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Riot Fest 2016, Sunday
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

The best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Find the best things to do in Chicago this weekend with our guide to concerts, exhibitions, festivals and more.

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Written by
Zach Long
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The month of music festivals continues this weekend, as Riot Fest takes over Douglass Park, the Ear Taxi Festival's diverse lineup of concerts begins and the Englewood Jazz Festival presents a day of performances. It's also a big weekend for suburban Oktoberfest celebrations, with Metra accessible festivals taking place in Downers Grove and Tinley Park. Plus, you can head to Oak Park to explore 10 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, run a 5K race that ends in the home of the White Sox, shop more than 100 vendors at the Renegade Craft Fair in Wicker Park and explore a new Barbara Kruger at the Art Institute of Chicago. Fill up the next few days with even more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Chicago right now

Things to do this weekend in Chicago

  • Art
  • Contemporary art
  • Grant Park

Don't call this one a retrospective. Yes, the Art Institute's exhibition of Barbara Kruger's work encompasses four decades of her career, but "THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU." isn't stuck in the past. Instead, the display takes Kruger's vintage works and presents it alongside new pieces that build upon them, unlocking new context and meaning. Spread throughout the museum, guests will find rooms wrapped in Kruger's imagery, installations in the Regenstein galleries and pieces that inhabit the exterior walls of the museum (as well as billboards, bus stops and storefronts around Chicago). Expect to see Kruger's biting sense of humor on display—often spelled out in big, bold letters.

  • Music
  • Classical and opera

While there's no shortage of events packed with rock, hip-hop and jazz acts, the Ear Taxi Festival highlights performers that don't usually hit the festival circuit, including contemporary classical, experimental, improvisational and electronic musicians. The theme of this year's lineup is “HEAR CHICAGO,” bringing together more than 600 individual artists to for approximately 100 events over the course of the festival, ranging from string ensembles and operas to grant writing workshops and dance.

The festival is divided into two series: The Spotlight Series Concerts (artist-presented shows) and the Mainstage Series Concerts (performances showcasing Chicago-made music). Highlights of the various programs include a new commission from flutist Janice Misurell-Mitchell, new works from bassist Matt Ullery and his jazz orchestra, a world premiere from classical vocal quartet Fourth Coast Ensemble and a collaboration between singer and clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid and saxophonist Isaiah Collier.

Find a complete schedule of performances (along with a list of venues) at the Ear Taxi Festival website.

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals

Every two years, Chicago becomes a global hub of architecture and design during the Chicago Architecture Biennial. This year's edition takes place across three months, filling vacant lots with site-specific architectural projects and presenting a pair of exhibitions at the Bronzeville Artist Lofts and the Graham Foundation. The theme of this year's Biennial is "The Available City," presenting projects and conversations that respond to and expand upon the question of "who gets to participate in the design of a city?"

Highlights of this year's programming include a circular outdoor meeting space designed by Matri-Archi(tecture) in a lot on 63rd Street in Woodlawn and a pair of exhibitions at the Bronzeville Artist Lofts and the Graham Foundation that feature projects by a global group of architects and designers, hailing from New York, Porto, Paris and Beijing. Plus, a series of Activation Weekends will activate the various Biennial installations throughout the city, welcoming performers, experts and cultural programming.

Stay up-to-date on the latest programming and activations by visiting the Chicago Architecture Biennial website.

  • Movies

See more than 30 films from China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.S. and Canada during the latest edition of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema screening series, which will include in-person, drive-in and online screenings. This season opens with a showing of Jessica Kingdom's Ascension, a documentary examining the effect of capitalism and consumerism on China's growing class divide; later, catch Kan Eguchi's action-comedy flick The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn't Kill and Chan Kin Long's neo-noir drama Hand Rolled Cigarette. For a complete schedule, visit the Asian Pop-Up Cinema website.

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals

Chicago Gourmet, the annual food festival hosted by the Illinois Restaurant Association, returns this year with a month-long lineup of smaller events and dinners celebrating the city's dining scene. Normally a three-day event, the lengthened version of the festival is dropping the massive Grand Tasting event (which is scheduled to come back in 2022) in favor of an expanded version of its Go Gourmet events—featuring multi-course dinners and parties hosted by local culinary luminaries—plus returning events like the Hamburger Hop, Rick Bayless' Tacos & Tequila, Grand Cru and more. 

You can view a full festival schedule on Chicago Gourmet's website, where you can also buy tickets to individual events. Attendees are required to present proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of the start of the event. 

