With a major event every weekend, Chicago is the capital of summer music festivals. From Lollapalooza down to neighborhood street festivals, hundreds of acts eschew Chicago rock venues and grace our outdoor stages instead. You can splurge on a VIP experience or take in a free block party and still catch some of your favorite bands. Stock up on sunblock, pack some earplugs and hit the pavement, parks and Chicago beaches at the best Chicago summer music festivals.
Chicago summer music festivals
Do Division 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. The main attraction (as usual) is a diverse music lineup, which includes noise rockers A Place to Bury Strangers, retro-styled singer-songwriter Diane Coffee and instrumental jazz and hip-hop act BADBADNOTGOOD.
Every summer, the Two Brothers Brewing Company puts together a weekend full of beer and music while rasing money for charity. This year, the festival moves to RiverEdge Park in downtown Aurora, where Cold War Kids, Lord Huron, The Lone Bellow and PHOX will headline the two-day event. The festival will also host the release of Two Brothers Hop Centric Double IPA and Hop Centric Black.
The largest free blues festival in the world brings living legends and local 12-bar regulars to Grant Park for three days of music. Those expecting Blues Brothers cover bands should steer clear (though you're likely to hear a few renditions of "Sweet Home Chicago"). The 2016 lineup includes Shemekia Copeland, Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, the Painkillers and more blues greats.
The city's biggest EDM summer music festival usually brings massive crowds and loads of neon clothing to Soldier Field. This year, the event is moving to Addams/Medill Park (the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament is taking over Soldier Field in June). The festival goes down June 10–12, featuring headliners such as Deadmau5, Steve Aoki, Flying Lotus and more great electronic acts.
Few street fests are as crafty as Remix Chicago, which celebrates artists that create handmade goods out of recycled items. While you're not browsing repurposed wares or attending an eco-friendly workshop, you can grab a beer and take in sets from New York indie-pop outfit Cults or punk rock outfit Shannon and the Clams.
After a successful first year, the LakeShake Festival returns to Northerly Island for three days of country music. This year, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw and Brooks & Dunn headline a Nashville-rich bill. The lakefront hoedown also features Martina McBride, Travis Tritt and Thomas Rhett—so dust off your cowboy hat and polish those boots. (Note: There are no single-day tickets available for this festival.)
On the same streets as some of Chicago's (and America's) best-known restaurants, this West Loop fest boasts six blocks of food, drink and music. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the event is welcoming 20 restaurant, including Belly Q, Gus's Fried Chicken, Publican Quality Meats and Cemitas Puebla. Swedish indie-pop act Peter, Bjorn and John, electro duo MS MR and Australian rockers Atlas Genius headline the music lineup.
This environmentally conscious Wicker Park festival takes over Damen Avenue, bringing green vendors, food and biodiesel- and bicycle-powered (you can help electrify a stage by pedaling a stationary bike) live music to the neighborhood for two nights. The 2016 lineup boasts rootsy rockers Black Joe Lewis and Langhorne Slim as well as King Khan & The Shrines, Waxahatchee and Broncho.
Celebrity cook, talk show host and author Rachael Ray brings her Feedback food and music festival (which she hosts annually at SXSW) to the Lincoln Park Zoo for a night of tasty treats and tunes. Singer-songwriter Grace Potter and soul outfit Lee Fields and the Expressions have been tapped to headline, alongside a lineup of local acts. Each ticket includes complimentary tasting items, in addition to access to a variety of dishes and drinks available for purchase.
Last year, the Logan Square Arts Festival (formerly the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival) moved back to the Illinois Centennial Monument square for three days of local art, food, cocktails and music. This year, the event boasts headliners such as soulful R&B singer-songwriter Xenia Rubinos, punk trio Screaming Females and Americana rockers Blitzen Trapper.
