Blues ring in first season at RiverEdge in Aurora
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The park designed to revitalize downtown Aurora's Fox River waterfront will make its debut this weekend with a festival that annually brings major blues artists to the city.
RiverEdge Park officially opens its seating lawn to concertgoers at 6 p.m. Friday, June 14, for the first day of the 17th annual Blues on the Fox festival, featuring JJ Grey & Mofro opening for Dr. John.
If you go
What: 17th annual Blues on the Fox music festival and RiverEdge Park grand opening
When: 6 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, and 2 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15
Where: RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway Ave., Aurora
Who: JJ Grey & Mofro and Dr. John play Friday; The Stone Foxes, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Buddy Guy play Saturday
Cost: One-day passes are $10 for general admission or $30 for preferred bench seating; two-day passes are $15 for general admission or $50 for preferred bench seating
Info: (630) 896-6666 or riveredgeaurora.com
The $18.5 million park has been in development since it first was envisioned in 2006, and Friday's grand opening launches a summer full of well-known names across a variety of musical genres, all booked by the Aurora Civic Center Authority, which also runs the Paramount and Copley theaters.
The festival has been held for the past few years in a bland parking lot while awaiting the opening of its sparkling new home.
"I think it's a perfect way to kick off what's going to take place," Jim Jarvis, vice president of marketing for the civic center authority, said. "It's kind of a homecoming for Blues on the Fox."
The star of the celebration is Buddy Guy, playing in Aurora for the second time in three years, and taking the stage at 9 p.m. Saturday following The Stone Foxes, Tommy Castro and The Painkillers, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
Fans can get single-day tickets at riveredgeaurora.com or by calling (630) 896-6666. Passes cost $10 to sit in general admission lawn space or $30 for preferred bench seating. A two-day pass costs $15 for general admission or $50 for preferred bench seating.
"We're trying to keep things affordable, trying to keep things accessible, remove any barriers that might keep someone from being here," said Tim Rater, president and CEO of the civic center authority.
Rater said concertgoers can bring lawn chairs or seat cushions and water into the park, where concessions from Two Brothers Roundhouse and other vendors, craft beers and Budweiser and Pepsi products await. And the Music Garden at the new park, built for $13.2 million between 2011 and 2012, will be a sight to see at night.
"It's amazing to be a part of something like this," Rater said. "It's a beautiful park."
The obstacle course element of the race, which also includes running, biking and paddling on the Fox River, will be set up in RiverEdge Park, said Charlie Zine, manager of Paddle and Trail's Aurora location. Last year's race drew 140 participants to pursue the multidimensional challenge, and organizers are hoping to attract 300 competitors this year at the new venue.
"You don't expect to have recreation facilities in the heart of an urban area, but cities need that fun factor," Zine said.
At 360 N. Broadway Ave., RiverEdge Park truly is in the heart of Aurora. It's centrally located within the sprawling city of 46 square miles, and it's right across the street from the end of Metra's Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line at the Aurora Transportation Center. People can take the train to the new park, or drive and use the transportation center's parking lot.
Aurora leaders are excited about things grand and small at the park, from its ability to seat 8,500 people and provide top-notch concert sound, to the ledges installed in the bathrooms to serve as drink holders. But Blues on the Fox artists are causing the most stir as they will be the first to perform on the new stage, called the John C. Dunham Pavilion in recognition of $2 million the Dunham Fund granted the park.
"I think it's cool because it's so historic," Jarvis said. "Music-wise, the city of Aurora has been known for its Blues on the Fox."
While blues artists will be the first to take the stage, rock, pop and Latin musicians are booked for later in the summer. Peter Frampton's Guitar Circus with Peter Frampton, B.B. King and Sonny Landreth plays Aug. 16; 'tween pop sensations Bridgit Mendler and R5 take the stage Aug. 18; and Joan Sebastian and Ramon Ayala play Sept. 13 during the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's Fiestas Patrias.
"Our vision for the programming here is to have a variety. We have singalong 'Grease,' we have Peter Frampton and B.B. King. They couldn't be more different, but they're very exciting, they're events that people want to come to," Rater said. "It's our goal to bring lots of different types of activities to this park so lots of different types of people come. We want to help stimulate growth in downtown Aurora."
That goal aligns with the role Aurora leaders like Mayor Tom Weisner expect RiverEdge Park to play in the future of the city of nearly 200,000. Part concert venue, part open space, part recreation hub, Weisner said the park will bring crowds — and dollars — to Aurora from near and far.
"We have a musical history here in Aurora," he said. "And we intend to carry that history on at this site."
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