The end of Endless Summerfest. Annual La Grange festival canceled

Sponsors have pulled the plug on Endless Summerfest in La Grange.

The three-day festival, typically held the first weekend of August in Gordon Park, has been canceled this year.

The La Grange Business Association and the Park District of La Grange announced the cancellation in a joint news release March 26.

“Over the years, however, it has become increasingly more difficult to provide the same quality event and the park district and LGBA have had to reimagine the way the event is produced,” according to the release. “Although our resources have not increased, the costs of executing Endless Summer have almost tripled over the years. Increased security costs, together with an increase in band and fireworks fees, have added to the staffing stress of putting on the three-day event. After a thorough review of the dramatic cost increases over the last several years, including the most recent Endless Summerfest, the park district and LGBA have come to the difficult decision to end the event.”

Jenny Bechtold, executive director of the park district, said March 26 that she understands some people will be unhappy.

“We didn’t want to cancel it, but we want to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ dollars,” Bechtold said.

Ten years ago, it cost $60,000 to present the festival compared with $150,000 in 2023, Bechtold said. The park district and business association split the cost.

The festival simply was not generating enough revenue, Cathy Domanico, CEO and executive director of the business association, said March 27.

Last year, the park district and business association split $4,000 in profits, she said.

“It just got very taxing on us because our job is to support local businesses. We’re a not-for-profit organization. Our resources did not go up. ... It got tough,” Domanico said.

Canceling “was not an easy decision to make,” she said.

“We were very thoughtful about it. We know how much this event means to the people of La Grange,” Domanico said.

Research indicates it may have not meant too much.

Domanico said only 19% of the people who attended the 2023 Endless Summerfest actually lived in La Grange.

Before moving to Gordon Park, Endless Summerfest was held in downtown La Grange. Businesses reaped benefits from more people being there.

While Gordon Park, near the northeast corner of Ogden Avenue and La Grange Road, offers plenty of room for a carnival, bands and parking, it did not help businesses that much, Domanico said.

Fans of Endless Summerfest can take some solace as the park district plans to present a scaled-down one-day event this summer, Bechtold said.

A name, location, date and further details have not been finalized, but there will be live music, she said.

While the intention is admirable, the park district won’t make a big profit, said Steve Palmer, who ran Endless Summerfest for 17 years,

“You can’t make money on a one-day event, but it’s fine if you want to do something for the community,” Palmer said.

In previous years, including 2023, Endless Summerfest offered live Chicago-area bands, a carnival and restaurant booths. Beer tents were staffed by volunteers from local organizations such as youth baseball leagues that received a portion of beer sales.

Fireworks on the final night brought in crowds. Fireworks also got costly, ranging from $15,000 to $20,000, Bechtold said.

That’s why a $12,000 laser show replaced the fireworks last year, Bechtold said.

Events such as Endless Summerfest sometimes “run their course,” said Palmer, who now owns The Stadium Club in McCook.

And, he said, they rely on volunteers.

When the former owner of Palmer Place in downtown La Grange was in charge of Endless Summerfest he “had a strong group of friends who volunteered and helped. It takes more than people possibly know.”

“I’d be there at 5:30, 6 in the morning to meet the garbage man to get the dumpsters out,” he said. “Stay until two o’clock in the morning to change over to a church service the next day,” he said. “It takes a lot of effort.”

“It’s not an easy decision [to cancel] by any means,” he said, adding, “without people willing to volunteer, costs go up.”

“Our budget was way larger than the budget is today,” he said.

It had to be when the festival then brought in big names such as .38 Special, The Spinners, The Charlie Daniels Band, Eddie Rabbitt, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks and The Marshall Tucker Band.

“The bands we were having were bringing in a lot of people,” Palmer said.

By contrast, big nationwide acts were not featured in recent editions of Endless Summerfest.

Instead, popular Chicago-area bands such as Mike and Joe, American English, Sixteen Candles, Infinity, Hairbangers Ball and ARRA were the headliners.

Asked if bringing in bigger names could have saved Endless Summerfest, Domanico said, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Festivals, Palmer said, have their ups and downs.

“Sometimes you ride out the low points and bring it back up again,” Palmer said. “And sometimes you say enough is enough.”