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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas for Time Out

Here’s a look at Chicago’s lineup of summer festivals, concerts and cultural events

Take a look at the preliminary list of Open Culture events throughout the city

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

One of the many reasons that last summer felt strange was the lack of outdoor events, festivals, markets and concerts, which typically provide Chicagoans with plenty of choices for entertainment. During a press conference this afternoon, Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined representatives from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events as well as organizations like the Chicago Humanities Festival and the Goodman Theatre to announce the city's Open Culture initiative (running in tandem with the Open Chicago initiative), which marks the return of many annual events and the debut of new concerts, theater, public art and other summer happenings.

The lineup is preliminary but vast, and includes the return of familiar events like the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the Millennium Park Summer Music Series, Chicago SummerDance and the Maxwell Street Market. Notable new events include the Chicago Tune-in Festival, which will highlight local gospel, jazz, house music and blues artists with a series of concerts at Pritzker Pavilion (seemingly replacing the multi-day festivals usually devoted to these genres) and a pair of new dance performances, also at Pritzker Pavilion.

The events announced today are likely only the beginning of what we can expect during the summer. According to a release, "DCASE is currently reviewing Special Events applications for outdoor festivals, street and art/craft fairs, and athletic events." All events that are approved will be required to follow the latest health guidelines passed down by the city and state. And there's a decent chance that you'll need to plan ahead instead of just showing up to events this summer. For example, all events taking place at Pritzker Pavilion will require advance registration to attend, and officials are still determining the maximum capacity.

Read on for the complete list of newly- and previously-announced summer events and begin marking your calendar—it's looking like there will be considerably more things to do throughout Chicago this summer.

Events, concerts, exhibitions and festivals 

  • The return of Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts at Symphony Center, opening on May 27 
  • Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden: Shrouds by Faheem Majeed at Hyde Park Art Center, May 3–July 24 
  • Rosa’s Lounge, Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band on May 7  
  • Pivot Arts Festival, May 21 – June 5 
  • Chicago Latino Theater Alliance at Joe's on Weed Street on June 19 
  • The South Side Jazz Coalition's Jazzin' On The Steps on May 23  
  • Museum of Contemporary Art's Tuesdays on the Terrace kicking off June 1  
  • Old Town Art Fair on June 12 and 13 
  • "The Obama Portraits" at Art Institute of Chicago, June 18–August 15 
  • Pride in the Park on June 26 and 27 
  • School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play at the Goodman Theatre, reopening in August  
  • Othello at the Court Theatre, July 8–August 8 
  • Southport Art Fair on July 10 and 11 
  • Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40 at Smart Museum of Art, July 15–December 19 
  • Chinatown Summer Fair on July 31 and August 1
  • Jazz Institute of Chicago's Chicago Latin Jazz Festival on July 23 and 24 
  • Printers Row Lit Fest on September 11 and 12 
  • Hyde Park Jazz Festival on September 25 and 26 
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago 2021/22 season, opening with an all-new production of Verdi’s Macbeth on September 17  
  • Six at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, October 5–January 30, 2022 

Chicago Tune-in

Running from August 19 – September 19, this new citywide festival is will celebrate 2021 Year of Chicago Music. Free and ticketed concerts will be held at neighborhood venues, showcasing local performers and representing an array of genres. DCASE will present four special evenings at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, honoring music born and innovated in Chicago:

  • Gospel music (September 3)
  • Jazz (September 4)
  • House music (September 11)
  • Blues (September 18)

Millennium Park summer programming

Visitors can expect pop-up music, theatre, and dance performances throughout Millennium Park, starting in June. The Auditorium Theatre will present ABT Across America featuring American Ballet Theatre (July 8 at 7:30pm) as well as Dance for Life (August 26 at 6:30pm) presented by Chicago Dancers United. All events will require advance reservation for pavilion and lawn seating—capacity is still being dertermined. The summer programming lineup also includes some familiar events at Pritzker Pavilion, including:

  • Grant Park Music Festival (Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, July 2 – August 21 at 6:30–8pm)
  • Millennium Park Summer Music Series (Mondays, August 2–September 13 at 6–8:30pm, and Thursdays, September 2–16 at 6-8:30pm)
  • Millennium Park Summer Workouts (Saturdays, July 3–August 28 at 8:30am–12:15pm)

Chicago City Markets

Kicking off on kicking off May 15 at Division Street, Chicago City Markets will return to streets and parks this summer. That include farmers markets at Daley Plaza (Thursdays beginning May 27); the historic Maxwell Street Market (reopening June 6 with a new schedule: 1st and 3rd Sundays at 9am–3pm); plus more City Markets in Austin, Bronzeville, Englewood, Pullman, Roseland and West Humboldt Park.

New public art

The city has announced a series of new public art projects that will debut throughout Chicago this summer, including a new series of five large-scale banners on the Chicago Riverwalk near Michigan Avenue that will be installed in late May. Art on theMART will add a new segment called Hope is a Light: Select Works from the Chicago Public School Class of 2021 to its nightly projections on May 20. Plus, artists& Nick Cave and Bob Faust are curating Ways and Means, consisting of eight CTA railcars wrapped in artwork that focuses on "ways forward and the myriad means we use to get there." The interior of each railcar will be wrapped in a in kaleidoscopic pattern created from Cave’s artwork. 

Chicago SummerDance

Introductory dance lessons by professional instructors followed by live music and dancing will return to parks throughout the city, during August and September. Schedule, locations and other details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Taste of Chicago To-Go

Instead of a single event, Taste of Chicago will return in the form of special events throughout the city in July, August, and September. Look forward to a lineup of pop-up cooking demonstrations, the return of the "Community Eats" community meals program, and other special events promoting Chicago's restaurant industry.

Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center will reopen on June 2 with new exhibitions "Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford: League of Nations" and "what flies but never lands." "CHICAGO: Where Comics Came to Life, 1880–1960" will open on June 19.

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