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Summer events in Chicago happen everywhere—even at the beach.

The best summer events in Chicago

Start making summer plans with our guide to the best festivals, concerts and more great summer events in Chicago

By Zach Long

The only remedy to another horrible Chicago winter is making this the best summer ever. Do not spend a minute inside if you can help it. Only eat at outdoor restaurants and drink at rooftop bars. Go to every summer music festival. And when you need a break from the sun's rays, head to exhibits showing at at Chicago museums. Summer is coming—we promise—so start filling out your to-do list with the help of our guide to the best summer events.

RECOMMENDED: Even more things to do in the summer in Chicago

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Best summer events

John Mulaney
Photograph: Mindy Tucker

Second Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival


The confusingly named comedy festival organized by The Onion and The A.V. Club returns for a second year, bringing John Mulaney, Vanessa Bayer, Ellie Kemper and more funny people to town. This year's lineup introduces a couple of cult classic film screenings to the mix, including Cabin Boy and UHF. You're guaranteed to laugh at something.

Photograph: Michael J. Chen


Music Rap, hip-hop and R&B

After killing the mixtape with his latest release, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, the 28 year old is arguably the biggest rapper in the game (well, the biggest rapper that people still like as a person). Instead of a headlining spot at a festival, we get the MC on his own at the United Center. Future opens.


Lana Del Rey + Grimes

Music Pop

The backlash to the backlash came quickly for Lana Del Rey. After a rather disasterous debut performance on SNL and subsequent LOLs, the Jessica Rabbit–like crooner responded by selling over 5 million copies of Born to Die. Now, she returns for her second lap of promoting Ultraviolence, the even more David Lynchian record recorded with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. To sweeten the pot, seapunk pop urchin Grimes is opening up.

The Second City's Break Out Comedy Festival


The Second City teams with NBCUniversal to present a new comedy festival spotlighting some of the country's best emerging talent in sketch, improv and stand-up. Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal hosts on Friday, while Undateable cast member Ron Funches holds down the stage on Saturday, introducing a slew of rising talent from Chicago and beyond.

Lagunitas Beer Circus: Revelers celebrate one of Chicago’s newest breweries at the Lagunitas Beer Circus.​
Photograph: Matthew Sperzel

Lagunitas Beer Circus

Things to do Festivals

After a successful first year, Lagunitas is bringing its Beer Circus back to its gigantic Douglas Park brewing facility. The event will assemble circus performers, live music, food trucks, carnival rides and plenty of beer for an afternoon of drunken fun that could make you reconsider your irrational fear of clowns.

The 606 opening weekend

Things to do Festivals

After a slight delay, the 606 is finally opening, bringing foot and bike traffic to a formerly abandoned stretch of elevated rail in Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park. The celebration begins with ribbon cuttings (8am), processions on the trail and a street festival on Humboldt Blvd (10am–9pm) on Saturday and concludes with a pancake breakfast at the West Trailhead on Sunday morning.


The Birds

Theater Drama

Irish playwright Conor McPherson's 2009 work is inspired by the same Daphne DuMaurier story of winged attackers as Alfred Hitchcock's film, though like Hitchcock, McPherson uses DuMaurier as a jumping off point for a tale that departs from the original, with three strangers coming together to hide from the birds in an abandoned seaside house. Kevin Kingston directs the Chicago premiere for Griffin Theatre.

Mumford & Sons

Music Rock and indie

Dylan did it, but we should be banned from covering music for making the comparison. Mumford & Sons have gone electric. Fender guitars have replaced banjos, leather jackets have replaced overalls. It's a complete makeover, and though the resulting arena rock is fine in a Temper Trap meets Kings of Leon way, the whole Mr. Potato Head identity swap smells more like a put on than sincerity. This summer, the band will hit the beach instead of headlining a festival.

Photograph: Jeff Goldberg

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Theater Comedy

Christopher Durang's Tony Award–winning comic riff on Chekhov gets an overdue Chicago premiere. Steve Scott directs a stellar cast, including Janet Ulrich Brooks, Mary Beth Fisher, Ross Lehman, E. Faye Butler, Jordan Brown and Rebecca Buller.


Music Rock and indie

A few months removed from the overanalyzed and overdramatized release of Songs of Innocence, U2 are getting back to the arena grind. You'll forget any qualms you may of had about the band "hijacking" your iPhone once you hear Bono and the gang belting out the classics.

Cyrus Tang Hall of China at the Field Museum

Cyrus Tang Hall of China

On June 26, the Field Museum's collection of textiles, rubbings, bronzes, ceramics, and sculpture finds a new home in the museum's latest permanent exhibit. The Cyrus Tang Hall of China will explore the history of China, tracing a path from the country's ancient beginnings to its modern status as a leader in trade, technology and innovation.

Brittany Uomoleale in a promotional photo for Grand Concourse at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Photograph: Sandro

Grand Concourse

Theater Drama

A volatile young volunteer (Brittany Uomoleale) threatens to upend the careful routine of a nun (Mariann Mayberry) who manages a Bronx soup kitchen in Heidi Schreck's 2014 play. Yasen Peyankov directs the Chicago premiere, which also features Francis Guinan, Tim Hopper and Victor Almanzar.