  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

The folks behind the Publican know a thing or two about great pork and beer, so an Oktoberfest dinner at the popular Fulton Market restauarant is a no-brainer. This year, the celebration will take place across two weeks, giving even more diners an opportunity to take part in the festivities. Hardcore Oktoberfest revelers will want to snag tickets to parties on September 19 and October 3, which will feature eight family-style courses of German-inspired dishes like pork schnitzel, Publican Quality Meats sausages and pretzels (plus, plenty of beer!). From September 17 through October 3, guests will also be able to order from a menu featuring six family style courses of traditional German fare.

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  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Museum Campus

One of the Field Museum's most popular traveling exhibitions (which debuted in Chicago in 2014) returns home, using interactive displays to showcase how the bodies of animals operate much like machines. Visitors can use a pump to see how a giraffe's heart is able to send blood all the way up its neck or take in footage of a cheetah running to see how it's able achieve incredible speeds.

  • Art
  • Street art
  • River North

It's been more than a decade since a genuine Banksy work was spotted in Chicago, but you can see 80 of the street artist's creation in this exhibition. "The Art of Banksy" is an unauthorized show collecting canvasses, screen prints, sculptures and other pieces that the enigmatic artist made between 1997 and 2008, including the now-famous images "Flower Thrower" and "Girl with Balloon."

Presented by the same folks behind the "Immersive Van Gogh" experience, the opening ot the "The Art of Banksy" has been stymied by a recent venue change—the show was originally scheduled to open at the Epiphany Center of the Arts, but organizers and the owners of the West Loop venue parted ways. Now, the exhibition will be housed on the fourth floor of 360 N State Street, in the same building that hosts the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

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  • Art
  • Architecture
  • Loop

Best known locally for designing the James R. Thompson Center and Terminal 1 (including its popular neon-lit walkway) at O'Hare International Airport, German-born architect Helmut Jahn spent his career pursuing distinctive visions. In light of his recent passing after being struck while riding a bicycle in suburban Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Center presents a career retrospective, exploring his work and the enduring legacy of the structures he designed.

Showcasing a collection of personal and professional items loaned by Jahn’s family and firm, the exhibit traces his path, beginning with his days as a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Guests can take in photography, models and sketches of Jahn's most famous designs, including the Sony Center in Berlin and the Michigan City Public Library. You'll also get a peek at more recent projects like Chicago's 1000M and the Pritzker Military Archives, which is currently under construction in Somers, Wisconsin.

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  • Art
  • Contemporary art
  • Streeterville

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents a survey that encapsulates two decades of work by Pakistani artist Bani Abidi, a former student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Known for her video, photography and sound works, Abidi satirizes displays of power and nationalism as she explores the geopolitical relationship between India and Pakistan as well as the historical power struggles of South Asia. The exhibit takes its name from Abidi's watercolor series "The Man Who Talked Until He Disappeared," which depicts writers, political leaders and bloggers from Pakistan that have disappeared over the past decade.

  • Theater
  • Experimental
  • Lake View

Since 1997, a trio of performers covered in bright blue paint have headlined the Briar Street Theater in Lakeview. The Blue Man Group's show has evolved throughout the years, incorporating new compositions, narratives and state-of-the-art technology. But at its core, this production is all about combining percussion, music, physical comedy and buckets of brightly-colored paint in ways that make you want to jump out of your seat and dance along to the beat.

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Loop

Looking for a less conventional kind of escape room to check out in Chicago? Visitors are tasked with deciding the fate of a man accused of murder in this new, multi-room immersive experience in the South Loop, which uses projections, live actors and other tools to challenge the internal biases involved in our day-to-day decisions as well as the criminal justice system.

Located inside the Roosevelt Collection Shops, the 90-minute experience takes visitors through a weaving set of storylines and sets in a Clue-like pursuit of figuring out who's responsible for a crime; in the process, the exhibit explores elements racism, ageism, classism and other social issues that affect the criminal justice system. Visitors will have an hour to examine the case and come to a decision and then an additional 30 minutes for photo opportunities. 

  • Art
  • Design
  • Loop

Comic artist and author Chris Ware and historian Tim Samuelson curate an exhibition devoted to the early days of the comic strip. Showcasing work from the period of 1880 to 1960, the exhibit includes early strips that ran in newspapers as well as work by African-American cartoonists and publishers. The exhibit also pays tribute to Frank King, who penned "Gasoline Alley," creating one of the very first autobiographical comics based on real Chicagoans and the neighborhoods they lived in. If you've already seen the Museum of Contemporary Art's “Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now” exhition, this show will give you an even deeper understanding of the artforms ties to the Second City.

