"Beautiful" was a common word Friday night as Aurora's RiverEdge Park hosted its grand opening for Blues on the Fox.
The park, the stage, the Fox River, even the weather were praised as Aurora's new $13.2 million music venue shone with lights, bustled with people and jammed with blues after seven years in the works.
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The night was relaxing for thousands of guests, but stressful for a couple hundred staff members working behind the scenes to make opening night a hit as RiverEdge Park at 360 N. Broadway Ave. kicked off its summer concert series.
First in line
As gates swung open a couple of minutes after 6 p.m., Tony Pezzute of Elburn was first in. He said he arrived about 4 p.m. to claim a spot at the front of the line.
Ticket scanning and admissions moved a bit slowly at first, but Pezzute said the blues were worth the wait.
"We love coming up to the Blues fest," he said.
Front of house
"Busy" and "crazy" were words the man in charge of ticketing, admissions and everything else under the umbrella of "front of house operations" for the Aurora Civic Center Authority chose to describe opening night.
"We have an amazing system we need to tweak into place," Jeremy Gehman said.
The first 20 minutes after doors opened could have gone better, he said, but after a slow start, fans filed in smoothly from four gates.
Tim Rater's walkie-talkie barked all kinds of questions as he made last-minute preparations for opening act JJ Grey & Mofro to take the stage.
The president and CEO of the Aurora Civic Center Authority responded to queries like "anybody got ice?" and "do we need artist merchandise set up?" before the Music Garden at RiverEdge Park was christened with its first live performance.
The first artist to play on the park's John C. Dunham stage had never been to Aurora before Friday night but called it "beautiful" and said the venue's sound system, equipment procedures and crowd made a great impression.
"The venue is phenomenal," said JJ Grey, lead singer of JJ Grey & Mofro. "They killed it."
Singing songs from their new album "This River," JJ Grey & Mofro had fans bopping and swaying throughout their nearly 90-minute set.
"Chef Tommy," otherwise known as Two Brothers' Brewing's Executive Chef Tom Michel, spent the evening filling the stomachs of concertgoers from RiverEdge Park's permanent kitchen.
Bags of buns, rolls and tortilla chips that were piled high began to shrink as orders came in for burgers, chicken sandwiches and nachos. Complementing the food -- and craft beers -- available from Two Brothers were the offerings of a line of vendors set up in tents along a path selling barbecue, roasted nuts, pizza and ice cream.
Celebrating the opening of the park he's pushed for since 2006, Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner attended Blues on the Fox Friday night, shaking hands, visiting the VIP rooftop deck and simply watching the river go by as blues music played.
At least six Broadway Avenue businesses near RiverEdge Park put on their entrepreneurial hats and sold parking spaces in their lots for $5 or $10, making the area somewhat reminiscent of the pop-up parking lots near the United Center in Chicago.
Instead of fighting for one of the closest spots or paying $5 to park at the Aurora Transportation Center, Tom Richards of Aurora said he parked roughly a half mile south at Broadway Avenue and Benton Street and walked into the park. Pale green signs directed visitors from the core of downtown Aurora north to its new concert spot.
"The sound is great," said Richards, a musician himself who plays jazz, blues, reggae and bluegrass. "It was kind of a hassle to get in here, though."
'Good live music'
Sitting comfortably in lawn chairs at the front of the grassy seating area, Jim and Pam Brennan of Batavia also called RiverEdge Park things like "beautiful" and "marvelous."
"I'm impressed so far," Pam said as the couple relaxed during the concert at a park they've watched develop while biking on the Fox River Trail.
"They did a nice job," her husband, Jim, said. "It's nice not to have to travel far to hear good music."