sad songs by Laura Stevenson. Melodically resonate thrash by Pile. The killer rhythms of indie garage rap punk lyricist Why? rounded out the night.
Sunday dawned with clear skies that produced thicker crowds checking out the tunes, food, drinks, and soaking up the rays. Perfect weather for Chicago’s jam band Gazebo Effect to kick things off on the SubT stage. Their guitar-monies (2 or even 3-part guitar harmonies!) are something to be seen and heard. Next it was over to the Empty Bottle stage for Habibi, a Detroit proud band that bring old school rock ‘n’ roll and with a laid-back vibe. And a self-proclaimed “added feature” of singing in Farsi on occasion. They were at ease with their ability to make you move to their tunes. The next up on the Empty Bottle stage was Sweet Spirit, who brought their vintage rock, funk, soul, and even a little disco to create a style of kick ass that is heightened by their in your face performance style. Sabrina Ellis sets the tone, but the whole band gets crazy and left the crowd thoroughly entertained! Next up at the Bottle Stage was, Ryley Walker who brought us down gently with his indie folk, jamming out a bit and soothing Americana sounds. The Meat Puppets capped off a great day and weekend of music on the SubT stage. Founded in 1980, the Puppets clearly have the longevity and fan base for their brand of country infused punk and they drew a thick crowd, with good reason.
But what about the battle of the stages? Solely, based on these two days, it was a clear tie, with each venue taking a day. Saturday was all about the Subterranean stage and Sunday the Empty Bottle was clear winner. But come judge for yourself next year!