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  • Time Out Market
  • West Loop

Every Sunday from 11am to 3pm, Time Out Market Chicago's chefs offer a variety of delicious brunch dishes, from Hangover Ramen with shrimp and smoked pork to a stack of Buttermilk Pancakes layered with whipped mascarpone. Order as much as you want, grab a mimosa pitcher from the bar and stick around from 1 to 3pm for a set of tunes from the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective. 

  • Art
  • Digital & interactive
  • Loop

Not to be confused with that other interactive Van Gogh exhibit in Chicago, "Van Gogh for All" is a pop-up experience that allows visitors to become a part of the artist's most famous works. There's a replica of Van Gogh’s bedroom that you can sit inside of, a12-foot-wide interactive rendition of Starry Night and a chance to create your own self-portrait.

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  • Comedy
  • Uptown

This weekly “live magazine” is a cavalcade of culture, politics and wit featuring journalists, actors, comedians and musicians offering idiosyncratic reports on the news of the day. Head to Uptown’s iconic Green Mill for drinks, hot takes and laughs; the longstanding Saturday afternoon edition tends to run about two and a half hours.

  • Bars
  • Ukrainian Village

One of the things we missed most last summer was Sportsman's Club backyard BBQ series, which brings a local restaurant to the bar's patio to cook a meal that's usually paired with a beverage. Thankfully, the events are back in action this summer—the Sunday afternoon gatherings begin on July 4th with a hot dog cookout and feature spots like Jeff & Judes, Lula Cafe and Rose Mary among the lineup. For the uninitiated, the takeovers are first-come, first-served, with the featured chef holding court over the bar's grill and menu. To help restaurants as they rebound, prices will vary this year, but for around $20 guests are treated to a heaping plate of food and a beverage pairing—with the option to add a la carte items for an additional fee.

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  • Art
  • Old Town

Step inside of Starry Night and The Bedroom in Arles with the help of more than 75 digital projectors in this high-tech exhibition that explores the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Designed by the Italian creative team that worked on the "Atelier des Lumières" exhibitions in Paris, "Immersive Van Gogh" covers 35-foot walls with animated versions of the Dutch painters work, accompanied by a score that blends electronic and classical compositions. The exhibition takes up residence in the Germania Club Building in Old Town, which will go by the name Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago and host additional interactive art exhibitions in the coming years.

  • Theater
  • Circuses & magic
  • Loop

Enjoy dinner and show on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel at Teatro ZinZanni, a 2.5-hour experience that combines circus acts, comedy, cabaret and a meal curated by Debbie Sharpe—the Goddess of The Goddess and Grocer. The show takes place in an ornate, circular theater (designed to resemble a Belgian mirror tent) where the audience surrounds the stage. Guests dig into a four-course meal while watching as comedians, aerialists, acrobats, singers and dancers perform amazing feats and catchy tunes. It's somewhere between Cirque du Soleil and a traditional cabaret show, with restaurant-quality refreshments.

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  • Art
  • Contemporary art
  • Streeterville

Chicago has traditionally been a city where independent comic artists and cartoonists have thrived, thanks to a steady supply of art school students and graduates charting their own course in the medium. The latest Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition explores six decades of work by local artists, ranging from traditional strips to experimental longform pieces that buck conventions. With pieces from artists like Kerry James Marshall, Lynda Barry, and Chris Ware on display, this survey of comic art features work that hasn't been shown in museums before, offering a look at process of cartooning, the collaborations that it encourages and the creativity that Chicagoans have penciled (and inked) into the world.

  • Things to do
  • Loop

The Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady is one of the most popular attractions in Chicago. Enjoy a tour with your friends and family and soak up the sunshine while hearing the secrets and stories behind Chicago’s riverfront buildings, as told by expertly trained CAC docents.

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • West Loop

Originally established in the late 1800s, the Maxwell Street Market brought vendors, musicians and cooks to an open-air flea market where shoppers could find just about anything they wanted. The market introduced the Maxwell Street Polish sausage, provided a venue for rising Chicago blues musicians and was immortalized in a scene in The Blues Brothers. These days, the market sets up on nearby Desplaines Street (between Roosevelt and Howard) every Sunday, where visitors will find vendors hawking their wares, an abundance of delicious Mexican food and occasional performances by local bands and dance troupes. Don't let the cold or wet weather scare you away—the Maxwell Street Market takes place outdoors year-round.

  • Comedy
  • Stand-up
  • Logan Square

Now housed in the space on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, the country's longest countinuously running independent comedy showcase continues every Friday and Saturday night. Boasting alumni like Cameron Esposito, Kumail Nanjiani and Hanibal Buress, this stand-up show will introduce you to fresh new faces that may end up starring in Marvel movies or becoming podcast mainstays. Snag an affordable ticket, avoid the two-drink minimum and prepare to laugh your ass off.

