The 2014 Chicago Feis was held on May 25-26, 2014 at Chicago Gaelic Park in Oak Forest, IL. It is part of Chicago Gaelic Park’s annual Irish Fest, which is a 4 day festival. This is the 3rd year we have attended this feis, and it definitely has a different feel than many other feiseanna in our region.
Chicago Gaelic Park appears to be mainly a banquet facility. It is a smaller building that does not have a lot of room for people & seating, never mind zucas, dress bags, etc. It is an older building with limited bathroom facilities and questionable air conditioning.
On the bright side, there is a bar in one of the rooms …
Parking was free, but was in a grass lot near the facility. Unless you arrived early, you had a fairly long walk through dirt/mud in the parking lot & then through dust/rocks/mud once on the festival grounds, so changing into those bright white poodle socks AFTER you are in the building is advisable.
This feis does not charge a family fee, but does charge a $10 admission fee for all non-dancers in the party, payable at the entrance gate. This year there was a VERY long wait to pay your fee, have your bag checked, and get into the feis. I typically arrive over an hour before I conservatively estimate that my dancer will start dancing (so in reality 1.5-2 hours before she dances), and with the wait we had to get in this year, I got nervous enough about time that I actually started doing my dancer’s hair & wig while we were waiting in line.
Registration and awards were right outside the building, and my dancer was checked in quickly and easily. Volunteers were friendly & helpful.
The feis had 4 stages this year, and grades & PC/OC were run on separate days. 2 stages were in one room with a partition separating them. Another stage was in another room, and the final stage was outside (under an overhang, but still outside in my opinion), which made for some hot sweaty dancers, as Irish dance dresses & typical Chicago Memorial Day weather are not a great mix.
Stage quality was an issue this year (I had not seen any issues the previous 2 times we attended this feis) – my dancer’s stage saw many slips and falls, including one dancer who was carried off the stage & taken to the hospital. I never saw an attempt at mopping or otherwise treating the stage to make things less slippery.
Vendors were non-existent, except for a t-shirt seller, due to the availability of all kinds of items at the festival the feis was part of.
There was no camping at all whatsoever. Zucas and dress bags were piled all over the place & there was a lot of feis shaming going on in the minimal seating provided.
Rooms were extremely overcrowded, and dancers truly had trouble making their way up to the stage to check in for dances. I am honestly not sure the feis was in compliance with local fire codes, it was so crowded. Overcrowding has been an issue at this feis every year we’ve attended, but with a larger cap and the decision to run stages by dance rather than by level, things were significantly worse this year, to the point where I heard many complaints that the situation was simply unsafe.
Overall Venue Score: 4/10.
My dancer danced 6 times and was seen by 3 judges. That’s reasonably good rotation, all things considered.
Judge Score: 8/10
It is hard for me to comment on music, because I really couldn’t hear it over all the noise from the crowds. My dancer said she was able to hear the music well enough, but did get some bleed over from the other stage in the room.
Music Score: 8/10
The feis did have donuts & other breakfast foods for very reasonable prices. Drinks, including bottled water, were $1, which was a nice change from the usual overpriced concession stands at most feiseanna! (And did I mention the facility had a bar? :) )
Lunch required you to venture out into the festival, where lines were long, choices were somewhat limited (especially for young children, who aren’t interested in Irish stew & the like), and prices were not great.
Food Score: 7/10
Results were slower than molasses. By the time my dancer finished her last dance (and she did 6 that day), only her first 3 dances had results posted, and we waited over an hour for results from the other 3 dances. There was much complaining among parents & dancers alike about the speed (or lack thereof!) at which results were posted.
Additionally, results were not printed, but written by hand into a grid. As is human nature in a situation like that, there were some unfortunate errors. While there is certainly the potential for errors when results are printed & posted in that fashion, I am not a fan of the handwritten option at all.
The feis appeared to place between 30-40% of the dancers, which is fairly standard at Mid America feiseanna. I personally like to see a little more generous placement, but I do appreciate that this feis does keep entry fees fairly low & I understand that they would have to raise fees if they placed more dancers. I would also point out that the awards they give out are VERY nice quality – heavy well made medals & nice ribbons.
Results/Awards Score: 5/10
For grades, this feis was run by dance, with First Feis & Beg 1 going first, then Beg 2/Novice/Open following. This is not my favorite way to run things, because I do feel it makes for a very long day, but I thought things flowed well until the lunch break. The break was supposed to be an hour (which is about 30 minutes too long in my opinion, but when food was only available at the festival, it was only fair to give people some time to get food & eat, so I understand), but turned into a 2 hour ordeal, which really put a damper on the day.
Feis Flow Score: 6/10
Overall Score: 6/10
Sorry Chicago Feis, but the overcrowding, slow down in the afternoon and issues with results made it tough to do any better than this.