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Windy City Smokeout
Photograph: Katie Kauss KDK Creative

Music festivals are officially returning to Chicago this summer

The city's festival season will kick off with the Windy City Smokeout in July.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

We've known that many music festivals—including Riot Fest and the new ARC Music Festival—were making plans for September, but the city's new Open Chicago initiative is accelerating the timeline for the return of large-scale events featuring live music. During a press conference this morning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was joined by Lettuce Entertain You president R.J. Melman to announce that country music festival Windy City Smokeout will kick off Chicago's summer festival season in July.

The four-day event is scheduled to take place from July 8 through 11 in the parking lot by the United Center, featuring headlining sets from country artists Brett Eldredge, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley and Jon Pardi. Windy City Smokeout also features barbecue cuisine provided by pitmasters from throughout the country, including Houston, Texas's Truth BBQ and Nashville's Peg Leg Porker. Tickets for the event are currently on sale, with prices ranging from $35 for a single-day ticket to $625 for a four-day VIP pass.

According to Melman, Windy City Smokeout organizers are consulting with experts to ensure the safety of attendees at the event. The festival be making use of Health Pass by Clear, an app that allows individuals to keep track of their COVID-19 test results and verify the status of an individual's COVID-19 vaccination, clearing them for entry. It's unclear if the event will also make use of the city's recently-announced Vax Pass, which we're expecting to learn more about next month.

Windy City Smokeout will welcome 12,500 attendees per day, and all vendors, performers, ticketholders, and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated attendees will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of entry to the event.

Of course, Windy City Smokeout is only the beginning of the city's plans to make this summer look more like pre-pandemic summers in Chicago. The entire roster of returning events was not announced, but Mayor Lightfoot mentioned the return of street festivals—and a cursory glance at their respective website shows that local production companies like Amdur Productions and Star Events have several Chicago-based festivals and art fairs on their slates.

"Obviously we're in conversations with the people who have big iconic events over the course of the summer. Those events take a lot of lead time, we can't just flip the switch and turn on something as big as Lolla or other big outdoor events," Mayor Lightfoot said, referencing the rumored return of annual summer festivals like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork Music Festival.

The city's announcements weren't restricted to music festivals—Movies in the Park will be back beginning on July 6 and July 11 will mark the launch of new initiative called Sundays on State that will shut down State Street between Madison and Lake in the Loop, making way for live music and other activations. 

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