Funny how early experience can set your opinion. For a long time, I'd say, "It always rains at the Jazz Festival." Because for the first few years I covered it, it did, sheets of monsoon. I remember looking out over the drenched Grant Park, seeing one guy sitting out in the middle of the lawn, in a downpour, sighing, and trudging out through the sodden field to talk to him, rain streaking the ink on my notepad. At least this weekend looks like clear skies.
The Bud Freeman All Stars were just beginning their set, at a little after 6 p.m. Sunday, when Mother Nature decided to sit in for an impromptu duet at the 10th annual Chicago Jazz Festival.
She began with a slight staccato of rain, building to a quick, pounding crescendo and followed by a fierce clarinet solo of wind, which sent dust and paper swirling across Grant Park and the less dedicated music fans scurrying toward their cars.
The more dedicated, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles for the famed festival, were not deterred.
"It'll pass over," said Jane Davis, of Knoxville, Tenn., who attended every day of the festival and, when the rain came, sought refuge under a tree.
Mark Stach sought protection by wrapping himself in a blanket and a sheet of plastic. Cindy Breithaupt wrapped herself in Mark Stach.
"We're gonna stay," said Breithaupt, of Redbank, N.J. "The sound comes through."
Though from out of state, she had a Chicagoan's disdain for those who were leaving.
"They're not diehards," she said, simply.
While some winced and cowered before the elements, Duke Newton, of Chicago, sat placidly at a small, neatly set table, its yellow tablecloth weighed down by strategically placed silverware. He said he was enjoying himself greatly.
"Oh yes, we're die-hard aficionados," he said, drawing on a small cigar. "We wouldn't let a little weather like this run us off."
One positive effect of the weather was to reduce the blanket-to-blanket crowding usually found at the festival. Through Saturday, the fest had drawn 280,000, but only 85,000 showed up on Sunday, far fewer than the 200,000 or so who usually attend the last day of the festival.
"There's plenty of space to park yourself," said Rick Baumann, of Goshen, Ind. "We're not afraid of a little rain."
The rain stopped, and the music started up again, but Patricia Roger, with her son Alvin, 11, in tow, headed for home anyway. She stopped to expound on the two unavoidable forces of nature that were taking her away from the festival.
"The rain and my son," she said, adding that it was her son complaining about the rain, more than the rain, that sent her home. "He should be exposed to all forms of music. I wanted to see Herbie Hancock." Said Alvin, "My mother said I had to come."
Roger had a word of advice for parents thinking of enriching their offspring at future festivals.
"Leave the child at home," she said.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, Sept. 5, 1988