New Fire Festival lights up Chicago River

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 reduced the city to ashes, but it couldn’t diminish the spunk and resilience of the people who lived here. Only days after the fire ended, the rebuilding of Chicago began; and nearly a century-and-a-half later, the third largest city in the U.S. stands as a monument to the moxie of its people. In that spirit, Redmoon Theater and the City of Chicago have teamed up to plan a never-to-be-forgotten gala event known as the Great Chicago Fire Festival. Community celebrations in 15 official Fire Festival Neighborhoods began in the summer and will conclude in spectacular fashion with a River Bazaar and pyrotechnic Grand Spectacle on the Chicago River on Saturday, Oct. 4.

According to Frank Maugeri, producing artistic director of Redmoon, the fire became a metaphor for the kind of people who live here. “We’re tough people who roll up our sleeves, get into the ring and take the world on,” says Maugeri. “We have great challenges, but we are the kind of people who overcome.”

The River Bazaar and Grand Spectacle will be staged on the main branch of the Chicago River between the State Street and Columbus Drive bridges. Festivities begin in the mid-afternoon and continue into the evening.

Throughout the afternoon, the River Bazaar will offer crafts and goods for sale from Fire Festival Neighborhoods. Winners of the bake-off contests will peddle their mouth-watering creations to the sounds of live entertainment provided by local talent.

At sundown, the Grand Spectacle will feature fire dancers, a Victorian-era-inspired steampunk boat, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and floating Fire Sculptures followed by a dazzling grand finale of fireworks set to music.

Maugeri says to think of the Grand Spectacle as a visual poem, subject to interpretation based on age and experience. Adults are more likely to appreciate its Great Fire symbolism, while young children will simply enjoy the most exciting parade they’ve ever been to.

Maugeri hopes people will see the festival as a gift to the community and an opportunity to gather in a beautiful public space, coming together in friendship and unity.

“It will say ‘here are the people from the city—one world,’” says Maugeri.

It’s anticipated that tens of thousands will attend what Redmoon and the City of Chicago hope will become a much-anticipated and beloved annual tradition.

The Fire Festival is free and intended for all ages. Visit or for more information.

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