Rock on at Chicago’s best summer music festivals

Summer music festivals take over Chicago for three months every year—here are the ones you shouldn't skip

Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

When 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

Chicago House Music Festival

Chicago is the birthplace of house music, so it stands to reason that the city hosts a festival celebrating the homegrown genre. The free event brings DJs to Millennium Park and showcases the various styles of house music that have developed since it was popularized in local nightclubs in the early ‘80s. Expect to see plenty of local talent, some amazing dancers and a few international acts that have fell in love with the pulsing beat of house music.

Until Sat May 26

Ravinia Festival

The music at the Ravinia Festival in suburban Highland Park runs all summer long from June 1 through September 16, with rock, pop or classical concerts nearly every night. You can spring for pricey pavilion seats or snag a lawn ticket and pack a picnic feast. Highlights of the 2018 lineup include the Who frontman Roger Daltrey (June 23, 25), Allison Krauss (June 15), Buddy Guy (July 8), the Beach Boys (Aug 24), and—inexplicably—50 Cent (Sept 6).

By: Zach Long
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Do Division Street Fest

Do Division, the street shindig booked by Empty Bottle and Subterranean, kicks off the summer festival season during the first weekend of June. Spanning ten 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. Indie rock veterans Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, garage rockers La Luz and afrobeat band Antibalas headline the music lineup at this year's fest.

Until Sun Jun 3

Chicago Blues Festival

Chicago honors its history as a destination for musicians by hosting the largest free blues festival in the world, bringing living legends and local 12-bar players to Millennium Park. This year, Pritzker Pavilion hosts headlining sets from Mavis Staples and Fantastic Negrito, as well as a tribute to blues harpist Little Walter and Chicago label Delmark Records. During the day, local acts perform on side stages, giving you plenty of time to snag a spot on the lawn.    

Until Sun Jun 10
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Nickelodeon SlimeFest

Live out your ‘90s kid dreams at Nickelodeon's very first SlimeFest in Chicago—a two-day, family-friendly festival that features live music, Nick stars and buckets of the network's signature green goop. One Direction singer-songwriter Liam Payne, "Low" rapper Flo Rida and EDM producer Zedd headline the music stage, while actors like Kel Mitchell, Ella Anderson and Breanna Yde will be taking selfies with fans. There's also an activity area featuring games and the opportunity to get slimed.

Until Sun Jun 10

Spring Awakening Music Festival

For one weekend each summer, Chicago's club kids get out of bed before noon and join the party at Spring Awakening Music Festival in Addams/Medill Park. Running from June 8 to 10, 2018, the three-day EDM fest boasts headlining sets from Deadmau5, Steve Aoki and Tiësto, accompanied by intricate stages, confetti and pyrotechnics.

By: Zach Long
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Taste of Randolph

In the heart of restaurant row, on the same streets as some of Chicago's (and America's) best-known restaurants, this West Loop fest boasts six blocks of food, drinks and music. This year, R&B crooner Allen Stone, Americana trio the Devil Makes Three, psychedelic soul group Chicano Batman and neo-soul singer Mayer Hawthorne headline the festivities.

Until Sun Jun 17

Country LakeShake Festival

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 The Voice judge (and Sexiest Man Alive, according to People magazine) Blake Shelton, singer-songwriter Dierks Bentley and bro-country duo Florida Georgia Line. In a city where most festivals tend to ignore country music, this is the hootenanny that Nashville devotees have been waiting for.

Fri Jun 22 - Sun Jun 24
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Ruido Fest

Returning to Pilsen's Addams/Medill Park, Ruido Fest fills a void in Chicago's summer festival scene, championing the diverse sounds of Latin American rock en español, pop and electro. Mexico City rock act Caifanes and cumbia sonidera revivalists Los Ángeles Azules headline this year's festival, joined by acts like Panteón Rococó, Plastilina Mosh and Dread Mar-I.