Chicago loves a good sausage, so it's only appropriate there's not one, but several sausage-oriented festivals this summer. Occurring just outside of the Abbey Pub, attendees will be able to munch on a variety of encased meats from the likes of Byron's, Paulina Meat Market, Genoa Italian and more, all while enjoying music by Local H, Murder by Death and a bunch of local acts.
World's largest? Um, don't call Guinness. Old St. Patrick's Church hosts this beast of a block party to benefit area education and outreach programs. This year, the festival once again takes up residence in a parking lot on Morgan Street between Taylor & Roosevelt, welcoming local food trucks to feed hungry attendees. Musical headliners include Passion Pit, JD McPherson and 7th Heaven.
React Presents, the fine folks behind Spring Awakening, deliver another killer festival—on a beach! The South Side sand show takes place on Oakwood Beach, featuring a mix of indie, electronic and hip-hop acts. The 2016 lineup includes Animal Collective, Santigold, Chet Faker and Chromeo. There's also an extra stage to the south of the beach the year, for even more lakefront fun.
Chicago's annual celebration of house music, the Chosen Few Old School Reunion Picnic, gets a makeover this summer, transforming into a full-fledged two-day music festival in Jackson Park. On Saturday, guests can pack a basket and take in performances from the event's namesake DJs, as well as guests like Joe Claussell, Harry Dennis and Curtis McClain. Sunday's lineup highlights soul, R&B and jazz performers, including vibraphone player Roy Ayers and R&B singer Cheryl Lynn.
Since 1980, Grant Park has been hosting what has become the granddaddy of food festivals. You know the drill: Trade tickets for a taste of Chicago's street fare. The event also hosts a solid lineup of bands—past performers include Weezer, Janelle Monáe and Robin Thicke. Expect a similarly strong lineup in 2016.
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. This year's lineup includes performances by Lydia Loveless, Cracker, My Brightest Diamond, Debo Band and more. Meanwhile, a craft beer tent serves up more than 30 different brews, including special batches and limited released procured for the event.
Returning to Pilsen's Addams/Medill Park Ruido Fest filled an empty void in Chicago's summer festival scene—Latin American rock en español, pop and electro. The 2016 edition of the event brings variety of Spanish-speaking acts to the stage, including headliners such as Argentinian ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Chilean rockers La Ley and Mexico City pop rock outfit Maldita Vecindad. Other notable artists on the bill include Mexican punk rock band Le Butcherettes, experimental electronic musician Helado Negro and hardcore synth outfit Hong Kong Blood Opera. ¡Qué bueno!
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 includes reunited indie rockers Luna, Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn and grunge-y Nashville act Bully. The DJ stage boasts sets from local selectors Mark Farina, Derrick Carter and Jevon Jackson. If you can stomach yet another summer street festival, it's the perfect lead-in to the Pitchfork Music Festival the following weekend.
New Belgium Brewery brings its signature celebration of bikes and beer to Palmer Square for another year of freaky fun. The day begins with a bike parade and continues with circus performers and live music in Palmer Square Park—this year, Dr. Dog and Mucca Pazza headline. The environmentally conscious festival benefits West Town Bikes and culminates with one lucky attendee trading his or her car in for a brand new bicycle.
Pitchfork Music Festival returns to Chicago for its 11th year in 2016. As in years past, you can see buzzy new acts, some indie rock legends and at least a day's worth of hip-hop. This year, Brian Wilson shows up to perform the classic Pet Sounds LP, Broken Social Scene plays slick post-rock and Miguel closes out the weekend with sultry R&B. It's also your summer destination for people-watching in the shade.
Chicago has EDM, jazz, blues and psych-rock festivals, but until now, the city has never hosted an event that exclusively showcases modern rock and metal artists. That will change when Chicago Open Air debuts at Toyota Park in July (during the same weekend as the Pitchfork Music Festival), an event that will be headlined by German industrial metal act Rammstein, Disturbed, Korn and Marilyn Manson. The fest will also feature craft beer and something called "gourmet man food."
