The Illinois Bicentennial party that organizers have arranged at Chicago’s Navy Pier will be at times solemn, like a Cahokia Woodhenge solstice observed 1,000 years ago by some of the state’s earliest inhabitants near St. Louis, and at times raucous, like a 2016 street party after the Chicago Cubs ended a 110-year World Series championship drought.
“I just want us all as Illinoisans to be proud in celebrating our incredible history,” Gov. Bruce Rauner told reporters last week. “This is such a wonderful state and this is our time to celebrate 200 great years … and also learn ways that we can make the next 200 even better.”
There will be sports stars, celebrities, music from rock ‘n’ roll to Chicago blues, and a rap version of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by the Chicago star of Broadway’s “Hamilton.”
Rauner, the Republican whose role in a historically long state budget stalemate made him one of the more polarizing political figures in modern Illinois history, set the tone for forward-looking festivities. He invited the man who soundly defeated him in last month’s election, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, to join him on stage Monday. A Pritzker spokeswoman did not respond to a request for a Pritzker statement on the event.
What became the home not only of one of the nation’s greatest presidents, Lincoln, but three successors — Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama — joined the Union as the 21st state on Dec. 3, 1818, upon the signature of President James Monroe. But the Mississippian culture had a sophisticated community of as many as 20,000 people in Cahokia at the turn of the last millennium. European settlers followed explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, who first laid eyes upon the vast expanse of unbroken prairie in 1673.
The birthday party was supposed to be bigger. Planning got off to a slow start, no small thanks to the budget crisis, and the 23,500-seat United Center was originally Monday’s host before slow ticket sales forced the change to the Grand Aon Ballroom at Navy Pier.
Stuart Layne, the bicentennial’s executive director, noted last month that without any state funding, the move “means that we can stay on budget and still put on a memorable party.”
The people, places and innovations that made Illinois what it is, setting the celebration’s theme of “Born, Built and Grown” in Illinois, will open the evening, with an introduction by television and radio personality Bill Kurtis and the “Star-Spangled Banner” performed by legendary Chicago Blackhawks anthem singer Jim Cornelison.
Chicago-born film and TV actor Joe Mantegna will narrate a video celebrating Illinois’ military veterans and recognize the “Bicentennial HONOR 200 Veterans” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing a piece from the movie “Lincoln.”
Kevin Cronin, frontman for REO Speedwagon, a rock band formed in Champaign in the 1960s, and Chicago-bred rockers Styx, will then take the stage.
“We’ve been thrilled to fly the flag as proud Midwesterners and Illinoisans throughout our careers and we are honored to come and celebrate our home state’s 200th birthday,” Cronin said this fall.
Championship trophies won by Illinois professional sports teams will be on display. Three-time Olympic track and field gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis will lead a celebration of championships won by Chicago’s football Bears, basketball Bulls, hockey Blackhawks and baseball Cubs and White Sox, along with remembering championships won by the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, whose heyday was during and just after World War II.
Miguel Cervantes, who plays the title role in the Chicago version of the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” will perform “All People are Created Equal,” a rap rendition of Lincoln’s immortal words at Gettysburg, accompanied by high school musical theater award-winners, and Buddy Guy, the “King of Chicago Blues,” will cap the night.
Chicago confection standard Eli’s Cheesecake will provide the cake.