Fri Jun 22 - Sun Jun 24

Logan Square Arts Festival

Each year, the Logan Square Arts Festival Illinois sets up stages, tents and kegs at the foot of the Centennial Monument square and hosts three days of local art, food, beer and music. This year, dance-rockers !!! (Chk Chk Chk), punk outfit Priests, Chicago hip-hop producer OddCouple and electro-pop band SSION top the lineup at this community-focused fest.

Fri Jun 22 - Sun Jun 24
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Mamby on the Beach

There are only a few months each year that Chicagoans can actually enjoy the city's beaches, so you better believe we're gonna throw a music festival on one of them. Local rapper Common, rising hip-hop artist Russ and indie-rock veterans Spoon, Grizzly Bear and Cold War Kids headline this year's edition of Mamby on the Beach, which brings stages, a DJ tent and volleyball courts to the shores of Lake Michigan.

Sat Jun 23 - Sun Jun 24

Tour de Fat

New Belgium Brewery brings its annual celebration of bikes and beer to Humboldt Park this year, setting up a stage by the park's iconic boathouse. L.A. alt-rock duo Best Coast headline the event, which features live entertainment, a bike pit filled with DIY creations and lots of New Belgium's signature beers available for purchase. The day will kick off with Tour de Fat's bike parade, which allows cyclists to take a slow ride through the surrounding neighborhood.

30 Jun 2018
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West Fest

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. Folk-rocker Kevin Morby and local hip-hop emcee Joey Purp top this year's music lineup, joined by Chicago acts like Ohmme, Varsity and oddCouple. The event also features a Pet Fest and a Kids Fest, stocked with activities for your little ones and four-legged friends.

Fri Jul 6 - Sun Jul 8

Chosen Few DJs Music Festival

In 1990, a group of Chicago house DJs and a small group of friends gathered in Jackson Park for an impromptu concert. Today, the Chosen Few DJs spin tracks for thousands of fans each summer, joined by a selection of guests, including production collective Basement Boys, remix artist Ralphi Rosario and local singer Sheree Hicks. Attendees can bring a picnic basket, set up a tent or hit the dance floor to groove along to a day of slick house beats.

07 Jul 2018
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Live in Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park hosts a music festival devoted to jam bands, reggae and roots rock at this new event, which should provide a fitting comedown from Fourth of July celebrations. Reggae act Michael Franti and Spearhead headline the fest on Saturday night and Phish bassist Mike Gordon closes out the weekend on Sunday evening. Live in Lincoln Park also features sets from the Original Wailers, Collie Buddz, Cory Wong, Pimps of Joytime and more great acts.

Sat Jul 7 - Sun Jul 8

Taste of Chicago

The smorgasbord of local food may be what Taste of Chicago is best known for, but the lineup of free concerts at the Grant Park festival is just as enticing. While you're enjoying food truck fare (or a slice of Eli's Cheesecake), you'll be able to catch performances from the likes of the Flaming Lips, Brandi Carlile, George Clinton and more. All performances are free to attend (just like Taste of Chicago itself), but you'll need to purchase a ticket if you want to snag a seat at the Petrillo Music Shell concerts, which take place July 11–15.

By: Zach Long
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Square Roots Festival

Alt-country, folk and Americana music take the spotlight at Square Roots, a street festival that takes over the main drag of Lincoln Square. Alt-country pioneers the Jayhawks, Americana explorer Pokey LaFarge, and Appalachian folk duo the Handsome Family are among the headlining acts on the diverse music lineup. The event also features multiple craft beer gardens, food from local restaurants and a market stocked with goods from area businesses.

Fri Jul 13 - Sun Jul 15

Windy City Smokeout

Spend a weekend eating barbecue and listening to country music at the Windy City Smokeout, which fills a parking lot with some of the country's best pitmasters and musicians. Sample smoked meats cooked by BBQ masters from Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennesee while you listen to twangy tunes from the likes of Brett Eldredge, Brothers Osborne, Ashley McBryde and Aaron Lewis. Dust off your cowboy hat, tie a bib around your neck and dig into this weekend of delicious meat and music.

