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Millennium Park 2018 summer concert series lineup

Pack a picnic and see free rock, reggae and Latin music at Millennium Park Summer Music Series concerts

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Photograph: Todd Rosenberg Chicago Symphony Orchestra

When June arrives, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park hosts one of Chicago's most beloved summer traditions: the Millennium Park Summer Music Series. Attendees can pack picnic baskets, lay down a blanket and enjoy a free evening of performances from notable rock, reggae and Latin acts&mdash it's like a three-month summer music festival without the porta-potty lines and hours of standing in the sun.

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While there are only 10 free concerts in Millennium Park this year (down from 15 in 2017), the offerings are characteristically eclectic. Fans of progressive jazz will want to get a spot on the lawn for British quartet Sons of Kemet, while world music aficionados should be pleased with appearances by sitar-player Anoushka Shankar and reggae supergroup the Kingston All Stars. Plus, there's plenty of local talent to see, including headlining sets from indie rock veterans the Sea and Cake and rising folk-rockers Whitney.

Check out the full Millennium Park Summer Music Series lineup below, and begin planning your outdoor concert calendar. All performances begin at 6:30pm.

Free Millennium Park summer concerts

José James
Photograph: Courtesy Missing Piece Group
Music, Jazz

José James + Kahil El'Zabar Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Throughout his catalog of records for the Blue Note label, José James has demonstrated his ability to take jazz vocals and meld them with elements of modern pop music. During his Millennium Park Summer Music Series performance, Jame will pay tribute to the music of Bill Withers, the ‘70s R&B singer best known for hits like “Lean on Me” and “Ain't No Sunshine.” Veteran Chicago musician Kahil El'Zabar opens the evening, joined by his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, which performs jazz with traditional African instrumentation.

The Aces
Photograph: Courtesy Chuffmedia
Music, Rock and indie

The Aces + The New Respects

The four members of the Aces got their start playing high school rallies and events together, before graduating to larger venues in their hometown of Provo, Utah. Like their contemporaries HAIM, the all-female group's compositions draw on the glitzy production of ‘80s pop, imbuing crystalline vocal harmonies with angsty, youthful energy. Bright-eyed Tennessee rockers the New Respects support at the free Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

Sons of Kemet
Photograph: Pierrick Guidou
Music, Jazz

Sons of Kemet + Mélissa Laveaux

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, who plays with spacey jazz trio the Comet is Coming and has performed with the Sun Ra Arkestra, serves as the bandleader of the adventurous multi-cultural jazz outfit Sons of Kemet. The group's recent album, Your Queen is a Reptile, incorporates elements of bebop, reggae, dub and Afrobeat, resulting in a funky collection of tracks that present an intriguing blend of genres. Canadian singer-songwriter Mélissa Laveaux opens this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

Anoushka Shankar
Photograph: Courtesy the artist
Music, Latin and world

Anoushka Shankar + Hollie Cook

The daughter of famed sitar player Ravi Shankar (most famous for introducing the Beatles to the stringed Indian instrument), Anoushka began training under the tutelage of her father at the age of seven. Her recent record, Land of Gold, is a cinematic tribute to the plight of refugees around the world, featuring intricate sitar compositions as well as contributions from the likes of M.I.A. and German singer Alev Lenz. British reggae artist Hollie Cook opens this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

Willie Colon
Photograph: Courtesy the artist
Music, Latin and world

Willie Colón + Canalón de Timbiquí

Born in 1950, trombonist and bandleader Willie Colón signed a record contract by age 15, channeling the rhythms of Puerto Rico and Cuba through his compositions. Colón is perhaps best known for the string of albums he produced in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with singer Rubén Blades, which celebrated Latin culture and introduced a generation to the joyous sounds of Latin music. Afro-Colombian drum, marimba and vocal group Canalón de Timbiquí open this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

Kingston All Stars
Photograph: Courtesy the artist
Music, Reggae and dancehall

The Kingston All Stars + Funkadesi

Made up of musicians who've played with the likes of Toots & The Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Revolutionaries, the Kingston All Stars gathers some of the most talented reggae session players onstage. For this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert, the group will be joined by dancehall DJ and vocalist Sister Nancy, who you may recognize as the vocalist on the classic reggae track “Bam Bam” (which Kanye West sampled on “Famous”). Multicultural Chicago-based group Funkadesi opens the evening.

Aimee Mann
Photograph: Sheryl Nields
Music, Rock and indie

Aimee Mann + This is the Kit

You might feel like you have to be in the proper mood to listen to a sad song, but singer-songwriter Aimee Mann specialized in slow-moving, downcast ballads that are so beautiful and poignant, you don't necessarily have to shed a tear. Mann's Grammy-winning 2017 album, Mental Illness, might be her most melancholy collection of tracks to date, but her witty lyricism and pop sensibility makes it all the more enjoyable. Banjo-playing British folk singer-songwriter This is the Kit opens this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert. 

Photograph: Courtesy High Road Touring
Music, Rock and indie

Bahamas + Bad Bad Hats

“It wasn't long ago that I wasn't offered a show of any kind,” Afie Jurvanen sings on his ode to supporting bands, “Opening Acts”, summing up the blessing and curse of working in an industry that commodifies creativity. On Earthtones, the latest album released under his Bahamas moniker, Jurvanen shows off his warm baritone throughout a collection of easy-going, R&B-inflected songs. Minnesota indie-rockers Bad Bad Hat open this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

Photograph: Sandy Kim
Music, Rock and indie

Whitney + NE-HI

When Logan Square roommates Max Kakacek and Julian Ehrlich (former members of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, respectively) began making music together, they found inspiration in the lovelorn, soulful folk-rock of the Band and Neil Young. Whitney's 2016 debut, Light Upon the Lake, wears its heart on its tattered plaid sleeve, wistfully reflecting on failed relationships and youthful trysts atop easy-going horn arrangements. Fellow local indie rockers NE-HI get the evening started at this sure-to-be-packed Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

The Sea and Cake
Photograph: Heather Cantrell
Music, Rock and indie

The Sea and Cake + Moonrise Nation

Throughout nearly a quarter century together, Chicago indie-rock stalwarts the Sea and Cake have methodically honed a signature sound that mixes jazzy guitar chords with the breathy vocals of frontman Sam Prekop. The group's latest album, Any Day, is the more of a refinement than an evolution, reducing the group to a trio (following the departure of bassist Eric Claridge) and stripping back some of its usual electronic embellishments. It results in some of the Sea and Cake's warmest (and wordiest) songs to-date, reaffirming the band's singular style. Local indie rockers Moonrise Nation open this Millennium Park Summer Music Series concert.

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