Bitter Jester wraps up its 16th season with tribute to Highland Park community

 
 
Updated 9/9/2022 10:48 AM

Sunday's Bitter Jester Music Festival grand finale was part concert, part contest and part reunion.

Two months to the day after its postponement due to the tragic attack on the Highland Park Fourth of July parade, founder Nic DeGrazia and the Bitter Jester community gathered together to celebrate music once again -- many of whom haven't seen each other since huddling under the bleachers not far from the parade grounds.

All eight finalists from across the Midwest -- Fightin' Bob, Fluctuation, Keep the Eleven, New Age Americans, Scorched Waves, Summer Drive, Summer League and VENGANZA -- played to an audience of friends, families and fans at Madame Zuzu's, as well as a panel of judges and commentators. Special guests Linda Therese, The Peter Dankelson Band, Exit 122, Opening Day and Pretoria added to the festive atmosphere.

In the end, defending champions Summer Drive from Oak Park took top honors, while jazz-pop band Summer League came in runner-up. Scorched Waves of Wisconsin earned honorable mention.

"They really make sure that everybody here feels special," said New Age American's Jake Smith, formerly of West Chicago. "Usually a band plays and maybe a couple people standing outside say 'Hey, good set.' How often do local bands get to be on a podcast, on the news, talking to the paper and playing all these shows?"

While the theatricality, the rock, the funk, the jams and the jazziness were all in good fun (not to mention some prize money), the concert served another purpose -- to help raise funds to benefit the Highland Park Business Recovery Fund, assisting businesses shut down after the Fourth of July shootings and subsequent FBI investigation.

Donations are still being accepted for the fund via PayPal or at checkout.stripe.com.

Jack Koshkin, left, and Rafael Gandre of Wisconsin funky prog-rock band Fightin' Bob leave it all on the stage at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  Jack Koshkin, left, and Rafael Gandre of Wisconsin funky prog-rock band Fightin' Bob leave it all on the stage at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Jaydon Pokryfke and Exit 122 brought the energy to Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  Jaydon Pokryfke and Exit 122 brought the energy to Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Casper Miller and Hanna Worpell of Opening Day at the grand finale concert for the Bitter Jester Music Festival Sunday, Sept. 4.
  Casper Miller and Hanna Worpell of Opening Day at the grand finale concert for the Bitter Jester Music Festival Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Jaren Wojcik, left, Al Vuorinen and Tiernan Brinkman of Scorched Waves from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, perform at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4. The band took Honorable Mention in the summerlong musical competition.
  Jaren Wojcik, left, Al Vuorinen and Tiernan Brinkman of Scorched Waves from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, perform at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4. The band took Honorable Mention in the summerlong musical competition.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Dean Flegel, left, and Juan Nicanor of Racine, Wisconsin, band VENGANZA brought some metal to the Bitter Jester finale Sunday.
  Dean Flegel, left, and Juan Nicanor of Racine, Wisconsin, band VENGANZA brought some metal to the Bitter Jester finale Sunday.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Grand Rapids, Michigan, indie-rock band Pretoria returned to kick off the evening's festivities at the Bitter Jester's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  Grand Rapids, Michigan, indie-rock band Pretoria returned to kick off the evening's festivities at the Bitter Jester's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Rob Gullett and Matt Pavlock of Pretoria at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4, for the Bitter Jester summer finale concert.
  Rob Gullett and Matt Pavlock of Pretoria at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4, for the Bitter Jester summer finale concert.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Nashville sophisti-pop band Summer League snazzed it up for the Bitter Jester summer finale concert Sunday, earning them a runner-up slot in the summerlong contest.
  Nashville sophisti-pop band Summer League snazzed it up for the Bitter Jester summer finale concert Sunday, earning them a runner-up slot in the summerlong contest.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Alt-funk band Summer Drive of Oak Park successfully defended last year's grand champion title, taking the top spot at Sunday's Bitter Jester Music Festival finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park.
  Alt-funk band Summer Drive of Oak Park successfully defended last year's grand champion title, taking the top spot at Sunday's Bitter Jester Music Festival finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
The Peter Dankelson Band made a special guest appearance at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  The Peter Dankelson Band made a special guest appearance at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
West Chicago native Jake Smith and the New Age Americans brought a jam-band energy to their alt-rock favorites at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  West Chicago native Jake Smith and the New Age Americans brought a jam-band energy to their alt-rock favorites at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Drummer RJ McGaw of New Age Americans knows shirts only hinder the creative process at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  Drummer RJ McGaw of New Age Americans knows shirts only hinder the creative process at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Native West Chicagoans Tyler Hodgett and Jake Smith have been playing together since 7th grade. Sunday they got to perform with their band New Age Americans as part of the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert in Highland Park.
  Native West Chicagoans Tyler Hodgett and Jake Smith have been playing together since 7th grade. Sunday they got to perform with their band New Age Americans as part of the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert in Highland Park.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
Eli Pfotenhauer of Downers Grove played double-duty Sunday, on bass in Fluctuation and later on the drum kit for Summer League at the Bitter Jester Music Festival finale at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park.
  Eli Pfotenhauer of Downers Grove played double-duty Sunday, on bass in Fluctuation and later on the drum kit for Summer League at the Bitter Jester Music Festival finale at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
St. Charles band Keep the Eleven brought a garage-rock energy to the stage at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
  St. Charles band Keep the Eleven brought a garage-rock energy to the stage at the Bitter Jester Music Festival's summer finale concert at Madame Zuzu's in Highland Park Sunday, Sept. 4.
Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer
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