Fri Jul 13 - Sun Jul 15
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Pitchfork Music Festival

Some people attend Pitchfork Music Festival for the rising bands and underground acts that simply don't get booked at other Chicago fests. Others enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and relatively small footprint of the annual event, which is one of the most family-friendly fests around. If you've never experienced a weekend at Union Park during Pitchfork, clear your schedule from July 20 to 22, 2018 and prepare for headlining sets from Tame Impala, Fleet Foxes and Ms. Lauryn Hill.

By: Zach Long

Wicker Park Fest

Wicker Park may be overrun with chain restaurants and gigantic shoe stores, but the neighborhood still clears out Milwaukee Avenue for a street celebration each summer. The main attraction of the annual fest is the Pitchfork-quality music lineup, which features synth-pop act Porches, punk rockers Against Me!, stoner metal act Red Fang and singer-songwriter Ezra Furman. You'll also find plenty of delicious food, sales at local shops and twentysomethings watching the festivities from rooftops and balconies.

Milwaukee Ave and North Ave , Wicker Park Friday July 27 2018 - Sunday July 29 2018
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Lollapalooza

The reigning behemoth of Chicago's summer music festival returns to Grant Park from August 2 to 5, 2018 for another four days of bands, heat and gigantic crowds. The Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Jack White and Arctic Monkeys headline this year's lineup, which also includes St. Vincent, Franz Ferdinand, The National, Brockhampton and more. Making it through all four days of the fest is a test of endurance, but we believe if you.

By: Zach Long

Big Evanston Block Party

Chicago's neighbors to the north throw an end of the summer blow-out at the Big Evanston Block Party, which take place on the city's main drag. The street festival is a two-day affair, headlined by stalwart indie-rock act Guided By Voices (August 25) and alt-country outfit the Old 97s. Admission is free and the Purple Line will drop you off right by the event's entrance, so why not take a weekend trip?

Dempster St and Chicago Ave , Evanston Saturday August 25 2018 - Sunday August 26 2018
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Chicago Jazz Festival

Chicago may be best 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 free concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park. This year, the festivities expand to local music venues, where performers will play free shows from August 24 through 29. Headliners include composer, pianist and radio personality Ramsey Lewis; noted jazz vocalists Kurt Elling and Dianne Reeves; and funk legend Maceo Parker.

Millennium Park | Chicago, IL , Millennium Park Thursday August 30 2018 - Sunday September 2 2018

North Coast Music Festival

If you're the type of person who enjoys EDM, jam bands, hip-hop and waving around objects on sticks at music festivals, you'll fit right in at North Coast. The supremely chill Labor Day weekend event is one of the only fests that is scheduled around a three-day weekend, which gives you an extra day to recover before you head back to work.

Union Park , West Loop Friday August 31 2018 - Sunday September 2 2018
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World Music Festival

Music is the language that transcends borders, and each September the city invites performers from across the globe to come to Chicago and expand our vocabulary. The annual World Music Festival is a multi-week event that brings artists from India, Africa, Ireland and China to venues throughout the city. Open your mind to new sounds and experience you'll be able to hear buoyant Afrobeat, festive mariachi performances, classical Indian music and more eclectic genres during the festival. Best of all, most of the concerts are free to attend.    

Various venues , Loop Friday September 7 2018 - Sunday September 23 2018

Riot Fest

There's only one festival that annually hosts unprecedented band reunions, carnival rides, sideshow acts and a performance by GWAR. We're talking about Riot Fest, which returns to Douglas Park from September 14 to 16 with corn dogs, band T-shirts and beer in tow. This year, Blink-182, Beck, Blondie, Elvis Costello and more nostalgic acts top the bill, making it the perfect place to cap off summer fest season.

By: Zach Long
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