Windy City Smokeout burns bright with a 10 year celebration in 2023

Mon. July 17, 2023 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

For four days the organizers of Windy City Smokeout celebrated a 10th anniversary in 2023. From July 13 through 16, barbecue and country music came together once again to create a boot stomping, southern shindig in a parking lot in Chicago.

Talk about a tailgate! Folks drove in from all over the Midwest area to party in Parking Lot C across the street from the United Center. From humble beginnings at the Freedom Center, where yours truly negotiated the contracts for the original location at the outdoor space of Chicago Tribune's Publishing Center, this festival quickly outgrew its surroundings to arrive at this current location years ago.

Over 20 pitmasters returned to present their best meat this July including Little Miss BBQ from Arizona and Salt Lick BBQ from Texas, among others. Locals Bub City always impresses with a huge barbecue installation on the premises and Soul & Smoke from Evanston presented the tangiest sauce in town. Two new businesses to the Smokeout scene in 2023 with outstanding offerings were Joe's Kansas City BBQ and Horn Barbecue from Oakland, California.

Bartenders were constantly busy once gates opened and the artist merchandise booth certainly made a pretty penny all weekend long. Mocktails were featured for the first time at one stop with a delicious coffee concoction to perk up the nondrinkers in the crowd.

Attendees paid for sustenance and items for sale with armbands that could be replenished as needed. Pop-up promotions by Visit Fort Worth, who provided exciting giveaways, and cannabis company Savvy's, who created a relaxing lounge, were just a few installations that were worth exploring along the parameter of the fenced-in festival.

The Academy of Country Music Awards voted Windy City Smokeout as Festival of the Year for two years and the festivities just keep getting better. Headliners this year were Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker. While the lineup usually leans more toward male performers, female singer Tanner Adell spoke backstage about the importance of diversity and how the country music genre will continually evolve hopefully in the future.

The Smokeout team faced many challenges this year as the inclement weather was all over the map. On Saturday it was hotter than blue blazes earlier in the day then the clouds would roll in and cool things down. A storm threatened to derail the festivities on the afternoon of July 15. Festival goers were asked to seek shelter inside the United Center until the wild weather subsided. Many were madder than a wet hen as there was little accumulation, but this subsided as the revelers were allowed to exit back into the lot.

Refunds were not an option due to inclement weather by the organization, so luckily the show went on with a slight adjustment to the performer's set times. The coals smoldered and the pork continued to cook for the hungry party people.

As the major acts took to the stage more fans packed onto the pavement. This is where VIP areas are the best spot to watch the performances either from elevated spaces or the secluded covered areas on the side. Private parking, top-shelf cocktail bars and designated dining areas always enhance the experience of Windy City Smokeout which usually sells out to capacity.

For the 11th year, the organizers should look into a larger space possibly farther out of the city limits in a fairground or event complex. The Smokeout is busting at the seams thanks to years of popular country acts and delicious barbecue. This annual affair continues to grow like a weed and needs more room to sprout up with more festivities.

Mosey over to and bless your heart with future festival information.