Chicago's many green spaces aren't just great for lounging, jogging or beer-league kickball. During the summer, the Chicago Park District partners with more than 120 local cultural and arts organizations to present the ever-popular Night Out in the Parks programming, which brings a host of free events to neighborhood parks every year.
You may already know about some of the program's more notable events, like film screenings for Movies in the Parks or live circus performances. But did you know there's also full moon fire spinners, queer Pride house music parties, iconic country punk bands and huge honking nature puppets? Here's a look at just a few of the most exciting programs coming to your local parks this summer—all for free. For a full lineup, visit the Night Out in the Parks website.
Broadway in Your Backyard!
Channel your inner theatre kid with the ensemble from Porchlight Music Theatre. This 60-minute revue features some of the best heavy-hitter songs from the history of Broadway musicals, and some fun facts along the way. Just don't try to upstage the folks on stage when doing your best Idina Menzel impression—leave "Defying Gravity" to the professionals. August 30, Gill Park, 825 N Sheridan Rd
Free Street Theater: The Mild Goose Chase
Since its inception in the late 1960s, Free Street Theater has worked to bring creative, current and meaningful theatre performances to all of Chicago. In this collaboration with Chi Clowns, a clown wakes up to find that a part of her essence walked away. Through the adventure to find the part of her that left, she encounters a range of emotions like grief, loss and joy. This dynamic story is told through movement, puppets and clowning, a delightful experience for the whole family. July 26, Davis Square Park, 4430 S Marshfield Ave
Full Moon Fire Jam
If taking a road trip out to the desert for Burning Man is too tall of an order, the powerful Full Moon Jam will give you a tiny taste of that free desert spirit. Fire spinners, drummers and other performers come together for a family-friendly night on the lake with thrilling stunts and good vibes. June 13, Foster Beach, 5100 N Simonds Dr
One of the coolest aspects of Night Out in the Parks is getting to see world-class talent in your neighborhood for free. The Joffrey Ballet, one of the world's top dance companies, will be making several appearances throughout the summer season, including a Pilsen performance. This summer, they're showcasing Rita Finds Home, a family-friendly ballet performance for young audiences developed in collaboration with the Miami City Ballet. July 14, Harrison Park, 1824 S Wood St
M.A.D.D Rhythms Tribute to Nina Simone
M.A.D.D. Rhythms celebrates the history, legacy and expressiveness of tap dance as an art form. In their show for Night Out in the Parks, the troupe collaborates with live musicians and vocalists to pay tribute to Nina Simone, "the definition of a strong woman, genius musician, gifted storyteller and committed activist." July 8, West Pullman Park, 401 W 123rd St
Nature Puppets: Into the Wild!
Everyone loves puppets! The wildest show in the parks features ferocious big cats, tiny creepy crawly critters and everything in between, all lovingly rendered in puppet form. Jabberwocky Marionettes takes guests on an immersive, interactive journey through the world's various biomes, animating the puppets so they move through a musical soundscape. Multiple dates and locations
Red Clay Dance Company
Red Clay Dance Company seeks to inspire "glocal" change by creating, performing and teaching dances of the African diaspora. "Creating Fertile Grounds for Healing" is more than a dance performance; it's a community-based, intergenerational experience, including song, music, dance and agricultural tours at several of Urban Growers Collective's urban farms. June 11, Mahalia Jackson Park, 8385 S Birkhoff Ave
Storytime with Yes Ma'am Circus
The circus is in town, and in the parks! Bring the kids or just celebrate with your inner child as Yes Ma'am Circus shares folk and fairy tales from around the world. This mesmerizing show brings the fantastical stories to life through aerials, acrobatics and theatre arts. August 31, Arrigo Park, 801 S Loomis St
TRQPITECA Queer Pride
Enjoy great music and community during this wheelchair accessible, all-ages Pride celebration at one of Chicago's most beautiful parks! TRQPITECA brings the beat with DJs showcasing queer-centric house, techno and dance music, alongside art, community organizations and small businesses. June 26, Ping Tom Park, 300 W 19th St
The Waco Brothers at Horner Park
Since the early '90s, country-punks the Waco Brothers, led by Mekons founder Jon Langford, have been a mainstay of Chicago's live music scene, but their influence and impact spreads well beyond city boundaries. Darlings of critics and dive bar crowds alike, the band's cult following is largely attributable to their powerful live shows, and as part of this year's Night Out in the Parks, you can see them for free.99. Pull up a blanket and get there early—this one will get crowded. July 8, Horner Park, 2741 W Montrose Ave