TRUE ROCK AND ROLL STORIES: Chicago Wild Living, Freakshows, and Rock 'n' Roll

Chicago Street Festivals, Crazy Days and Belmont

Belmont Red Line Train Station | Chicago Street Festivals | Chicago Freak Shows | Hot Metro Finds Chicago |Ted Cantu | Jack O Lantern Freak Show | Lawn Mower Blow Torch Chainsaw Juggler of Chicago | Chicago Weekends

CHICAGO - The city of Chicago is a wild place, and the '90s was a wild time. So this meant that I had to live right in the middle of it. I was living in Belmont in Lakeview and there was rarely ever a dull moment. The only real downtime back then was if you willfully stayed in your apartment. We had a whole wild cast of characters in the Chicago Lakeview neighborhood back in the '90s.

I mean, they were really wild. Rock 'n' Roll legend Wesley Willis used to do a show up at the Metro in Wrigleyville every other weekend. When he wasn't on the stage tearing it up in front of a live audience, he would be in my neighborhood, pushing a shopping cart, and yelling at parked cars. Wesley Willis was a 300-pound black man in his late 30's and was very intimidating, and flat out bizarre. I understand that the locals treated Wesley like family in the lost puppy dog tradition but I had no idea if he was violent or what. I mean, seriously, who the hell spends their time yelling at parked cars.

In Chicago, you don't go looking for trouble, the trouble comes looking for you. So that means, you better be prayed up and have extra cash around for emergencies. Trouble and odd things can come and chase you down faster than a bullet. It's part of the reason why Chicago was so exciting. There was an adrenaline rush when it came to discovering real street culture. You had to be on guard at all times. You were confronted with oddities around every corner. There were crossdressers, midget porno, and conmen all over the place.

The Belmont Street Festival

The really cool thing about Chicago was that there was a street festival somewhere every weekend. This particular day I happened to stumble across the Belmont Street Festival right off the red line el train. It was unavoidable. I had to cut through it if I wanted to reach home. It was somewhat hypnotic because they had a big soundstage and live entertainment. There were great street food and plenty of trinkets to buy like jewelry and swag.

The stage I remember was right by the old Alley rock and roll and boot shop. Don't bother looking for it now because it is all gone. They folded, sadly, just a few years ago. For all, I know they could have sponsored the rock stage.

A guy came out of nowhere and he was dressed up in a big purple top hat and a cape. He was the MC for some freak show performance and he commanded the stage. He called everyone to the stage to watch the show. Well, I was just in time, so I decided to stick around for kicks. Now, its been years, so I forget the name of the sideshow. I think he swallowed a sword for us on stage and in broad daylight. Some of the women up in the front screamed and this was for real. There was no trickery involved.

Belmont Red Line Train Station | Chicago Street Festivals | Chicago Freak Shows | Hot Metro Finds Chicago |Ted Cantu | Jack O Lantern Freak Show | Lawn Mower Blow Torch Chainsaw Juggler of Chicago | Chicago Weekends

There was a tattoed man who looked like a reptile. If I remember right he had his tongue sliced right up the middle and was able to wiggle it in two different directions. He had his teeth filed into fangs and he was covered from head to toe in green tattoed reptilian scales. As if that weren't bizarre enough he had a metal piercing, and body modification with metal balls inserted under his skin. He looked like he crawled out of a comic book.

We had a human blockhead. Ever see one of those? This guy came out and drove big nails up his nose with a hammer. He was impervious to pain or so he said. He certainly didn't flinch when he drove the nails in. The audience was gawking and some were in a state of absolute terror. I was standing near the back trying to process all of this weirdness. I couldn't help but think some people were working an office job right now. Here I was, out in the street, watching this bizarre display of humanity and drinking cold beer. This was hookey for real.

Then the weirdest guy came out. He was tall, boney, and wore a black eye patch. They called him Jack-o-lantern. His deal was that he was supposed to have a big cavity in his head that you could peer into. Jack pulled his patch off of his face to reveal this big open cavity. You could see right into his skull. He apparently had some awful bone degenerating disease. Maybe it was a gunshot wound or something, you know, I really don't know. I do remember that he stuck a flashlight in his mouth and without flinching, he turned it on. Now you could look right into his skull. It was all light up and pink and looked like the entrance to a cave. The women up front really screamed and I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. We didn't have guys like this in my hometown of Muskegon.

Then the guy in the purple hat came back a bit later and was doing some juggling for the people. They were eating it up of course. Then he did something super dangerous, outrageous, and insane. This MC juggled a chainsaw, a lawnmower, and a blow torch! He turned everything on full blast and then said: " GET THE FUCK BACK!". Everyone did. Who wants to be around if he should screw up? Right? But this guy was a pro and he proceeded to juggle all of these items without losing a limb, his hands, or setting himself on fire. It was a grand finale like no other and to this day I couldn't find these guys on the web. The troupe must be home shaking their heads thinking "What the fuck do we gotta do to impress people?".

There was a time, however briefly, where I did locate Jack-o-lantern on Google. But as of late, I was unable to find him. He could have died since them who knows? This freak show was a small independent group and not the famous Jim Rose Side Show made famous in Lolapalooza. This was in vogue at the time and the world didn't go full-blown PC yet. So I figured I may as well get an eyeful while I still could.

The Last Act Of The Afternoon

How do you follow up a show like that? The sun hadn't gone down yet. In fact, it wouldn't go down for quite a while but I decided to take in one more act. There was a rock band that had shuffled up all the way from Indiana. They were very good and I don't remember their name but they got quite a bit of audience participation. The crowd really seemed into them and were dancing around and getting lively.

Everything was going along swimmingly well until the tail end of the show. They were passing a white plastic bucket for tips and gas money. Surprisingly the audience was kicking in some green for the band. The singer then took it to another level. He got conversational and explained how they drove up for the weekend from farm country and were glad to be in the big city. Then I couldn't believe it, but he asked if anyone in the audience would put them up! The whole band! After that announcement, the crowd parted from the stage like Moses and the Red Sea.

Belmont Red Line Train Station | Chicago Street Festivals | Chicago Freak Shows | Hot Metro Finds Chicago |Ted Cantu | Jack O Lantern Freak Show | Lawn Mower Blow Torch Chainsaw Juggler of Chicago | Chicago Weekends

I laughed and wandered off. I certainly wasn't up for that but I suppose that could have made for a great rock and roll story. Looking back at it I think now I should have done something about it. But I was still a little mentally distracted from seeing Jack-o-lantern and the crazy MC juggling act. I think I needed some time to process.

It was always a weird time calling back home to family and explain to them what I had been up to. Real-life on the street was nothing like you see in your town. Chicago was a different animal. And it was different all the time. These are some of my favorite memories.

We Like The Hellzapoppin Freak Show In Chicago Too !!




Belmont Red Line Train Station | Chicago Street Festivals | Chicago Freak Shows | Hot Metro Finds Chicago |Ted Cantu | Jack O Lantern Freak Show | Lawn Mower Blow Torch Chainsaw Juggler of Chicago | Chicago Weekends

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