When the temperatures rise, there's never a dull weekend in Chicago—it's the capital of summer music festivals. From Lollapalooza down to neighborhood street festivals, hundreds of bands eschew Chicago rock venues and grace the city's outdoor stages instead. You can splurge on a VIP experience or take in a free block party and still catch some of your favorite acts. Stock up on sunblock, pack some earplugs and hit the pavement, parks and Chicago beaches at some of the best Chicago summer music festivals.
Chicago summer music festivals
Do Division, the street shindig booked by Empty Bottle and Subterranean, kicks off the summer festival season during the first weekend of June. Spanning 10 city blocks, the annual celebration brings a selection of local vendors and restaurants to Division Street, as well as family activities, a sidewalk sale and a runway fashion show. The 2017 music lineup hasn't been announced yet, but you can expect a mix of indie rock, hip-hop, electronic acts and more.
The largest free blues festival in the world brings living legends and local 12-bar regulars to the city's front yard for three days of music. This year, the main stage moves to Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, leaving behind the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park that has hosted the festival for decades. Headliners for the 2017 edition of the festival include Texas blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr., Stax Records soul singer-songwriter William Bell and Che “Rhymefest” Smith (who will highlight the influence of blues on rap and hip-hop).
Have you ever been riding the Red Line on a weekend in mid-June and wondered, "Why are there so many people in here wearing neon tank-tops and Japanese kitten hats?" Well, duh, it is Spring Awakening Music Festival weekend. This year, Diplo, Armin Van Buuren, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, Marshmello and Galantis top the electronic-focued lineup. The party flows over into Chicago's best dance clubs with several after-parties. The festival takes place in Addams/Medill Park from June 9 to 11, 2017.
For country music fans in Chicago, there's no bigger event than the Country LakeShake Festival on Northerly Island. Headliners at this year's fest include Thomas Rhett, Miranda Lambert and Rascal Flatts—you'll also get to sing-along to "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" when Big & Rich show up on stage. In a city where most festivals tend to ignore country music, there's no better hootenanny in town.
Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and the National's Aaron Dessner curate this small music festival, set on a farm in Vernon's Wisconsin hometown. The lineup is filled with Chicago-based artists this year, including indie-rock heroes Wilco (as well as side projects like Tweedy and the Autumn Defense) and recent Grammy-winner Chance the Rapper. Other notable acts include Paul Simon, Feist, Danny Brown and, of course, Bon Iver (playing the music of songwriter John Prine). It's a five hour drive from Chicago, but this fest seems unique enough to warrant a weekend trip.
Each year, the Logan Square Arts Festival Illinois sets up stages, tents and kegs at the foot of the Centennial Monument square for three days of local art, food, beer and music. Headlining act at this year's festival include Canadian noise rockers METZ, local avant garde singer-songwriter Circuit des Yeux and Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis' solo project Sad13.
If you can't afford a vacation to the ocean this summer, you can at least enjoy some music with sand beneath your toes at Mamby on the Beach. The lakefront festival takes place on Oakwood Beach, featuring a mix of indie, electronic and hip-hop acts, including Walk the Moon, MGMT, Flying Lotus and Local Natives. Show off your new bathing suit, admire the skyline views and soak in beach season while you have the chance.
Alt-country and Americana music are the two presiding genres at the annual Square Roots festival, which returns to Lincoln Square in July. Presented in conjunction with the nearby Old Town School of Folk Music, attendees can take in sets from more than 70 bands spread across two indoor stages and two outdoor stages. Meanwhile, a craft beer tent serves up more than 30 different brews, including special batches and limited releases procured for the event.
Returning to Pilsen's Addams/Medill Park, Ruido Fest fills a void in Chicago's summer festival scene: Latin American rock en español, pop and electro. Past editions of the fest have included everything from ska to electronica, with artists hailing from Chile, Argentina and Mexico.
Befitting its location on the hip Chicago Avenue corridor, West Fest can be counted on for a great sleeper of a summer street fest bill. Empty Bottle programs the main stage, pulling together a lineup that typically includes a mix of indie and garage rockers. The 2017 lineup has yet to be announced, but it's certain to provide a fitting precursor to Pitchfork Music Festival the following weekend.
There are a few things you can expect to see at Pitchfork Music Festival each summer—a guy with a beard in short shorts; the summer collection from Urban Outfitters; and, most importantly, the hottest new bands in indie, hip-hop and the underground. This year, dance rockers LCD Soundsystem, R&B singer-songwriter (and Beyoncé's sister) Solange and hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest headline the fest. As ususal, it all takes place at Union Park from July 14 to 16, 2017.
Chicago's heavy metal and modern rock music festival is back for a second round of mosh pits, returning to Toyota Park in Bridgeview. This year, headliners include face-painted rockers KISS, nu-metal stalwarts Korn and mumbling heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne. Attendees will also be able to enjoy a craft beer tent (serving Iron Maiden's Trooper Beer, naturally) and vendors serving "gourmet man food," which is very similar to the fare you'll find at any other music festival.
It's back! The 13th edition of Lollapalooza will return to Grant Park from August 3 to 6, 2017, and you'll be able to enjoy four whole days of bands, heat and huge crowds near some of Chicago's best attractions. There's usually something for everyone, including plenty of opportunities to dance your ass off at Perry's Stage and after-parties at local rock music venues.
Chicago is known for its blues musicians, but these days it's more of a jazz city. The annual Chicago Jazz Festival celebrates contemporary improvisers and legendary players with four days of concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park. If you don't have Labor Day weekend plans, why not go see some musicians showing off their improvisational prowess?
Ah, Labor Day, the end of summer. Accordingly, North Coast Music Festival bills itself as "Summer's Last Stand." Curated and run by local club promoters React Presents, North Coast arguably delivers the most diverse bill of any Chicago music festival, from EDM to instrumental indie rock. This year, the party runs from September 1 to 3, 2017.
The Riot Fest music festival heads outside for its annual celebration September 15 to 17, 2017. The festival will return to Douglas Park (conveniently located near one of the city's best breweries) for the third consecutive year. Whether you prefer punk rock, indie bands or hip-hop, you'll probably find something worth checking out on the extensive lineup.