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Summer Music Festivals Ranked

Ranking Chicago's best summer music festivals

From Lollapalooza to West Fest, we passed judgement and ranked the best of Chicago's summer music festival slate

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
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Chicago has a problem: There are too many summer festivals. We're not complaining, just stating the obvious. Not only do Chicago's parks play host to some of the best music festivals in the world, the city's street festivals also boast lineups that seem too good to be true. In short, we're spoiled. We pored over the best events featuring live music this summer and came up with this (less-than-scientific) ranking of Chicago's summer music festivals. From gigantic, multi-stage events to street festivals with sick lineups, here are our top picks.

Chicago's summer music festivals ranked

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Ten years into its reign in Union Park, the Pitchfork Music Festival is still booking diverse lineups packed with artists that we actually want to see. This year's mix of indie legends (Wilco, Sleater Kinney), hip hop heavyweights (Chance the Rapper, Run the Jewels) and new blood (Viet Cong, Natalie Prass) puts Pitchfork firmly at the top of Chicago's considerable summer festival heap.
Mamby on the Beach
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Filling the void left by defunct beachfront bashes like Riverwest and Wavefront, the oddly-named Mamby on the Beach should placate anyone who wants to dance on sand. In it's first year, the festival has already booked a deep lineup of dance-oritented acts that includes Passion Pit, Empire of the Sun, Phantogram, Röyksopp and Cut Copy. Pack your beach towel and stock up on sunscreen.
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Just think: If Riot Fest hadn't found a new home in Douglas Park, we wouldn't be able to see No Doubt, Snoop Dog, Merle Haggard and GWAR sharing a bill. The punk-leaning fest continues to diversify its offerings, assembling its strangest lineup to date—we wouldn't have it any other way.
Wire presents Drill: Chicago
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Veteran post-punk band Wire puts together an interesting three-day art-rock festival spread over three venues, featuring collaborations with Ken Vandermark and St. Vincent. Tim Hecker, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Disappears flesh out a bill that all your music snob friends will be talking about for weeks to come.
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North Coast Music Festival
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North Coast is the only place that you'll be able to see D'Angelo this summer—we expect that plenty of people will show up just to see the elusive singer. The rest of the lineup leans on the usual blend of EDM and hip-hop acts, including Chemical Brothers, the Roots, Portugal. The Man, Tycho and Steve Aoki.
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This year, Chicago's mega-festival boast gigantic names like Paul McCartney, Metallica and Sam Smith, but the remainder of the lineup is pretty weak. Sure, we're excited to party in Grant Park again, but there aren't many bands worth arriving early to see.
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RuidoFest
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There's no other festival in town (and perhaps the country) that brings this many Latin American rock and pop bands together. The inaugural RuidoFest in Pilsen features Mexican alt-rock juggernauts like Café Tacuba and Zoé. It's like a Latin American Lollapalooza for half of the price.
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Chicago doom metal band Bongripper headlines this Logan Square festival, which means that you're guaranteed to see some headbanging under the Centennial Monument. The neighborhood fest also features Sam Prekop, Serengeti, Rob Jacobs and a host of notable local performers.
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This annual Lincoln Square bash always features an intriguing mix of folk, jazz and world music. This year, alt-country rockers the Mekons and Nigerian world music pioneer King Sunny Ade top a bill assembled by the Old Town School of Folk Music.
LakeShake Festival
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Northerly Island will look a lot like Nashville when the new LakeShake Festival comes to town in June. Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley and Florida Georgia Line headline this three-day hoedown—a big deal for country fans, but fairly inconsequential for anyone who only wears a cowboy hat ironically.
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This gigantic, neon-clad EDM festival features heavyweights like Zedd, Hardwell, Tiësto and Jack Ü turning in sets at Soldier Field. It's not everyone's cup of (Molly-laced) tea, but for those who enjoy writhing crowds, superfluous pyrotechnics and ground-shaking beats, you're unlikely to find more bass drops for your buck at any other fest in town.
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Blues fans will be in 12-bar heaven at this year's edition of the Chicago Blues Festival, which boasts peroformances by Buddy Guy, Shemekia Copeland and Syl Johnson. It's one of the more impressive bills the festival has put together in recent memory—and it's totally free.
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Taste of Randolph
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Taste of Randolph traditionally boasts a solid music lineup and this year's slate doesn't buck the trend. Acts like Dinosaur Jr., the Dandy Warhols, Best Coast and Tennis could easily hold down a side stage at Lollapalooza, but savvy fest-goers can see them for just $10.
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This hipster-friendly fest that features three stages of Pitchfork-quality tunes on the cheap. Headliners like Blonde Redhead, Charles Bradley and Deafheaven have all stopped by Chicago recently, but this could be your best chance to see reunited local rockers Veruca Salt.
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Empty Bottle books the main stage at this West Town, which explains the presence of legendary punk rockers Dead Moon and reunited shoegazers Swirlies. West Fest knows its niche—the guy (or gal) with the leather jacket who lives down the street from you will definitely be in attendance.
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This environmentally conscious Wicker Park festival features a bicycle-powered stage and a somewhat underwhelming music lineup. Headlining sets by Mikael Cronin, Lydia Loveless and Shovels & Rope are worth your time, but there are definitely more exciting street festival lineups to be found.
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