As the sun set over Wicker Memorial Park in Highland on June 13, the lilting tones of several hundred people singing along to Pearl Jam’s 1994 hit “Better Man” echoed into the distance.
"The crowd really gets involved,” said attendee Shelli Walczak from her spot in the front row. “We start singing the songs, the band gets us singing, it's great."
The live band, Pearl Jam Tribute Chicago, a Pearl Jam tribute band, kicked off North Township’s annual Summer Concert Series with flair. Happening every Thursday from now through the week after Labor Day, the concerts have become a local summer staple.
Walczak and her family have attended regularly for three or four years now, she said, and finally decided to buy the season pass this year.
“We haven't been to a show that we didn't like," she said. "Every single band they booked is amazing."
Jim Joseph, whose wife is a big Pearl Jam fan, enjoyed the evening air, grateful that the weather had cleared up for the event.
"We like the outdoors and it's a beautiful night, so everything's great," Joseph said.
Pearl Jam Tribute Chicago bassist Dana Sutter was also excited for the clear skies and the crowd that came out to hear them play.
"All day today it rained and we were thinking, 'Man, no one's gonna show up,' but hey, everyone's here!" Sutter said.
This is the band’s second year participating in North Township’s Summer Concert series, said rhythm guitar player Brett Deardorff, and they were happy to be back.
"It's a really cool atmosphere,” Deardorff said.
Guitar player Tim Ores loves playing such events as a tribute to their namesakes’s reputation as outstanding entertainers.
"You won't see a better live band than Pearl Jam,” Ores said. “They're phenomenal.”
The concerts mean a lot to Rosalba Quintanilla, North Township Trustee Office Community Development Coordinator, because they draw audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
"The music brings us together," Quintanilla said. "My favorite part is seeing all the people in the middle of the concert just swaying and getting into the groove."
When they launched the series 12 years ago they started with audiences of about 50 people, said event sponsor North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan. Now they regularly have audiences of 500-700 people.
"[That growth] feels good,” Mrvan said, “but then you're constantly thinking of how you can make it better."
He was particularly looking forward to one of the new groups they booked this year, Prince tribute band Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones, playing on August 15.
"The bottom line is, we just want to be able to give an affordable night out for people, underneath the stars, listening to some good music," he said.