What's the big deal about Market Days?

Fri. August 10, 2012 12:00 AM
by Bryan Herb

If you are gay and you live in the Chicago area, you definitely know what Market Days is. What is surprising is how many non Chicagoans flock here for Chicago's biggest street festival. Every year, over 100,000 people attend Market Days, and many make it a tradition of coming back year after year! So, what's the big deal? Why do we love it so much?

I am not a Chicago native, and I don't have that "gotta love the city and its events because I was born here" feeling; yet, I have to admit that if I am forced to miss Market Days for some reason, I am not having it. Summer just doesn't feel complete without Market Days. I have done extensive scientific research on the topic, which has mainly included staring at my laptop for a few hours, thinking, and my research points to several factors.

1. Summer Sun. Chicago is not known for its great weather, and much of the year many of us feel cooped up indoors. So, we appreciate our summers more than the average person. For many of us, Market Days is kind of our last hurrah of the summer, and so it pulls all of us out of the house to celebrate.

2. Eclectic Crowd. When I say "All of us" I mean gay, straight, bisexual, rich, poor, young, old, flashy, trashy, etc. It's perhaps the most diverse, cosmopolitan environment in which you could ever find yourself.

3. The Rebel Within. You can drink on the street. If there is one thing we know how to do in Chicago, it is drink. Well, drink and shop. Anyway, there is just something about walking through Boys Town with a cold beer in hand, on streets where it is normally forbidden, that makes us feel like we are rebels, damn it.

4. Three Stages with no Stooges. The event always attracts an impressive lineup of diverse entertainment, and past celebrations have included the likes of Margaret Cho, Darren Criss, En Vogue and more. There is always a fun band from the 80s or 90s, something current and something with a gay focus. The stages are set up in such a way that thousands of people can watch at one time.

5. Guilt-Free Fatty Food. There is a safety in numbers, and with everyone walking around with deep fried goodness, it's hard to feel bad about it. So enjoy your waffle cone, your cheese steak, and as many burgers as you can force down. Just don't veer too far from the port-a-potties.

6. Animal House. Many of us use this opportunity to open our doors for a little home entertaining. Unlike New York, many Chicagoans have decent sized homes, and we're just begging for a chance to show off our Midwest hospitality, and invite you, your friends, your friends' friends, and even your friends' friend's friends to celebrate the call of summer.

7. Go on, Get Social. If you are like me, and you don't go out that much, this is a perfect time to see, be seen, and connect with friends from all over the continent. And since much of the activity happens during the day, you can actually see each other.

8. Get Your Groove on. Like many cities, Chicago has lost many of its former gay dance venues, but over Market Days Weekend, there is an abunDANCE to choose from! For years my favorite has been dancing on the street outside of Hydrate Club on Sunday late afternoon.

9. Eye Candy. Duh, so of course since it's a big gay event, you are going to see some eye-candy, and since it is hot, most of the candy you see comes with very little wrapper. As Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing."

10. As I hinted in number 3, we love to shop, and many companies use Market Days booths to try out their latest products and gadgets on the diverse crowd of participants.

So, to sum up, you can literally leave Market Days with a new tan, a new boyfriend (or girlfriend), new friends, and a new frock that will be the envy of all back home.

Note: The annual Northalsted Market Days is generally the second weekend in August every year, along North Halsted Street from Belmont Avenue to Addison Avenue, which is about 1/2 mile.

Photos: David Ouano for ChicagoPride.com

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Market Days 2012 Entertainment Schedule:
Sat., Aug. 11 | Sun., Aug. 12
(CalendarQ from ChicagoPride.com and Windy City Times)

Related: Navigate Market Days with 'Out & About' mobile apps