By Dana Kozlov

CHICAGO (CBS) — There were a lot of firsts today, and all bring new hope of life returning to normal in Chicago for the summer and beyond.

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports a group of young musicians performing at Navy Pier on Saturday are more than ready to put the pandemic behind them.

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Six hundred members of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra spent the day performing together for the first time in about a year.

“I missed the sun, the air, the people,” said 11-year-old Akshana Rajan.

She and 9-year-old Tessa Mele were among the young violinists performing on the first day of CYSO at the Pier this weekend, featuring two days of free open rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday at Navy Pier’s Beer Garden Stage and Lakefront Stage.

Akshana and Tessa said just being immersed in the music and around their friends – and off Zoom – makes all the difference.

“I feel happy, and I feel excited. It makes me play harder,” Tessa said.

“We’re still masking. The kids are in bell covers to cover their instrument, and then masks – mouthpiece masks – too, and all masked. So we’re being real cautious,” said CYSO executive director Susan Lape.

All performed outdoors on the first weekend Navy Pier reopened for business indoors, after being closed since Sept. 8.

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Navy Pier reopened its indoor spaces on Thursday, and people swarmed the Pier this weekend, along with many restaurants and neighborhoods throughout the city, days after Chicago health officials announced fully vaccinated people would no longer have to wear masks in most spaces.

However, capacity limits are still in effect for at least the next few weeks, although vaccinated people don’t count against those limits. City officials have said it’s up to each venue to decide if they want masks worn or not.

While hordes of people were clearly outside enjoying the new mask guidelines and, of course, the beautiful weather, there was another “hopefully nearing the end of the pandemic” significant event happening too.

The Athenaeum Theatre hosted one of the first, if not the first, indoor performances in a theater in front of an audience. Ballet dancers took to the stage at the theater in Lakeview for the first time since 2019.

Co-founder Alexei Kremnev said getting back to indoor shows is not only good for the performers, but crucial for the city.

“It brings jobs, it brings excitement, it Brings opportunity, and it brings a lot of hope to the city for the future,” he said.

On a sunny, musical Saturday, that hope seemed very much alive.

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There are still parts of Navy Pier yet to open. Those businesses are set to open by Memorial Day weekend.