CHICAGO (STMW) — A poncho-wearing Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel blended in with a small, soaking wet crowd Saturday afternoon at Grant Park during a concert to kick off his inauguration.

“They’re a great band. I don’t think there’s anything more fitting to give us what we need spiritually to… begin to take on the challenges facing the city,” Emanuel said before the concert by the band Chicago.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges, with a lot of opportunities to do big things for this great city.”

About 200 people braved a blustery afternoon to hear the band and, in a few cases, lend their support to Emanuel.

“I wanted to show I support him,” Julie Lux, a Rogers Park woman hiding under an umbrella, said at the outdoor concert. “He’ll bring new energy.”

Emanuel watched the show’s early acts with two of his children from folding chairs at the Petrillo Music Shell, occasionally shaking hands with well-wishers.

During the concert, however, he stood off to the right of the band at the corner of the Pritzker Pavilion stage with his two daughters, bopping along to the music.

The band played for 30 minutes, with a set including the songs, “25 or 6 to 4,” and of course, “Saturday in the Park.” After the show, Emanuel bent down to shake hands with audience members before leaving the stage.

Later Saturday, hundreds of people hobnobbed with Emanuel and his family at a reception at Venue One in West Town. That gathering was private, for donors who are helping bankroll Monday’s inauguration with contributions of $5,000 to $50,000.

Earlier on Saturday, Emanuel, his wife Amy Rule, their three children, City Clerk-elect Susana Mendoza, Treasurer Stephanie Neely and dozens of local gardeners worked together to prepare two community gardens for the growing season. Emanuel encouraged Chicagoans to get involved.

“We started [the morning] with 3,000-plus folks all over the city,” Emanuel told the afternoon Grant Park audience. “We worked hard cleaning up parks, cleaning up the river. After we worked, we came here and had a great time with great artists from Chicago.”

Earlier, at the nearly one-acre community garden at 6500 S. Woodlawn, Emanuel looked comfortable wielding a shovel, but said that at his Ravenswood home’s garden, his wife was more likely to be planting and weeding.

“This is your city,” he told volunteers. “We all have a role to play.”

At his second stop, the immaculate Fulton Street Flower and Veggie Garden, 4427 W. Fulton St., gardeners Sammie and Angela Taylor said they were “very excited” to see the new mayor come to the vacant lot next to their home.

The lot, now transformed with pink and white flowers and lush green plants, will get a greenhouse next week thanks to a grant. At both gardens, any excess produce is donated to local food pantries.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Sammie Taylor of the call from Emanuel’s transition team about a visit.

“It’s just a wonderful thing. It’s good for the neighborhood and good for the whole community,” he said.

Geraldine Jones, 66, and Eloise Harvey, 82, long-time residents on the Fulton Street block, said they would like to see Emanuel in the neighborhood more often. They said their neighborhood is overrun with drugs and crime, two stubborn problems that planting flowers isn’t going to solve.

“I know he’s up against a lot,” said Harvey.

Jones said that while she doesn’t doubt Emanuel’s commitment to improving city life, she believes he needs to get everyone on board. “He’s got to have the people who work for him do something,” she said.

Emanuel told gardening volunteers he also wanted to work on improving the Chicago River for sports like kayaking and canoeing.

“The river is the next recreation frontier for the city,” he said, adding, “I don’t know about swimming.”

Federal environmental officials have said Chicago needs to improve its wastewater treatment procedures so that the Chicago River is clean enough for swimming.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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