The streets of Chicago are mostly empty, but at night, the South Loop twinkles as music fills dozens of high-rise living rooms during a nightly singalong and light show called “Chicago Unite at Night.”
When the song ends, cheers echo through the neighborhood from balconies, rooftops and open windows.
The group’s Facebook event page uploads a Spotify playlist for participants to cue up and play at 8 p.m. every night. So far, they’ve usually chosen uplifting songs, like Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
“It’s a social distance parade,” said Arden Austin from Hello South Loop, the neighborhood group that launched the first installment on March 21. “Everyone’s apart, but they are very together at the same time.”
Austin said the idea was inspired by viral videos of Italians singing on their balconies for health care workers coming home from shifts. The South Loop events are also meant to honor health care workers and those who have contracted the coronavirus, according to the event’s Facebook page.
But Chicago organizers realized some apartment buildings lack balconies, so they incorporated the light show to allow more people to participate.
Austin said she’s seen residents incorporate strobe lights, glowing heart-shaped signs and flashing holiday lights in their windows.
Organizers also encourage participants to post videos on social media. After the group sang “We Will Rock You,” Queen’s guitarist Brian May responded to a social media post with a shoutout for their “great choice in music.”
“It’s bringing people together”
Pam Clark, a nurse at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Lakeview, said she liked that people are “taking a few minutes to appreciate” the work that she and her colleagues do.
Clark and her husband Sam live in Printer’s Row, an area in the South Loop. After hearing about the events through Facebook, she connected with other participants in her area.
“For folks in the community that don’t know each other, I think it’s bringing people together,” Clark said.
Lenita Gipson, who lives by herself in a high-rise apartment in the South Loop, said she’s connected with her neighbor on the adjacent balcony. She said she doesn’t think she would’ve reached out without the gatherings.
“Prior to this happening, we all live in this really tall building, so I very rarely see these neighbors, everybody’s busy living their lives,” Gipson said. “This is the first time I feel really connected to the neighborhood.”
Organizers said they’re hoping the event eventually merges separate neighborhood singalongs into a cohesive citywide spectacle.
Minju Park is a news intern at WBEZ.