I was the runner-up in a mashed potato eating contest at the Irish American Heritage Center last Friday night.
I lost to a Hispanic guy who had a good 40 pounds on me. By a spoonful.
This must be how Colin Kaepernick felt after last February’s Super Bowl – or Tom Brady the year before. Or Jay Cutler never.
Still, I made fans, whom I feel I let down. They saw in me a true champion, but, alas one who is without the ABT gift certificate that goes with the crown and the calories.
So went my first night on Chicago’s ultimate festival weekend.
Okay, the weather proved everybody right who planned an event for July 12, 13 or 14. But still…
I took the train from Barrington to Park Ridge to meet my buddy Tom to head to the IAHC. There were fests in the parking lot at both depots (www.uncorkbarrington.com and www.tasteofparkridge.com) . On the train there were people whom you could tell by the mullet haircuts and ratty old t-shirts were heading to see Robert Plant (paleobiology.si.edu/dinosaurs) at the Taste of Chicago – and young women who will make foot doctors of the future wealthy per their wearing of stiletto-heeled pumps to walk about downtown to drink overpriced light beers while eating deep dished pizza they could have ordered back in Palatine.
The Bon Jovi fans who not on the train who headed to Soldier Field that evening had to sludge through traffic only to find parking was $50. Shot through the heart, and Rahm’s to blame. You give Chicago a bad name.
The Irish Fest (irish-american.org) Friday night saw a good-sized but manageable crowd with nary a wait for a beer or food or to buy a bag or Irish Dirt.
Tom and I are getting old, so he was intrigued by a trucker cap he thought touted County Meth, and I wanted some White Out to turn the “Buy a Brick Today..Personalize Your Brick” sign blue. But I think they actually were doing that about 15 minutes away in Rosemont at the Exxotica Expo that weekend (exxxoticaexpo.com).
There also was some match game being played where dudes and women would be given nametags of some sort of celebrity or other to wear, with the goal of finding that character’s counterpart.
My pal Marty, with Cary Grant on his patch like some forlorn conventioneer, never did meet his Grace Kelly. Me, I wanted a Bill Clinton sticker, but they didn’t have one, so I didn’t play.
I did learn a valuable drinking lesson that night – namely don’t have a Guinness in the same plastic cup in which you just had a hoppy IPA. While watching one of those young women in a fancy outfit and curly red wig hoofing it up, I also had an idea for Michael Flatley’s next show – Whiskey Dance, in which the lord himself is tossed bottle after bottle of Jameson (the tour sponsor) from which he drinks as he twinkles his toes.
And I had confirmed that I am getting old as the band The Tossers (www.thetossers.com) were the last act of the evening.
I interviewed these guys once a long time ago on a quasi-public radio show. They brought a case of Old Style with them. They scared old people with their Pogues-like punk. Now they bring their young kids with them and let burly off duty Chicago cops join them onstage to sing Irish songs.
That was just Fest One.
The next day was a birthday party in the afternoon, followed by a quick trip to a rib fest up in Lake in the Hills (lithribfest.com) for the only night there without a cover band.
Strangely, it was the Minnesotans known as Soul Asylum, and they seemed out of place in a park tucked away among vinyl sided subdivisions. Alas, they are middle-aged now, too, as the 90s drift away in the rearview mirror and the flannel shirts fade with repeated washings (www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRtvqT_wMeY).
Still, it was nice to feel young when some pain in the ass dad asked us to sit down so he could watch the show parked in his collapsible chair. Really? He paid $5 to get in and he expected the rib-eaters would be paying rapt attention to the music?
I had so much pizza at the birthday party (www.villagepizzaandpub.com) I didn’t bother to try any pork myself – also in part because a slab was $25.
Plus, I had to pace myself for Sunday and a trip to DeKalb for a Drum Corps International show at the NIU football field.
It goes without say that the trip included an even quicker fest stop – this one at a Greek one in Elgin to pick up some food for the tailgate. Yes, they had set up a makeshift drive-through area. It’s the way of the suburbs. And yes, we sat around in a sun-baked parking lot for a couple hours eating and drinking before hitting the event.
If you haven’t been to a DCI show (www.dci.org) , you owe it to yourself to see one.
There is nothing like a wall of brass playing at full volume coming at you – and I really do mean that in a good way.
But DCI nowadays can be a little bit Cirque du Soleil – with props, writhing on the field, acrobatics and dancing – and a little bit Cher, with multiple costume changes.
That’s right. Costume changes. On a football field. Because, when watching a musical performance from 40 rows up in a football stadium, nothing makes an impression like a subtle dance move or wardrobe swaps.
One of the corps scared me with outfits that looked like the Death Eaters from Harry Potter. Another brought small plastic trees onto the field. One trudged out low-rise bleachers. One had big colorful boxes for all its gear. And at least two used PVC piping to various effect.
I am half convinced that two of these groups have members who might be aliens from another galaxy, given their tall, skinny appearances and that one corps opened its set with music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That could have been the heat getting to me. Ever sat in aluminum bleachers in a football stadium in the summer, tightly packed with 10-15,000 other sweaty folks assigned numbered spots spaced apart for people the size of ferrets?
It ain’t pretty – especially since, for whatever reason, they only had the bathrooms on the lower level open, and you had to go outside the stadium to buy a bottle of water.
So we moved to the side with less of a view and way less claustrophobia or body smells.
Again, I thought of what Michael Flatley could do with one of these groups – if only someone could figure out how to stepdance on artificial turf while playing a piccolo trumpet.