by Fr. Tom Hurley
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Last week during the announcements I realized as I was speaking down in the Hall at the end of the 11:15am liturgy that I really need to explain more an important part of our life that’s been going through a change the past few years, THE WORLD’S LARGEST BLOCK PARTY! I know this may not seem like a real compelling topic for consideration but I’m hoping you’ll keep reading on….
The World’s Largest Block Party started back in 1984 here at Old St. Patrick’s Church under the guidance of Fr. Jack Wall and the few people who made up this community back then. If you know the history of Old St. Pat’s, you realize that back in the mid 80’s, this place and the city itself looked so different. There were not many people coming here, the church was in terrible disrepair, and as a result, there was really no money to support any kind of mission. So 33 years ago, Fr. Wall and a few folks came up with the idea of having a block party. (If you grew up in Chicago you knew what a block party was! Get your neighbors, close off the street, play some music, and enjoy the company of others on a summer night.) Pretty easy chemistry when you think about it. “Back then” the World’s Largest Block Party (WLBP) was a pretty simple formula and likewise the only party in town, literally. There wasn’t much competition when it came to having a summer festival. Many young people thought it was a great idea that when the whistle blew at 5:00 p.m., they could easily wander over to this part of the loop and enjoy a summer evening of music, food, beverages, and people.
As the years progressed, the WLBP became more popular and the crowds increased to some pretty impressive numbers. One part of the block party that became widely publicized was the fact that many young people were meeting each other at the WLBP and to their surprise they had found their future spouse and were married! Though we don’t have an accurate count, we know there are over 100 couples who met at the block party and were married. The WLBP turned into a major concert back in the early 90’s. And still, without much competition in the Chicago area, we enjoyed many years of great success through what had become a very large event.
As you can imagine, life in Chicago these past twenty years has changed dramatically and the development of properties and many more venues in-and-around the downtown area has made it much more challenging to maintain the WLBP as we know it. Fifteen to twenty years ago, there was no such thing as Northerly Island, Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, the Taste of this, the Taste of that….and the list goes on. It’s great stuff for Chicago as a whole, but the competition for the WLBP has increased dramatically. We are no longer the only summer concert in town like we essentially were back in the 80’s and early 90’s.
What does that mean for us today? In recent years we have tried to reimagine the WLBP and we have tried to keep up with the major concert venues in the city. We even moved it over to the UIC festival lot the past two years. But quite frankly, we were investing a lot of money and resources for something that was getting to be over our head.
We need and we will keep the World’s Largest Block Party. This year, we are moving it back to the block and we are returning to a two day event. So what’s different? At the recommendation of some young adults, we are focusing on more local talent and not chasing after the “big name” artists. We are being more realistic with what we can offer and likewise what we can raise. We are having a Saturday afternoon family-focused part of the WLBP called the KidZone (which we’ve never had before) from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m.
If we are going to be a strong vibrant experience of church, then we have to keep the mission strong and likewise we need to raise some money in order to achieve our goals and aspirations. We need the Sunday experience to be life-giving and the Sunday contributions to be strong as well. My hope is that you will help us spread the word, support the WLBP, and always say a prayer for good weather!
More information will be forthcoming but I hope this gives you a little glimpse of where we’ve been and where we’re going with this “historic” and signature event for the summer.
Follow the World’s Largest Block Party on Facebook (World’s Largest Block Party), Twitter (@wlbp_chicago), and Instagram (@worldslargestblockparty).
Have a great week,
Fr. Tom Hurley