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Northerly Island

by Jun 16, 2018

It is officially time to inform people of my second favorite music venue (hard to ever beat Red Rocks).  Northerly Island is in Chicago and had a bit of a dicey start.  Way back in 1910, the city planner intended for it to be for public enjoyment, but there wasn’t money in the budget. WWII came around and it was turned into an airport.  By the time I lived in the city in the 90s, it was a runway only used by the wealthiest of people.  There had been suggestions of turning it into a lakefront park but Chicago politics make changes a challenge, so in 2003, Mayor Richard Daley tore up the runways in the middle of the night in the name of homeland security and a park was planned.  Every single time we see a concert at Northerly Island… I give a silent thank you to Daley.

Where to Sit:

The acoustics are great and as far as that goes, not a bad seat in the house.  Quite a few of the seats nearer the 314 end have little view of the stage, but there are screens that are mostly visible.  Northerly Island has a stage that faces the water.  The floor is either General Admission and a bit of a mosh pit or has seating (100 & 200) and is tricky to see if you are on the shorter side.  The sides have bleacher style seating (300) and a much better view for short people.  I like to sit in 310-314 so I can see the show, the sun-setting over skyline, fireworks at Navy Pier and the boats on the water.  I haven’t sat on the lawn for years because I’m just too old for that.  My son went to a fest and said the lawn was nice.  It was turf and not as muddy as you would think.  He brought low concert chairs from Costco and had a good experience.

There are a couple of options for getting to Northerly Island:

  1.  Pay $40+ to park right at the venue.  I’ve never actually done this because I am super cheap.
  2. Pay a little less and park under Soldier Field.  This works pretty well.  It is a relatively short walk (or you can wait in line for the free shuttle).  I’ve done this once but it isn’t really my thing.
  3. Make a friend with a boat at Burnham Harbor and borrow their parking pass (I miss that friend).
  4. The Metra goes to Ogilvie and it is about 3 miles from the station to the Northerly Island.  It is a nice walk through Grant Park and along the lake shore.  It is kind of pricey.  Usually even if there are only 2 people, it is cheaper to drive.  The real downside is the way home.  There is rarely a perfect train that late at night.  I’ve literally waited 90 minutes until the next train.
  5. The CTA has various lines that drop at the loop.  It is a 2 mile walk and a good option if you live near enough to a CTA line.  It is pretty cost-effective and there is no need to monitor alcohol intake.
  6. Park in Printer’s Row.  Do Spothero or Parking Panda and find a spot for $4 and walk 2 miles.  This is my favorite option.  The walk is pretty.  I always feel like I’d rather stretch my legs after the show than sit in traffic to get out.

Too Much Information?!?!

We love Northerly Island.  So many shows and great memories.  Paul Simon was unreal.  It was like he was playing in our backyard.  Jack Johnson loves Chicago and sang a song he wrote while at Farm Aid (also at Northerly).  We’ve seen BNL there 3 times because it is so much fun.  We sang along to every son from Steve Miller Band.

Almost always, we try to make an early day of it.  I hate sitting in traffic for the 15 miles from our house to the Loop.  We usually grab a happy hour on Michigan Ave or the Riverwalk.  We wander around and see Buckingham Fountain and walk along the lake and always take a selfie with the city.  It almost saves us money because food and drinks are expensive!  I think one Titos & Lemonade was $20?

My favorite part about Northerly Island?  The acoustics are amazing!  Entirely clear enough to hear every single word the artist says, so you can laugh your ass off if you happen to be at a show where Lindsey Buckingham shouts, “Thank you BOSTON!!  Such a great city!!”


Miscellaneous Planning Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:

  • Umbrellas are not allowed.  One time I brought one and after the show, it was still in the huge pile, so that was a plus.
  • A few of the shows let you bring in an empty water bottle to fill inside.
  • Northerly caters well to people wheel-chair bound.  There are some good seats and ramps.
  • The opening band usually starts pretty promptly but doesn’t play their best stuff until later.
  • Ubers and Lyfts would be really hard to get on the way back because that museum street is completely closed.  There are a lot of those guys who ride bikes around like crazy people, so there would be options if walking isn’t.
  • The lake-front usually gets a little chilly when the sunsets.  I always bring a light hoodie.