The Crotch hosts this hipster-friendly fest that features three stages of Pitchfork-quality tunes on the cheap. While you're not shopping at record stores and vintage shops, drinking beer or eating donuts, you can catch concerts on three different stages. In 2016, hyper-literate folk trio the Mountain Goats, reunited San Diego punks Rocket from the Crypt, cheerful indie pop act Alvvays and scrappy Canadian rockers Pup headline the fest.
It's back! The 12th edition of Lollapalooza returns to Grant Park from July 28–31, 2016. That's right—to celebrate the festival's 25th birthday, you'll be able to enjoy four whole days of bands, heat and huge crowds. This year, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem and Lana Del Rey top a gigantic bill of more than 170 artists. Start stretching your legs and stocking up on sunscreen.
The inaugrual Reggae Fest Chicago comes to Addams/Medill Park, bringing a lineup that includes some of the genre's biggest stars. Legendary Jamaican outfit Toots and the Maytals headlines the one-day festival, which also features dub producer Lee "Scratch" Perry and Brooklyn Afrobeat group the Budos Band.
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. Highlights of the 2016 lineup include the avant-garde leaning Liberation Music Orchestra and modern jazz combo the Bad Plus, playing Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction.
The arrival of Labor Day means that Chicago's top hip-hop, jam, EDM and indie rock festival has also arrived. North Coast Music Festival hits Union Park from September 2–4, attracting an eclectic crowd with a lineup that bounces between genres. This year, EDM heavyweights Zedd and Bassnectar are joined by Sleigh Bells, Vulfpeck and more great acts.
After a successful first year in Douglas Park, Riot Fest will return to the West Side on September 16–18. As usual, the 2016 edition of the festival will feature carnival rides and an exciting slate of performers, including a reunited lineup of the Misfits, Morrissey, Death Cab For Cutie, Ween and more great acts. Sew some more patches on your jean jacket and get ready for a hardcore weekend of fun.
Now, 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, this little music (and literature, and technology) festival annually puts together a stellar lineup that is like a medium size Pitchfork. In 2016, Future Islands, Vince Staples and Wolf Parade top a bill rounded out by indie favorites like Aloha, Alvvays, Car Seat Headrest and Joan of Arc.
Goose Island throws its annual street bash outside its West Town production facility, welcoming a stacked lineup of bands and plenty of thirsty attendees. On Friday, punk act Against Me! headlines the party, accompanied by sets from the Aggrolites, Beach Slang, Low Cut Connie, Akasha, Clearance and Robert Rolfe Feddersen. On Saturday afternoon, bask in the throwback Americana of Dawes and stick around for White Denim, Jr. Jr., Whitney, Meat Wave, Al Scorch and Swimsuit Addition. All proceeds benefit a local charity, so feel free to drink a few beers—they're all $3.
Instead of simply playing a concert in Chicago, Chance the Rapper is turning the hometown date of his Magnificent Coloring World Tour into a one-day music festival. The Chicago-native emcee will turn in a headlining performance at U.S. Cellular Field, preceded by a host of guests, including EDM heavyweight Skrillex, R&B singer John Legend and Odd Future head honcho Tyler the Creator. Alicia Keys, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert are also scheduled to appear (and we wouldn't rule out additional special guests).
Common's locally-focused hip-hop showcase returns to Union Park after skipping the crowded festival season last summer. This year, the festivities take place over the course of two days, beginning with the free Community Showcase on Saturday, which allows local talent to audition for a spot on stage the following day. On Sunday, it's the Main Stage event, which will feature a (yet-to-be-announced) lineup of hip-hop and R&B performers. Don't expect Kayne West to show up unannounced again this year—he'll be busy with his own tour.
Each fall, Hyde Park comes alive with wailing saxophones and walking bass lines as jazz performers fill the neighborhood's venues at this two-day festival. Highlights of this year's lineup include pianist Randy Weston, rising Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill and a collaboration between acclaimed saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the Spektral Quartet.