We’ve had a ton of fun this summer. From dining outdoors to checking out new cocktail bars to cheering on the Cubbies, we're really making the most of the season. But as August approaches, our wallets could use a reprieve. Thankfully, there are a ton of fantastic free events all over the city, so the summer fun doesn't have to end just yet.
Free things to do in Chicago in August
Bring your blanket and your favorite movie snacks and sprawl out on the Millennium Park lawn. This season’s film offerings include two of this year’s biggest Oscar contenders (Hidden Figures and La La Land), a special daytime screening of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the series’s first Spanish-language film, the classic El Norte. Catch them all for free as they're broadcast on the park’s 40-foot-wide LED screen.
Each Tuesday, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a free concert in its Anne and John Kern Terrace Garden. The lineup features performers from the Chicago jazz community, including Mike Reed and Joshua Abrams. Attendees can order food à la carte from the outdoor grill or pig out at the buffet (it's $27 per person). If it's raining outside, the event moves indoors to the MCA Café.
The Park at Wrigley tapped their neighbors at the Music Box to program free outdoor screenings every other Wednesday this summer. The theater selected a series of family-friendly films, including The Sandlot (August 9) and The Blues Brothers (August 23).
All ages and skill levels are welcome at this annual series of jives, twirls and jumps. The dancing breaks out Thursday through Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. A professional instructor conducts dance lessons for the first hour before you cut a rug. This year, SummerDance branches out with events in eight neighborhood parks, including the first SummerDance-Off competitions, which will find the city's best amateur footwork and steppin' dancers.
Since its start in 2012, stand-up comedy showcase Congrats on Your Success has steadily built up an audience of dedicated regulars, who pack every bit of available space in Logan Square's Uncharted Books. The show's loose, friendly vibe is reinforced by interactive bits and between-set segments that engage attendees with the show's hosts and producers, who describe their audience as "DTF."
On the second Friday of each month, The Chicago Arts District hosts 2nd Fridays Gallery Night, a series of receptions at the galleries and artists' studios centered around South Halsted Street. Pick up a map at the information center at 1945 S Halsted St and visit the creative spaces free of charge as they open their doors to showcase an exciting display of art and artists from Chicago and beyond.
Each week, Chicago comics bring the freshest, most experimental new material to the Annoyance for the Holy Fuck Comedy Hour. The weekly show is an eclectic mix of sketch, improv, stand-up and everything in between—you never really know what you're going to get at Holy Fuck. Regular players include, but are not limited to: Emily Anderson, Sarah Ashley, J ack Bensinger, Mike Brunlieb, Danny Catlow, Thomas Kelly, Max Lipchitz, Morgan Lord, Nick Mestad, Jeff Murdoch, Scotty Nelson, Eric Rahill, Wes Perry, Jo Scott, Bill Stern, and Nate Varrone.
Christopher Piatt hosts this weekly "live magazine," 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 a Saturday afternoon of drinks, hot takes and laughs.
At this polysexual Logan Square dance-off, party purveyor Kristen Kaza and DJ Audio Jack drop the needle on love-drenched classics by Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Prince and the queen of lovers' rock, Sade. Admission is always free and the Whistler's capacity is limited, so there's usually a line out the door. Arrive early if you want to start grooving on the crammed dance floor ASAP.
What began as four neighborhood artists cobbling together a fair has turned into this annual festival offering art, music, poetry, theater and dance that has returned for over 30 years. See work from 200 artists, enjoy three stages featuring live music and kick back with a beer and some food.
Comedy review by Matt Byrne Since its start in 2012, stand-up comedy showcase Congrats on Your Success has steadily built up an audience of dedicated regulars, who pack every bit of available space in Logan Square's Uncharted Books. The show's loose, friendly vibe is reinforced by interactive bits and between-set segments that engage attendees with the show's hosts and producers, who describe their audience as "DTF."Lured by the promise of free, BYOB comedy (with some free beverages for those who show up early enough) located in a used bookstore just steps from the Logan Square Blue Line stop, these crowds are treated to sets from Chicago's comedy scene staples (past headliners include Liza Treyger and C.J. Sullivan, both of whom can be seen on Comedy Central) as well as many up-and-comers who rarely get stage time outside the open mic circuit. "Congrats has been a number of [comedians’] first showcase," explains producer Rebecca O'Neal. "We just book who we think is the funniest and who we think our audience will enjoy the most."This supportive approach makes things a bit riskier, and it can be easy to spot who's still figuring themselves out onstage. But few showcase audiences are as receptive and patient with performers as Congrats's. The producers are looking to spread COYS's freewheeling, BYOB spirit in 2014 with a series of free one-off shows, called Fun and Dones, held at other alternative venues.
Chicago may be best known for its blues musicians, but these days it's more of a jazz city. The annual Chicago Jazz Festival celebrates contemporary improvisers and legendary players with four days of concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park. It's all about the tributes this year, with celebrations of band leader Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk and singer Ella Fitzgerald (an Ellabration, if you will) on the schedule. New Orleans institution the Rebirth Brass Band closes the festival out on September 3.