Chicago Blues Festival, Gospel Festival canceled due to coronavirus pandemic

The official news was announced Tuesday morning.

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Mavis Staples performs at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for Chicago Blues Festival in 2018.

Mavis Staples performs at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion during the Chicago Blues Festival in 2018.

Erin Brown/Sun-Times

After weeks of speculation over the fate of some of Chicago’s biggest summer festivals, the official word arrived Tuesday morning.

Out of an abundance of caution and adhering to state-mandated stay-at-home guidelines and social distancing guidelines from the CDC, the following events have been canceled according to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE):

  • 4th annual Chicago House Music Conference & Festival, May 21–24, various venues
  • Chicago’s Memorial Day Parade and Wreath Laying Ceremony, May 23
  • 35th Chicago Gospel Music Festival, May 27–30 in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center
  • 37th annual Chicago Blues Festival, June 5-7 in Millennium Park

Also canceled is the new 18-day “Chicago In Tune” citywide celebration (May 21–June 7), which was billed as “the signature program” for the Year of Chicago Music initiative.

“These cancellations are disappointing to all of us here in Chicago, particularly for the countless individuals who worked so hard to organize an extraordinary Year of Chicago Music,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the official announcement.

The mayor added that the official Year of Chicago Music celebration slated for 2020 will continue into 2021 due to the cancellations.

“As upsetting as it is to remove these events from our calendar, we are already looking forward to next year where we’ll be pulling out all the stops for a festival season Chicago will never forget,” Lightfoot said.

The cancellations reflect only specific DCASE-run festivals through early June, and according to the official announcement, “is not official City guidance for other event producers; they should continue to follow the public health guidance of the CDC, City and State officials.”

Blues guitarist Nick Moss, whose band has performed at Blues Festival several times over the years, was among the lineup scheduled at the Pritzker Pavilion on June 5.

“Losing the blues festival is a blow,” said Moss. “Being one of the headliners this year was a big accomplishment; something to be excited about as a lifelong Chicago resident. I hope they keep it going and redo it for next year with the same lineup because a lot of festivals across the country have canceled and I’ve lost quite a few festivals already.”

Dr. Walter Whitman Jr., the CEO of the Soul Children of Chicago, who’ve performed in gospel festivals past, was scheduled this year to be a guest conductor on May 30 for “Better Chicago,” a group of singers from various youth choirs across the city.

“It was a wise decision to do something that is safe, especially [in light of] the level of African Americans who’ve been affected [by the coronavirus],” said Whitman of the festival’s cancellation. “It’s [another] sad moment in the gospel community in Chicago [referencing the passing of Chicago pastor Lucius Hall], but on the other side, it’s the safe way to be cautious.”

Earlier this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was clearly on the side of canceling all large gatherings in Chicago and across the state this summer.

“I think everybody needs to think seriously about canceling any large summer events,” Pritzker said during a press conference. “I just don’t, from my perspective today, I do not see how we are going to have large gatherings of people again until we have a vaccine, which is months and months away. ... [I] would not risk having large groups of people getting together, anywhere. And I think that’s hard for everybody to hear. But that’s just a fact.”

Contributing: Evan F. Moore

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