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Wicker Park Fest 2017
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

The best Chicago summer festivals

Start making weekend plans filled with food, music and art with our guide to Chicago summer festivals and street parties

By Zach Long

Warm weather aside, one of the best things about May through September in Chicago is the sheer variety of summer festivals that take over the city's streets, parks and public spaces. You can catch your favorite bands headlining summer music festivals, sample the latest creations from Chicago breweries at beer festivals or explore a different neighborhood at a street festival. There are even entire events devoted to some of the best burgers in Chicago and Chicago-style hot dogs. Feeling a little overwhelmed? We've assembled a month-by-month breakdown of our favorite summer festivals in Chicago—all you have to worry about is finding the time to visit as many of them as possible.

RECOMMENDED: Things to do in the summer in Chicago

Chicago summer festivals in August 2020

Dancing in the Streets
Photograph: Zach Long

Chicago Brewing District's Dancing in the Streets

Things to do Festivals Various locations throughout Chicago,

You'll be dancing in your living room instead of the streets at this year's virtual edition of the Chicago Brewing District's annual jam band and beer fest, which takes its drinking and grooving festivities online for a night of livestreamed performances from Mark and Dave Play Dead, Rock and Rye and Paradise Waits. You'll also be able to scoop a week's worth of deals from West Town businesses and breweries—pick up the "Dancing in the Streets Mix Pack," featuring beers from On Tap Brewing Company, Goose Island, Great Central Brewing Company, Forbidden Root and Finch, ahead of the digital concert to recreate the full effect.  Livestream details on Friday, August 77pm: Mark and Dave Play Dead7:45pm: Rock and Rye9pm: Paradise Waits

Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest
Photograph: Courtesy Rogers Park Business Alliance

Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest

Things to do Festivals Glenwood Ave,

You'll find more than 120 artists selling paintings, drawings, sculptures, glass, ceramics, pottery, photography, jewelry and more at this popular arts festival in Rogers Park, updated this year to a "mobile" edition in adherence with social distancing standards. In the mobile version of the fest, local artists like Urban Rhythm Band and the Joyce Renee Walker Band will perform on a moving stage alongside mobile displays of artwork weaving around the neighborhood's residential, allowing residents to soak everything in from the safety of their sidewalks or windows. Catch four two-hour tours spread out across the weekend. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

Oak Park Micro Brew Review

Things to do Festivals Various venues, Loop

The largest zero-waste craft beer festival in the Midwest is headed online this year for an evening of brewer interviews, music and other beer-related festivities. Ticketholders will be able to pick up 15 local beers and tasting glasses in the days before the virtual festival to be enjoyed the night of—just be sure to properly dispose of the recyclable packaging for a truly zero-waste experience.

Navy Pier jazz
Photograph: James Richard IV

Navy Pier Water Colors Jazz Series

Music Jazz Polk Bros Park, Streeterville

When the weather warms up in Chicago, jazz musicians move outdoors to play tunes in scenic locales across the city. Navy Pier's Water Colors jazz series brings a series of free concerts to Polk Bros Park, where guests will be treated to sets from the likes of Greg Ward, Alexis Lombre and a tribute to the Blues Brothers from the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. 

lincoln park zoo lemur
Photograph: Chris Bijalba/Lincoln Park Zoo.

Virtual meet-and-greet a Lincoln Park Zoo animal

Things to do Various venues, Loop

You can visit the zoo in person now so long as you make a (free) timed reservation, but those looking to get a more intimate glimpse at some of its most prized animals can check out weekly online meet-and-greets. Held each Saturday with a Lincoln Park Zoo animal curator, the meet-and-greets feature a different species each week; amateur zoology enthusiasts will also have a chance to ask keepers questions about the furry/scaly/feathery critter being showcased. 

Manual Cinema
Photograph: Maren Celest

Manual Cinema's 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular!

