A look back at Thirsty Ears 2018, Chicago’s only classical music street festival

By Grace Reberg |

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Music lovers enjoy some of Chicago’s best classical musicians in the open air during the third annual Thirsty Ears Festival

Last weekend, Access Contemporary Music presented its third annual Thirsty Ears Festival: Chicago’s only classical music street festival. This year’s festival featured fifteen soloists and ensembles — including two Grammy winners — playing classical and contemporary works.

There’s nothing like mixing Beethoven with beer. But while many concert presenters have sought to bring people off the street into the concert hall with some cold brews or crafted cocktails, Thirsty Ears founder Seth Boustead wants to bring the concert hall experience to the streets.

On Saturday and Sunday, open air concerts on Wilson Avenue between Hermitage and Ravenswood delighted classical music enthusiasts and casual listeners alike. Visitors enjoyed fare from the JW Sausage or Korean Bop food trucks, indulged in sweet treats from Black Dog Gelato, and sipped beer from Empirical Brewing: all with a soundtrack of classical music played by stellar artists.

The roster of musicians included pianist Svetlana Belsky, the Ursa Ensemble, Gaudete Brass, pianist David Schrader, Grammy—winning cellist Nick Photinos, the Amazonland Chamber Players, the Zafa Collective, pianists Ariella Mak Nieman and Matthew Hagle, cellist Kate Dillingham, and the Chicago Composers Orchestra, among others.

Amazonland Chamber Players serenade audiences at Thirsty Ears Festival 2018

The program provided listeners with a wide range of music to satisfy all tastes: classical works from Bach to Bartók, as well as pieces outside the canon of Western classical music, and many works by living composers.

New this year, Thirsty Ears added a program from Access Contemporary Music’s Sound of Silent Film Festival. The hourlong program featured five contemporary silent films accompanied live with newly composed scores.

Events like Thirsty Ears Festival can help tear down preconceived notions that classical music is stuffy or elitist. And with this unique and accessible setting, Thirsty Ears will — hopefully — continue to bring classical music to enthusiastic new audiences for many years to come.

Young music lovers enjoy family-friendly activities at Thirsty Ears (Photo: Elliot Mandel)