On The Waterfront
8/28/2013 6:00:00 AM
It began as a street party with a Michael Jackson impersonator and went on to become Illinois largest music festival. I made it to every On The Waterfront during its 29-year run, and now there's a huge blank spot on my August/September calendar that was once filled with the letters OTWF.
I saw Cheap Trick there and then saw them again. The same goes for Alice Cooper. I witnessed a inspiring gig from blues legend Albert Collins just months before his death. I got a hi-five from Def Leppard singer Joe Elliot and listened to Steve Miller yell at members of his band during a sound check. I could go on for ten more pages about the music on every stage on both sides of the Rock.
For years, my first stop was on the northwest side of the Jefferson Street Bridge for a pork chop sandwich (or two). Just a few feet away, I'd grab some Thin Mint Custard from Jimmy's for dessert. I remember having the best pork shoulder I've ever tasted from a little Baptist Church booth by the Jazz stage at State and Madison. I could go on for seven more paragraphs about the food, using up four from the Ethnic Village.
At its peak, OTWF was a spectacle to behold, encompassing all of downtown on both sides of the river. Balloons were landing and taking off and lasers danced on the sides of buildings. I try not to think of the lean years towards the end when the festival was cash strapped, felt a lack of cooperation from people and entities that benefited from its existence, and was the target of critics who could all “do a better job”. If it ever comes back, sure I'll check out, knowing that my vivid memories of when Rockford got it right will never be topped.