Theater Experimental Various locations throughout Chicago,

Chicago-based performance collective Manual Cinema celebrates a decade of blurring the lines between video production and theater, presenting multi-camera streams of recordings of four of the company's most talked-about shows. You'll be able to watch Lula del Ray (July 27-August 3), The End of TV (August 3-10), No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks (August 10-17) and Frankenstein (August 17-23) free of charge, though donations are being accepted to make up for lost touring income and to compensate performers. The anniversary celebration will conclude with Manual Cinema’s LIVE Tele-FUN-draiser World Premiere Special, on Saturday, August 22 at 8pm, featuring a brand new work from the company.

Water Flicks Navy Pier
Photograph: James Richards IV Photography

Navy Pier Water Flicks Summer Film Series

Movies Action and adventure Polk Bros Park, Streeterville

Far-off destinations are the focus of Navy Pier's Water Flicks summer film series at Polk Bros Park this year, with eight screenings centered around cinematic renderings of real and imagined places. Screenings take place on Mondays at 6:30 and the Polk Bros Park lawn features social distancing circles so that group don't get too close to one another.

Whiskey Business rooftop movies
Photograph: Courtesy Whiskey Business

Whiskey Business Rooftop Movie Night

Movies Whiskey Business, Wicker Park

Don't have a car (or a friend with a car) to park at Chicago's drive-in theaters? You can still catch an outdoor flick at Whiskey Business, which is screening classic movies on its Wicker Park rooftop every Tuesday night at 8:30pm. The films are projected on two 120-inch screens and everyone in the audience is issued a set of headphones, so you won't have any problem making out your favorite lines. The schedule includes movies like Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park and The Sandlot—plus, every ticket includes a bag of popcorn. Check out the Whiskey Business website to snag tickets and take a look at the latest lineup of films.

Ravinia Festival
Photograph: Russell Jenkins

Ravinia TV

Music Music festivals Various locations throughout Chicago,

There will be no picnics on the lawn at Ravinia this summer, but you can post up in front of your laptop with a glass of wine (put a blanket on the floor if you like) and take in a performance online. Every Friday at 7pm, tune into the Ravinia Festival's YouTube and Facebook page to catch a 20-minute variety show featuring acts like violinist Andrew Bird, Jefferson Starship frontwoman Cathy Richardson, Gershwin-expert pianist Kevin Cole and soprano Michelle Areyzaga.

laptop, wine, woman, computer, drinking, shutterstock, Katsiaryna Pakhomava
Photograph: Shutterstock/Katsiaryna Pakhomava

Indoor Voices

Music Various venues, Loop

On Friday nights, music enthusiasts are invited to attend free virtual talks hosted by The Music Institute of Chicago as part of their Indoor Voices series, which features discussions with musicians who have performed in the institute's storied Nichols Concert Hall. The content of the talks runs the gamut from musical techniques to career highlights and more.

Cannonball Productions, Seltzerland
Photograph: Courtesy Cannonball Productions


Things to do Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Suburbs

Mosey around the grounds of Lemont's Cog Hill Golf Course at this socially distanced hard seltzer tasting event, where you'll have the chance to sample more than 50 sparkling bevvies while walking the 9-hole course over the course of two and a half hours (and no, you won't actually be golfing). Varying "tee times" for each ticket ensures space between groups; a VIP ticket will also net you complimentary brunch bites, a take-home can of seltzer and other goodies. 

The Neo-Futurists
Photograph: Ricky Kluge

The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral

Theater Experimental Various locations throughout Chicago,

The Neo-Futurists’ flagship show adapts to a world where social gatherings are restricted, launching new works with the funding of subscribers. Pledge a monthly donation to the The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral Patreon campaign and you'll have weekly access to recordings of 30 plays performed in 60 minutes (larger donations give you access to even more content from the Neo-Futurists). It's a creative way of keeping the longrunning show alive—and now you can watch it on demand!

Square Roots Festival
Photograph: Dan Kasberger

Square Roots Festival

Things to do Festivals Various venues, Loop

Typically a midsummer block party staple in Lincoln Square, this Alt-country, folk and Americana neighborhood festival will instead offer a weeklong series of food and drink packages available for pickup from local restaurants. A free digital concert on August 29 caps off the celebration; consider tossing in a donation to help the fest recoup funds and come back in full form next year.    

