10 best music fests this summer

Lollapalooza is huge, sure, but is it the best? Spoiler: no. See which lineups we are itching to see in our annual music festival rankings
Which summer music festival has the best lineup this year?
Which summer music festival has the best lineup this year?
By Brent DiCrescenzo |

How many summer music festivals does Chicago have? We lose count, but there's enough that cutting the pool down to a top ten list can be tough. The EDM scene suffered a couple casualties this year, as Electric Daisy Carnival skipped town and Wavefront became entangled in noise complaints, which is a shame as we are big fans of gigs on beaches. Yes, we ranked them, but we will still be attending every single one of these suckers. There are no bad festivals listed here. As always, check back throughout the summer for concert photos from each.

Who did we miss, who did we underrate? Leave your comments below.

RECOMMENDED: Complete coverage of Chicago summer music festivals

West Fest

The men headlining the Empty Bottle–booked main stage may be old timers, but Lee Fields (pictured) and Death still ooze soul in pain-etched tunes, albeit of vastly different genres. Fields is a throwback soul man, while Detroit's Death were proto-punks rediscovered and reissued by Drag City. Mark Farina and Derrick Carter headline the DJ stage. But what tips the scale for West Fest over the host of over street fetes vying for this spot? Jumbo screens will be broadcasting the concurrent World Cup final at noon. Jul 12, 13

Chicago Jazz Festival

A step down from its stellar last year. In its 36th edition, Jazz Fest returns to Millennium Park (and the Cultural Center) with a slightly less exciting but solid nonetheless lineup that fuses, er, fusion, bop and cosmic shizz. The big event here is Sun Ra Arkestra closing on Sunday night at Pritzker Pavilion, celebrating the 100th birthday of the man from Saturn (though he did live here in Chicago, recording the eternally cool Super-Sonic Jazz). Bassist Rufus Reid (Fri), Terence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane and Lionel Loueke (pictured, Sat), vibist Gary Burton (Sat), and Brit bassist Dave Holland (Sat) also headline and merit your attention. Aug 28–31


Do Division Street Fest

In its eighth year, Do Division, the street shindig booked by Empty Bottle and House Call Entertainment, holds down the last weekend in May, really kicking off the summer festival season. Headlining this year are High on Fire and JC Brooks (Fri), Bass Drum of Death and Screaming Females (Sat), and on the strongest day J Mascis and People Under the Stairs (Sun). May 30–Jun 1

Taste of Chicago

Unexpectedly rocketing up the charts this year is the belt-busting behemoth in Grant Park. Either we're getting older, or the city's booking agents are getting cooler. Last year, Rahm sexually assaulted a chair while watching Robyn Thicke. This year, the music lineup at Petrillo is as strong as it's ever been, with AWOLNATION (Jul 9), Janelle Monáe + Gary Clark Jr. (Jul 10), Nickel Creek + Emmylou Harris (Jul 11), Jeff Tweedy (Jul 12) and Aloe Blacc (Jul 13). The Autumn Defense, the warm Wilco side project, headlines the small stage as well. Jul 9–13


The Pygmalion Festival

Okay, yes, this is not in Chicago. Normally we are not big on listing events in Champaign. After all, this is Time Out Chicago, and Champaign feels like the deep south. However, in its tenth year, this little music (and literature) festival has put together a sweet lineup that is like a medium-size Pitchfork. Chvrches (pictured), Panda Bear, Real Estate, Tycho, Sun Kil Moon, Ex Hex, Wooden Shjips and more hit the Illini hub. The first two days are on campus at the Krannert Center, while Saturday and Sunday shows go down downtown at the Highdive. Check out the website for more details. Sept 25-28

Photograph: cousindaniel.com

Spring Awakening

Any idea of what it would cost you to see Tiësto at Paris Club? More than the ticket to this electronic bash in Soldier Field. And we're not counting bottle service. So, plus side: This continually growing, economy-sized rave pulls in handfuls of DJs that routinely fill Aragon-sized spaces. Acts like Pretty Lights, Kaskade, Diplo, A-Trak, Claude VonStroke, Dillon Francis, Nick Catchdubs are a blast. Down side: Teen-douche central, and that bill is just chock full of dongs. Jun 13–15


North Coast Music Festival

Snoop Dogg, Bassnectar, Kid Cudi and STS9 headline this Union Park festival that smartly caters to popular gaps other events tend to overlook—rap, jam, jammy-electro, jammy-rap. The rest of the bill looks a lot like a year's subscription to Mayhem at the Mid, with big name DJs Alesso, Zeds Dead, Dada Life, Wolfgang Gartner and more. We look forward to Swedish dance-pop darlings Little Dragon, foodie MC Action Bronson, posh micro-R&B singer Chet Faker, weirdo new-wavers Future Islands, cartoonish web troll Riff Raff, chillwave pioneer Washed Out, local roots-reggae pop act Wild Belle and the sort of lo-fi Pearl Jam, Dr. Dog. Bonus points: the best crowd costumes in the game. Aug 29-31



We can't believe it either—the tenth edition of Lollapalooza in Grant Park is nearly upon us. Last year, the summer music festival carried a more tranquil air, with neo-folk acts Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, and breezy pop from Phoenix, the Killers and the Postal Service atop the bill. This year, the thunderstorm is returning, and we don't mean the torrential downpours of 2012. Testosterone courses through Lolla 2014, as Eminem, Kings of Leon, Skrillex and Arctic Monkeys top the bill. Still, this megaconcert is a smörgåsbord, with plenty we want to see. Lorde, Broken Bells, Spoon, Lykke Li, Warpaint, Chance the Rapper, Cut Copy, Chvrches, Jenny Lewis, Iggy Azalea, Jagwar Ma, Parquet Courts, Jungle, the So So Glos… I could go on. That's a truckload of goodness. But for the first time, there are no conflicts for us in the schedule. Which is not a terrible thing. Aug 1–3

The National opens the first of four sold out shows at The Chicago Theatre on April 15, 2014.
Photographer: cousindaniel.com

Riot Fest

In its tenth year overall and just its third outdoors in Humboldt Park, Riot Fest continues to blossom, now nipping on the heels of Lollapalooza. The National, the Flaming Lips, the Cure, Slayer, Tegan & Sara, Metric—that's a damn solid festival top end, and further distancing from Riot's punk roots. Though acts like Rise Against, Social Distortion and the Offspring keep the Oi! factor high. We are quite curious to witness the Chicago debut of Pussy Riot, too. Lolla may have more acts you want to see in total out of sheer volume (or maybe not), but the hit-to-miss ratio of this bill is far higher. Sept 12–14


Pitchfork Music Festival

This year's edition has a heavy hip-hop flavor with Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Death Grips and more. Heck, even the headlining Beck has been known to spit a verse here and there. Giorgio Moroder, Nenah Cherry and Slowdive are intriguing legacy acts. Rising artists filled with vim and vinegar like Grimes, Cloud Nothings, Perfect Pussy balance things out with freshness. Sleepers include SZA and FKA Twigs—seductive, acronym-loving downtempo soul singers. The number of women on the bill (Annie Clark! Neneh Cherry!) goes some way towards atoning for the R. Kelly and Odd Future controversies. Jul 18–20