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Dave Matthews Band Caravan using U.S. Steel site for 3-day concert

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



The South Chicago neighborhood that was home to U.S. Steel South Works is known as “The Bush.” The nuns at St. Michael’s Parish, 83rd and South Shore, told children the area was underwater in the early 1900s, and when the space was cleared, the bush emerged.

The Dave Matthews Band Caravan will put a space between the past and present in what will be Chicago’s most unusual concert venue, at least on July 8, 9 and 10.

The outdoor, no-seating, multistage festival will take place on the site of the steel plant, which closed in 1992. The land, now called Lakeside, cuts like a boomerang into Lake Michigan and has sparkling views of the city skyline about 10 miles to the north.

The festival will be the first exposure for most concertgoers to the hardscrabble neighborhood and the new Lakeside Development that is slated to include 50,000 residents, stores, a high school and a marina, all to be built over the next 30 years.

Matthews’ caravan includes David Gray, the Flaming Lips performing “Dark Side of the Moon,” Emmylou Harris, Ben Folds, the Jayhawks, G. Love & Special Sauce, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Drive-By Truckers, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and many others. Three-day passes, the cheapest tickets available, go on sale at 10 a.m. April 15 (dmbcaravan.com; 800-594-8499)

The event is a public-private partnership among U.S. Steel Corp., Lakeside developer McCaffery Interests of Chicago, festival promoter Starr Hill Presents and, in a rare collaboration, Chicago concert giants Jam Productions and Live Nation.

After a Thursday press conference at the barren site, Jam chairman Jerry Mickel­son couldn’t say what the venue capacity will be, but he did say there will be secured parking for 30,000 cars. There will be no camping. The venue will be temporary, like the pavilion on Northerly Island.

“This will give concertgoers a view of the South Side they have not seen,” said Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), whose ward shares the site with Ald. John Pope’s 10th Ward. “This site is the best-kept secret in the city of Chicago.”

There could be future concerts at Lakeside. “If this goes well, this could happen for several years,” said McCaffery’s Nasutsa Mabwa. “We’re hopeful.” Jackson’s Facebook page said the concert will draw 70,000 visitors daily to the neighborhood.

The vibe around the century-old South Chicago Neighborhood House, a block away from the site at 8458 S. Mackinaw, was cautious.

“We’re forgotten,” said program director Rich Melen­drez, who lives across the street from Lakeside. “We’re not sure we’re going to be included, our community center. Are they going to tear down our homes and buy us out? Show me. Don’t tell me about it.”

Melendrez, 40, said he will attend the concert. “Dave Matthews is a Cubs fan,” he said, as he showed his Cubs T-shirt. He looked out at the desolate Mackinaw Avenue and said, “A lot of my former Bush residents have left since the mill went down. There were four stores, six, seven taverns on every block. The noise, the pollution, it was its own little town.”

Mickelson has known the area for most of his life in driving back and forth from the Indiana Dunes to Chicago. “When U.S. Steel came down, I came out here many times,” he said. “You’re talking about a site that is 20 minutes from downtown, 600 acres, which is larger than all of downtown. It will be a green site.”

Since the plant closed, the site has undergone demolition and complete removal of contaminants from the soil, according to Mabwa. One 30-foot-tall South Works wall will remain as a marker of the past.

“We’re just starting to clear the site, and I couldn’t tell you how many jobs that will impact,” Mickelson said.

Jackson said, “We want to ensure those who want a taste will get a taste.”

The alderman also hoped a Barack Obama presidential library could become part of Lakeside Development. She said, “We hope he would consider this because of the fact this is where he got his start as a community organizer. The [John F.] Kennedy Library is on a site very similar to this [at Columbia Point in Boston].”

The Matthews Band celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and is taking the summer off, with the exception of four caravan shows. The caravan takes off June 24-26 at the abandoned Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J. Details on the remaining two festivals are forthcoming.

Pope’s grandfather’s house is across the street from the site, which provided up to 30,000 jobs. The steel for the John Hancock Center and Willis Tower was sourced from South Works.

“I remember fishing in the slip while the mill was operating,” said Pope, who grew up at 8720 S. Mackinaw. “Great memories. And we will create new memories.”



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