Big Tops, Little Crowds - Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement

Michael Ritchie

It was a rough first year for a festival trying to color outside the lines of the norm.

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement

The beginning of any endeavor is often filled with trials and tribulations. As the new kid on the festival scene, Brilliant Corners would be faced with more than its fair share. I guess your first wish you keep your fingers crossed for when hosting a late summer festival in Chicago would be the weather but as the mid-September dates approached, it was becoming clear that ideal conditions would be not be seen. Add to that a very sparse general knowledge of the event itself from the surrounding Chicago community and before I would even approach the grounds, I could feel Brilliant Corners wasn’t going to get the attention it deserved.

With gray skies hanging thick overhead and temperatures in the wet upper forties, the fair looked bleak on the opening Friday. A couple groups of school kids from the surrounding neighborhoods had wandering over, likely attracted by the familiar sight of a carnival midway stocked with games and a full scale tilt-a-whirl. They even had the traditional carnies that populated most fairs milling about, manning the attractions and creeping out the adults. Though, other then these sparse groups of teens and the less than excited staff, attendees were few and far between.

Cave at BCOPA

A small group of us had gathered outside the music tent that evening waiting for Cave to begin their opening set. The music is what we thought would save this festival and bring in the audiences even if it was inevitably going to struggle in its inaugural year. The weekend boasted an excellent line-up of bands. Many were booked in conjunctions with the World Music Festival, which also was occupying Chicago this week and added great diversity to the foundational, indie-based line-up. As we watched a solid early set by Cave in the mold covered music tent, we realized the crowds would never be around to fill the big top, and for the rest of the weekend they never were.

Cave at BCOPA

Saturday bought a crowd-helping dose of sun and a chance for the Carnival side of Brilliant corners to shine. The midway was a bit more crazed as kids ran around with newly won prizes and various jugglers and performers wondered the grounds. And judging by the line for the evening performance of El Circo Cheapo Saturday, one of the tents would be packed this weekend. It was my first chance to take in a performance by the local sideshow slash circus and it was pretty great. They normally hold regular scheduled performances at a near by loft space but I hope in the future they can continue to do an outdoor, big-top event as well. It was just something about the tent; with its shaky wooden bleachers and an audience pulling flasks form their coat pockets that added another element of spectacle (and warmth) to the evening.

El Circo Cheapo

El Circo Cheapo

Over at the music tent, a decent crowd swooned and cheered on another James Brown-esque performance by Charles Bradley. Hawk and Hacksaw’s set fit well with the European turn-of-the-century feel of the whole event, but even a loud and dance friendly set from School of Seven Bells was played to a thin audience.

Charles Bradley

It was a rough first year for a festival trying to color outside the lines of the norm. And while the weather, a lack a promotion and mold filled tents weren’t going to help the success of Mike Reed’s event this September, a lot can be taken away and I hope they are able to move forward with a similar event next year. The idea to bring together the young and old from a diverse community for a weekend not solely focused on music is a great one and at times you could catch glimpses that greatness. You began to feel even over the time of the weekend itself, audiences and bands alike were warming to its concept and beginning to enjoy the atmosphere. Well, that is until the March-like rains returned again...

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El Circo Cheapo

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