Photo essay: People-watching at Dave Matthews' South Chicago caravan

July 11, 2011

It was quite the spectacle watching people streaming in to Lakeside--the former USX Steel site in the South Chicago neighborhood--for the three day, 39-act Dave Matthews Band Caravan festival that concluded last night.

WBEZ's Robin Amer did a fantastic blog post last week that was a set-up piece for the concerts and explained the USX site's history and condition. But for a Southeast Side native such as myself (Chicago Vocational High School, Class of 1983) who spent the last half of my childhood in a house my parents owned at 84th and Constance just northwest of this South Chicago neighborhood (I also covered the South Chicago for the old Southtown Economist newspaper in the early 1990s) it was a blast returning to the neighborhood and the site and capturing some of the people I saw there.

Concertgoes walk past one of the old US Steel channels that once handled freighters that would bring in iron ore. The channels and the concrete walls in which the ore was dumped will be retained under the Chicago Lakeside plan:

The surrounding South Chicago neighborhood is visible from the site. Here, St. Michael's church at 83rd and South Shore Drive reaches upward:

Behind the music--and the dust and dirt--was a bit of genius on the part of developer Dan McCaffrey who has undertaken a $4 billion plan to develop the 500-acre site into a new community to be called Chicago Lakeside. The concert took a parcel that was likely out-of-site and out-of-mind for many folk outside of the Southeast Side and literally put it (and the neighborhood) back on the map. And he showed that tens of thousands of people (the final numbers aren't in as I write this) can get there with relative (relative, now) ease.

Not to mention the city is rife with big empty parcels close to public transit--the three-acre former Kennedy King College site at 69th and Wentworth is one of many that yawn at me daily as I ride in on the Metra Rock Island line. Turning them into big ticket festival grounds for even just a few days is one way to bring life and adjust the narrative of these places for the better.