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Thirsty Ears Festival is Bach

Sarah Przybyla | August 8, 2017 | Feature Features

This classical music street festival aims to hit the high notes again with its second year.
Pianist and composer Amy Wurtz performs at last year's Thirsty Ears Festival.

In a city that’s full of street fests, Thirsty Ears Festival feels right at home. Chicago’s only classical music street festival returns to Ravenswood for its second year. Put on by Access Contemporary Music, this festival aims to make classical music from composers, both new and household names, accessible to a wider audience and to keep an emphasis on contemporary classical music.

Seth Boustead, executive director and founder of ACM, created this festival with his organization’s mission in mind. “ACM is always trying to figure out intriguing ways to put music from [primarily] living musicians in front of new people,” Boustead says. “Our mission is presenting classical music as a living art form.”

Although this festival’s setup is similar to most (there’s music, food and drinks), Boustead wants to avoid a generic festival without a neighborhood identity. “The Ravenswood neighborhood is amazing, and I feel really good about the fact that we have such local vendors,” Boustead says. “It feels very organic in that respect.” Food trucks and beer from Chicago’s Empirical Brewery will make appearances both days as well as booths from local vendors and kid-friendly activities.

Last year’s festival drew a crowd of 4,000 people. This year, they’re hoping to double that number with the addition of a second full day. Fifteen soloists and ensembles will perform a wide range of classical music—from famous composers like Bach, to the world premiere of a Sonata by pianist Matthew Ganong—but Boustead wants to keep a focus on the contemporary in order to showcase a broader collection of work from the classical community. The festival’s emphasis on younger composers hopes to reshape the stereotypes surrounding classical music composers—you’ll find no old men in white wigs here. Aug. 12-13, times vary, $5 suggested donation, 1758 W. Wilson Ave.


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