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  • Art
  • Drawing
  • Grant Park

A self-taught landscape artist who began creating surreal drawings in his South Side apartment in the late ’60s, Joseph E. Yoakum would often create one piece of artwork every day. Made with ballpoint pen, colored pencil, pastel and watercolor, his work drew the attention of School of the Art Institute graduates like Karl Wirsum and Ray Yoshida, who began collecting his creations. "What I Saw" pays tribute to Yoakum's imaginitive imagery, showcasing his colorful landscapes alongside his portraits of African American icons.

  • Sports and fitness
  • Running
  • River West/West Town

Go for a run and replentish your electrolytes with a beer during this series of 5K walks and runs, that take place at breweries throughout Chicago (and beyond). All of the Illinois Brewery Running Series events are untimed fun runs, more focused on camaraderie than competition. Participants at each event recieve a free beer, glassware or seasonal swag item, plus access to post-run events that feature live music, food, goodies from sponsors and giveaways. Check out the complete schedule of events on the Illinois Brewery Running Series website.

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Lower West Side

Nonprofit gallery and community space Pilsen Art House hosts this weekly indoor and outdoor market, featuring local vendors and artists selling jewelry, candles, paintings and other handmade goods. You can stop by every Sunday afternoon throughout the summer—just don't forget to bring (and wear) a mask.

  • Art
  • Sculpture
  • Suburbs

See five towering sculptures by South African artist Daniel Popper at the Morton Arboretum's new outdoor exhibition, which spreads the 15- to 26-foot-tall works throughout the natural area. Made of glass-reinforced concrete, wood, fiberglass and steel, the one-of-a-kind pieces in "Human+Nature" depict human figures that evoke the natural landscape they're set amid, including a pair of 36-foot-long hands reaching out from a grove of oak trees and a maternal figure that springs up amid magnolia trees.

Access to "Human+Nature" is included as part of timed-entry admission to the Morton Arboretum, and there's a map that will allow you to easily plan your visit and spot all five of the sculptures along the way.

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  • Museums
  • Movies and TV
  • Hyde Park

Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Window and more famous costumed crusaders take over the Museum of Science and Industry in this pop-culture-focused exhibition that explore more than 80 years of Marvel comics, movies and memoribelia. You'll find more than 300 items on display, include costumes and props from Marvel movies and original art created for the company's comic books. Snap photos with recreations of some of your favorite character and learn how a comic company became a multi-media cultural juggernaut.

Save money on tickets with a Chicago CityPASS.

  • Art
  • Photography
  • Lincoln Park

The Chicago History Museum welcomes a fascinating multimedia exhibition of more than 65 pieces from the celebrated street photographer. Known for beautifully capturing everyday moments, each of the shots on display here was taken when Maier was a suburban Chicago nanny from the ‘50s to the ’70s. Most of them have never been on display, and feature alongside film clips, quotations, and sound bites that help to bring Maier’s incredible work further to life.

‘Vivian Maier: in Color’ opens May 8 2021. Admission is included in the Chicago History Museum entry price. For more information head to www.chicagohistory.org/exhibition/vivian-maier-in-color

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Chicago History Museum

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  • Art
  • Installation
  • West Loop

The home of Chicago's only Infinity Mirror Room (created by Japanese Yayoi Kusama) is open to the public once again, presenting a new collection of one-of-a-kind art installations alongside some old favorites. New additions to WNDR Museum include a multi-sensory experience from S̶A̶N̶T̶IA̶G̶O̶X that uses artificial intelligence, sounds, visuals and scents, as well as an installation called I Heard There Was a Secret Chord that allows guests to become part of an evolving virtual choir.

  • Movies
  • Suburbs

The Rock Island Public House hosts a themed drive-in movie series every weekend, screening classic genre flicks accompanied by beer and food that you can enjoy in your car. Upcoming weekends will feature German films, Brendan Fraser movies and more. Screenings are free to attend and first come, first served, so check out the calendar and show up early to secure your spot in front of the makeshift screen!

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Loop

Showcasing the work of female and gender non-confirming artists, the WOMANISH pop-up is a five-story exhibit made up of multiple rooms and installations that explore womanhood from various perspectives. Visitors will be able to visit a recreation of a 1950’s-era diner, view a collage of vintage advertisements with women of color added to them and snap photos of a floral display. The pop-up has been modified with a new set of safety procedures, including capacity restrictions and plenty of hand sanitizer stations.

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