Dancing in the rain

Concert-goers dance in the rain on Congress Avenue after fans were evacuated from Lollapalooza. (Armando Sanchez, Chicago Tribune / August 4, 2012)

Thunder was the music and lightning the light show for a time this afternoon, causing evacuation of the Lollapalooza festival in Grant Park while a powerful storm front tore through the Chicago area.

About 2 1/2 hours later the festival reopened, and the Chicago area began to clean up.

Almost 61,000 people were ushered out of Grant Park during Lollapalooza's first-ever evacuation, organizers said.

At a press conference Saturday evening, officials said about six bands would not get to play as scheduled even though the fest's closing time had been pushed back to 10:30 p.m.

Today's forecasted storms prompted concert promoters C3 Presents, Chicago police, fire and park officials, and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications to meet around 2:30 p.m. and agree to temporarily pull the plug on the festival as the storms got closer, said Gary Schenkel, OEMC executive director.

Concert-goers were told to evacuate to three underground sites -- Grant Park North Garage, Grant Park South Garage and East Monroe Street Garage -- through social media, message boards, loudspeakers, and police and other public safety personnel, he added.

"You can not force people to go into the weather shelters, so fortunately a lot of patrons took advantage of the restaurants and bars around the event," Schenkel said, adding the decision was agreed upon by all groups.

The park shut down around 3:30 p.m. and reopened by 5:45 p.m.

No injuries or arrests were reported during the evacuation or reopening, Schenkel said.

Charlie Jones, C3 executive director, said he believed the evacuation was well-executed.

He said all policies, including public safety, were put in place with Chicago departments well before the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair last summer.

"That did not influence our decision," he said.

The incoming storm front hit about an hour into the evacuation,  and mostly calm crowds on Michigan Avenue gave way to yelling clumps of people sprinting towards the nearest shelter as a greenish-gray dark clouds devoured the sky and torrential rain began to fall.

Many festival-goers ducked into cafes and restaurants while others hunkered down at the North Grant Park Garage, one of the established underground evacuation centers.

"This better be an awesome storm is all I have to say," said Sara Grimley, from Kenosha, Wis., after leaving the park. For about an hour at its height the storm did not disappoint, with heavy rain and frequent thunder and lightning.

Crowds began heading back toward the main gates as the worst of the storm passed a bit after 5 p.m.

Carolina Cole and her daughter, Angelina, were told that the gates wouldn't open until almost 6 p.m. and they weren't sure how to kill the time.

"We're going back but it depends on whether we want to get our rain gear and stand in the rain for an hour," said Cole, 54, donning a tank top and shorts.

Cole said they were a little disappointed by the delay but they weren't thinking about a refund since they both have passes for the entire weekend.