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Dave Ensslin, with his bandmates in Sixteen Candles, has been playing Navy Pier for 15 years. We recently asked Dave to reflect on that time performing at the Pier and what those performances meant to him.
What does the reopening of Navy Pier mean to you?
It means summer is finally here! If it’s one thing the people that live in the Midwest through the cold winters appreciate - it’s Chicago in the summer. We do not take summer for granted. We celebrate it as much as possible. Performing at Navy Pier is always such a great time and has become a tradition for Sixteen Candles! We are always thrilled to perform at Navy Pier.
As an artist/performer how has Navy Pier made a positive impact on your life/performance career?
Last year we were all very impressed that Navy Pier was able to continue to bring live music to the people safely. Last summer most of our shows got canceled and we typically play 3 shows every week. We played about 7-8 shows total last summer and Navy Pier was one of them. I really appreciate how safe they made the band and guests feel. The staff is and top notch!
How has Navy Pier provided you with the platform to succeed and achieve your dreams? What does that feel like?
Playing live music with my bandmates (and incredible friends) in Sixteen Candles at such a iconic outdoor venue like Navy Pier is always a treat. Seeing the water, boats, fireworks, and feeling the breeze off the lake on a hot summer night is almost surreal! It makes me feel joy seeing all the people forget about life for a while and come together as one to enjoy music and show. Pure Joy!
How would you describe Navy Pier to someone who has never been to the Pier before?
Navy Pier is just always a great time! I would describe Navy Pier as a truly enjoyable experience for everyone. Navy Pier is welcoming to all and there is literally something for everyone. It’s an experience of food, shopping, live music, rides, art, vendors, entertainment, fireworks, and very easy parking if you’re driving. We have been lucky enough to perform at four different venues all within Navy Pier. Several times in the Grand Ballroom, Crystal Gardens, Navy Pier Beer Garden, and in 2019 we were lucky enough to be one of the first bands to perform at the new rooftop lounge for the TV show Good Day Chicago for the first day of summer and its grand opening!
As one of Chicago's iconic cultural institutions - what does Navy Pier mean to you?
Navy Pier is a place that “get’s it”. All of the staff that I have worked with at Navy Pier are upbeat and and you can feel that they are passionate about their job and truly enjoy being there. That just sets the tone for the incredible and welcoming experience that Navy Pier is. Navy Pier is more than another gig, it’s a tradition. It’s an experience! I feel very fortunate to book other bands and perform there year after year and watch it constantly advance. Everyone in Sixteen Candles are very excited about performing there again July 3rd!
What do you enjoy most about performing at the Pier? How has it changed you as a performer?
My favorite things about performing at Navy Pier are the people and the atmosphere. It is not a place where the crowd consists of only the bands loyal supporters. There are always new people that went to Navy Pier for another attraction that happen to be walking by and stop to watch for a second. I watch them (behind my sunglasses) and try to see if the band can bring them in closer to sing along and enjoy the show or keep walking. Navy Pier has changed me as a performer because it has challenged me to bring the energy or improvised solo of my guitar playing up to a new level that would’ve normally never existed.
What is the best part of the experience you provide at the Pier?
Playing in Sixteen Candles for over 17 years has taught me that each gig is like a fingerprint, every gig is a little different. Sixteen Candles does not play to any backing tracks and we are a 100% live band that performs 80s cover songs. The setlist is never the same (although there are a few tunes that are played at every show) and there is always spontaneity and improvisation. When the show starts there is a genuine energy that appears. The energy isn’t just between the band members and crew, it’s everyone that is there - in the moment. People all coming together to join and unite in the sounds, energy, and singalongs. As a band we don’t just play the notes, we really try to feel them and do our best to add life to the songs while still being respectful and nostalgic to artists the 80s. Our singer Adam LeBlanc also has some amazing dance moves and every show every band member gets moments to shine.
What is your hope for Navy Pier over the next 10 years?
I hope Navy Pier continues to update and advance yet keep its Chicago charm. I would love there to be consistent live music at Navy Pier that features all different genres of music. I would like to see Navy Pier expand even further into the lake in 10 years!
Most people who visit Navy Pier do not realize the Pier operates as a nonprofit and depends on fundraising from donors, what would you say to encourage someone to make a small contribution to Navy Pier ?
I feel Navy Pier is a destination that everyone needs to experience. It is helping artists, musicians, and business survive and hopefully thrive. Navy Pier welcomes and bring business to Chicago and offers something for everyone no matter what age is.