Enter Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street if you dare

  • A festgoer dressed as the character Pennywise from Stephen King's "IT" walks through the streets at last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin.

      A festgoer dressed as the character Pennywise from Stephen King's "IT" walks through the streets at last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin. John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2018

 
By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 10/17/2019 11:36 AM

Street theater takes on new meaning Saturday, Oct. 19, when Elgin presents the city's homage to Halloween, Nightmare on Chicago Street.

Ersatz zombies will roam through the city streets while revelers indulge in beverages. Musicians and DJs will rock the grounds on three stages. And visitors with a penchant for creative attire will compete in a costume contest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Morton Grove native Rich Koz, also known as Svengoolie, will appear at Nightmare on Chicago Street and emcee the costume contest.
Morton Grove native Rich Koz, also known as Svengoolie, will appear at Nightmare on Chicago Street and emcee the costume contest. - Daily Herald File Photo

"It is really more of an experience than just a street festival," said Kate O'Leary, the city's special events coordinator. "What the city does is transform eight city blocks into a wasteland, a post-apocalyptic scene. There is on-street drinking. We actually have four beer tents. And lots of people in costume."

Traffic will be diverted away from the event site for the night.

"It's blocking off the entire downtown area on Chicago Street from Villa down to Grove," O'Leary said. "The entire area turns into a whole different realm. The whole area is reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic wasteland."

The festival is for visitors 18 years and older; children younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, she said.

O'Leary said the event is in its ninth year.

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"It started as a zombie invasion," she said.

At the outset, the festival presented a lighthearted but seasonally creepy look at what life might be like if such an event had occurred. Over the years, the fantasy narrative that drives the props people will see and the stage acts people will witness has changed a bit.

A zombie wanders around at the annual Nightmare on Chicago Street festival in Elgin. The festival returns Saturday, Oct. 19.
  A zombie wanders around at the annual Nightmare on Chicago Street festival in Elgin. The festival returns Saturday, Oct. 19. - John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2018

"It has kind of evolved into 'We don't really know what happened,'" she said.

The zombies will still be there, startling those who have purchased tickets allowing them to enter the "safe zone" -- the festival grounds.

"We still have our signature zombies running around," O'Leary said.

Props devised by art director Fred Wimms will include a scene featuring spiders.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He also has a haunted house you can go in for free," she said.

The Zombie Defense Initiative, otherwise known as the "Nightmare" planning committee, has booked a full slate of DJs and musical acts.

A woman is painted with neon body paint by a man in a lab coat in a storefront window at the annual Nightmare on Chicago Street festival in Elgin.
  A woman is painted with neon body paint by a man in a lab coat in a storefront window at the annual Nightmare on Chicago Street festival in Elgin. - John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2018

Pumping up the volume with recorded music will be DJ Q, DJ Tim Spinnin' Schomer and DJ Julian Jumpin' Perez.

The Sons of Mystro will appear on the main stage at 6:30 p.m.

"They're very new age violinists. They kind of interpret American pop songs. They kind of update and put their own spin on American classics," said O'Leary.

Modern Day Romeos will perform at 8:30 and 10 p.m.

"They are kind of a hometown favorite," she said.

Chicago Street is filled with people and monsters at last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin. This year's event is Saturday, Oct. 19.
  Chicago Street is filled with people and monsters at last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin. This year's event is Saturday, Oct. 19. - John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2018

In between the Modern Day Romeos' two sets, the costume contest will take center stage. O'Leary said participation in the contest is free and registration will be accepted from 6 to 8 p.m. Television host Svengoolie will add star power to the proceedings as contest emcee.

"He's been with us since the beginning. This year we're kind of honoring him in a way," said O'Leary.

For the duration of the "nightmare," Grove Avenue will be renamed "Svengoolie's B-Movie Boulevard," she said.

The third stage will feature a 6:30 p.m. performance by Midnight Special, followed by a 9 p.m. show with 7th heaven.

Inside the Thunderdome, visitors will find a fire performer, a skeleton dance and a drag show.

"That's kind of where our edgier performers go," she said.

O'Leary said turnout is somewhat weather dependent.

Colleen Pridemore and Mark Minter, both of Elgin, stroll down Chicago Street in costume during Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin.
  Colleen Pridemore and Mark Minter, both of Elgin, stroll down Chicago Street in costume during Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2017

"We actually peaked in 2017. We had 18,500 people," she said.

Last year, the total was down to about 13,000 people. O'Leary said she attributes that to white-out conditions and 35 mph winds that descended on the crowd when an early snowstorm struck.

O'Leary said several shops and restaurants in the downtown area will remain open during the event. Free parking will be available throughout the downtown area, in the Fulton Street deck and near the city hall. VIP parking is available through the event website for a fee of $25.

Free shuttle buses will run from 5:30 p.m. until midnight at Larkin High School and Elgin High School.

• • •

Nightmare on Chicago Street

When: 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19

Where: Chicago Street, between Douglas Avenue and Villa Street, downtown Elgin

Tickets: $19.99 in advance; $25 at the gate

Info: nightmareonchicagostreet.com and (847) 931-6001

• • •

Saturday, Oct. 19

6 to 11 p.m.: DJs Tim Spinnin' Schomer, Julian Jumpin' Perez, and Q on the second stage

6:30 to 8 p.m.: Sons of Mystro on the main stage

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Midnight Special on the third stage

8:30 to 9:30 p.m.: Modern Day Romeos on the main stage

9:30 to 10 p.m.: Costume contest on the main stage

8 to 9 p.m.: Meet Svengoolie and get autographs in the "Safe Zone"

9 to 11 p.m.: 7th heaven, third stage

10 to 11 p.m.: Modern Day Romeos on the main stage

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