Farmers Market
Photograph: Shutterstock

Vegan Paradise: A Vegan Farmer's Market

Things to do The Plant, New City

Vegans and omniovires alike will appreciate the novelty of browsing this all-vegan outdoor market—which showcases plant-based foods, cruelty-free crafts and other sundries—at Back of the Yards' The Plant, the sustainable business incubator housed at the site of a former meatpacking factory. Visits to the market are timed, so be sure to register online to snag a free spot. 

Photograph: Callie Lipkin Photography, Inc.

Tuesdays on the Terrace

Music Jazz Various venues, Loop

The Museum of Contemporary Art usually hosts a free jazz concert every Tuesday in its Anne and John Kern Terrace Garden, where guests can mill about, sip wine and enjoy the music. The in-person performances are on hold this year, but you can still tune in to Facebook Live every week to hear sets from performers like Julius Tucker, Dee Alexander and more—pour yourself a glass of vino to complete the effect. 

Movies in the Parks

Movies Various venues, Loop

From July through September this year, dozens of movies will screen in parks all over Chicago as part of the city's annual Movies in the Parks program. From recent blockbusters like Frozen II and Sonic the Hedgehog to classics like Toy Story and Space Jam, you're sure to find good something to watch (for free!) beneath the stars this summer. Screenings typically begin at 8:15pm each evening. Take a look at the full list of movies and participating parks.

Clockwise from top: Magdalene Odundo, Teardrop I, 1996. Collection The Art Institute of Chicago, © Magdalene Odundo, Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY. Duro Olowu, Spring/Summer 2020, Look 1. Photo: Christina Ebenezer. Jonas Dovydenas.
Clockwise from top: Magdalene Odundo, Teardrop I, 1996. Collection The Art Institute of Chicago, © Magdalene Odundo, Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY. Duro Olowu, Spring/Summer 2020, Look 1. Photo: Christina Ebenezer. Jonas Dovydenas.

“Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago”

Art Contemporary art Museum of Contemporary Art, Streeterville

You won't just see the multicultural fashion of Nigerian-born British womenswear designer Duro Olowu on display in this unconventional exhibition, debuting at the MCA. In preparing "Seeing Chicago," Olowu spent time learning about Chicago and its connection to the arts, curating a collection of works derived from the MCA's holdings and other collections throughout the city. The result is a show that pairs Olowu sleek designs with paintings, photographs, sculptures and films, including works by the likes of Kerry James Marshall, Barbara Kruger and Henri Matisse.

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos). Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, about 1570.
Photograph: Courtesy The Minneapolis Institute of Art, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

“El Greco: Ambition and Defiance”

Art Painting Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

After training in Venice and Rome, painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos moved to Spain in 1577 and began churning out work under the name "El Greco." This exhibition allows guests to gaze at more than 57 works created by one of the most important painters of the Spanish Renaissance in the 16th century, including towering altarpieces, portraits and oil paintings gathered from all over the world. The exhibit include his final major work, "The Adoration of the Shepherds," which El Greco painted as an altarpiece for his own tomb in Santo Domingo el Antiguo.

Reginald Malcolmson. Hall of Sport and Culture, Collage, 1971/74.
Photograph: The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Reginald Malcolmson and Margaret Malcolmson.

“Bauhaus Chicago: Design in the City”

Art Design Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

After the Nazis forced the closure of the German Bauhaus art school, prominent figures like László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe moved to Chicago to continue the school’s legacy as heads of instiutions like the Illinois Institute of Technology and the New Bauhaus (later the Institute of Design). This exhibit examines the work of their students and faculty, including jewelry, photography, furniture and architecture that channeled the creative spirit of the Bauhaus.

Malangatana Ngwenya
Photograph: Malangatana Valente Ngwenya Foundation, Maputo, Mozambique.

“Malangatana: Mozambique Modern”

Art Painting Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

African painter and poet Malangatana Ngwenya (who was mostly known by his first name) spent his career blending elements of European modernism with the folklore and tradition of Mozambique. "Mozambique Modern" marks the first solo exhibition of a modern African painter at the Art Institute, presenting more than 40 of his surreal, colorful paintings and drawings, highlighting the late artist's contributions to modern African art.


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