It comes but once a year, but the Tour de Fat spreads enough madness around Palmer Square to last for a decade.
This was this humble writer’s second foray into the roiling stew-pot of fun that is Tour De Fat Chicago, and it surely won’t be his last. Fort Collins-based brewer New Belgium has hosted its traveling bicycle carnival since 2008, making stops across the country. The goal of the show is not only to spread the flavor of their delicious beer, but to pass on their unconditional love of cycling.
And it’s working. They raised more than $35,000 for Humboldt Park’s West Town Bikes, a local nonprofit whose goals are to promote bicycling in the city of Chicago, educate youth with a focus on underserved populations and serve Chicago’s growing bicycling community. That’s a lot of bikes.
Raucous Bicycle Parade
The festival began with a raucous bicycle parade. Cyclists road to the northern edge of Logan Square and swinging down through Humboldt Park before returning to Palmer Square to destroy their thirst with Fat Tire, Ranger IPA and even a little water.
Performances, Cabarets and More
The performances began shortly after. The Scott Nery Show kicked things off with a blast of high energy and an impressive amount of waggling ducts.
Soon after the Scott Nery Show wrapped, the buzz of bad-ass guitar lured carnival goers to the second stage, tempted on the way by the ridiculous amount of food tents and trucks, featuring such heavy hitters as Bridgeport Pasty, 5411 Empanadas, the Tamale Spaceship and Chi-Scream.
Refreshed and relieved, the crowd followed the guilty pleasure of ’80s pop to the second stage, where the Honeymoon Cabaret geared up. This two-person show featured an American cheeseball and his Russian mail-order bride in a spectacle of over-the-top burlesque antics, blended with James Bond femme fatale vocals and so-embarrassing-it’s-awesome crowd participation. The stunts this lucky-in-love duo performed included juggling bites of banana with their mouths and enough costume changes to leave Cher in the dust.
On the way back to the main stage, one could have noticed the Le Tigre tent. A handful of shows kept curious folks waiting in line throughout the day. The little tent, much like a TARDIS, was larger inside than outside, but could still only admit 30 guests at a time. I didn’t get the chance to attend this year, but last year there was an amazing man that lip-synched karaoke as part of a comedy routine.
Slow Ride Contest
A group of yellow skin-suited hooligans wearing camera-clad bike helmets took to the main stage, stirring the beer-sloshing crowd into a frenzy in preparation for the annual Slow Ride Contest. Wave after wave of sometimes costumed contestants competed to see who could ride their bike the slowest without falling. Winners from each heat were gathered for one final showdown that was more exciting than it sounds.
After the championship belt was awarded, the ominous beat of a bass drum echoed from stage left.
Mucca Pazza and Reggie Watts
Mayhem was on the way, and its name was Mucca Pazza. The massive collective of marching band misfits slayed the crowd with the spontaneous explosion of rad that their performances always promise. The crowd was led from incredibly catchy pep-squad-drags-you-by-the-hair rally for a sports team that never existed to the very edge of what a fascist march would sound like if it were commissioned by Timothy Leary.
The Stunt Pepper Dance Contest was up next. A group of red painted Mad Max refugees combed the crowd for the best dancers while snips of hilariously undanceable songs were blasted by a DJ dressed as a pharaoh.
After the Car For Bike Swap, where one lucky applicant trades in their automobile and pledges to be car-free for a year in exchange for $2,500 to build their dream bike, the singular Reggie Watts took the stage to close out the evening.
His act was as wild as his hair, mixing standup comedy with stream-of-consciousness rapping and a maddening amount of loop pedals and a cappella samples. A fitting end to a day that a lazy writer would call “crazy.”