Photograph: Will Rice

The Grateful Dead


They're going to need a new Ben & Jerry's flavor. But, seriously, this is a big deal. The Grateful Dead reunite with Trey Anastasio in Jerry's place. Who better? The show comes nearly 20 years to the day after the Dead's final shows with Garcia at the Bears stadium, July 8, 9, 1995. The ticket prices are steep, but most of the audience is collecting retirement, so no big deal.

Bikes, beer and circus performers take over Palmer Square during Tour De Fat, July 12th 2014.
Photograph: Kaitlin Hetterscheidt

Tour de Fat

Things to do Festivals

Ft. Collins’ New Belgium Brewery brings its signature celebration of bikes and beer to Palmer Square for another year of freaky fun. The day begins with a bike parade and continues with vaudeville acts, circus performers and live music in Palmer Park. The environmentally conscious festival raises funds for local non-profits and culminates with one lucky attendee trading his or her car in for a brand new bicycle.

Art Ensemble of Chicago, 1979.
Photograph courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art

"The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now"


Last year the MCA explored the multifaceted world of rock music through the lens of David Bowie's career. This summer, the museum turns its eye to avant-garde jazz, exploring experimental music and its relation to visual art. Visitors will be able to view archival photographs, posters, sheet music and record covers along with pieces by contemporary artists while examining the creative influence that the 1960s avant-garde birthed.

Indie girls, headbangers and hip-hop heads turn out for Kendrick Lamar, Grimes and more at Pitchfork Music Festival, Sunday, July 20, 2014.

Pitchfork Music Festival

Music Music festivals Union Park, West Loop

The hub for indie music snobs celebrates its tenth anniversary in Chicago. This year, Wilco will reel in the cool dads (and moms) on Friday, reunited riot grrrls Sleater Kinney top the bill on Saturday and Chance the Rapper closes out the fest.


Park 574

Attractions Parks and gardens East Garfield Park

This colorful playlot opened last fall, but we're excited to take advantage of its facilities this summer. Big kids will love the zipline, 22-foot slide and pummel horses, while little ones will appreciate the rubbery surface, raised play structures and various things to climb on. Adults aren't left out, either: There's a walking path complete with fitness circuit equipment. When the heat rises, there is also a natural stone water-spray area.

© Pier Nicola D'Amico

Wicker Park Fest

Things to do Festivals

The Crotch hosts this hipster-friendly fest that features three stages of Pitchfork-quality tunes on the cheap. This year's larger fest blocks off more streets for additional arts, crafts, food and family fun. Headlining this year are tasteful art-rock vets Blonde Redhead, soul man Charles Bradley, hipster metal act Deafheaven and local '90s flashback Veruca Salt.

Photograph: Philippe Chancel

"North Korean Perspectives"

Art Photography

North Korea is one of the world's most reclusive nations, a place where the flow of information is strictly controlled by the government. Because of this, there are contrasting views of the state which this exhibition explores by using government imagery as well as photographs taken by imbedded photojournalists. The collection seeks to reconcile the way North Korea's government presents itself with the way it is viewed by the rest of the world.

Chicago Hot Sauce Fest

Things to do Festivals

If you're the kind of person who enjoys a little heat in every dish you eat, you'll want to check out the inaugural Chicago Hot Sauce Fest. The event promises to set mouths on fire with a diverse selection of spicy samples from sauce makers and local restaurants.

Music Box Theatre
Photograph: Joan Marcus


Theater Musicals

The Tony-winning revival of the Stephen Schwartz musical, directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus with circus elements created by Gypsy Snider of Montreal's 7 Fingers, comes to the Cadillac Palace for a scant two weeks. The national touring cast includes Sasha Allen as the Leading Player, Kyle Selig in the title role and Tony winner John Rubinstein, the original Pippin of 1972, as Charles.


Music Music festivals

Set between Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, Lollapalooza is the city's largest music festival, boasting numbers of attendance well in the six digits on a regular day. Large stages, big acts and huge crowds. This year, Paul McCartney, Metallica, Florence and the Machine, Sam Smith and Bassnectar top the bill, so expect a weird mix of unironic bucket hats and neon tank tops.

Photograph: Courtesy of the Chicago Children’s Museum

The Great American Lobster Fest

Things to do Festivals

Dig into some of Chicago's freshest seafood at this two-day event, which features lobster flown in from Boston. The Air and Water Show will be going on overhead, but local bands will be providing the tunes down below. Attendees can purchase general admission tickets or pre-order their very own lobster.

Photograph: Mark Wright

Taste of Greektown

Things to do Festivals

While "taste of grease" may describe the cuisine at most summer festivals, this celebration of Greek food, music and dancing will still sate your appetite.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, Firebirds Delta Team and more perform aerial stunts at the Chicago Air and Water Show, August 16, 2014.
Photograph: Anthony Soave

Chicago Air and Water Show

Things to do Festivals

Don't be surprised if you get a neck ache from looking up during this two-day event. Join throngs of people at North Beach and surrounding areas to catch air and watercraft demonstrations, including the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights.

All Our Tragic

Theater Drama

The best play and most unique theatrical experience of 2014 returns in a remount that's somewhat streamlined but has lost none of its incredible power. Yes, the Hypocrites' mash-up of all 32 surviving Greek tragedies into one unwinding story still takes 12 hours to take in, give or take. But some judicious trims to Sean Graney's script and cast (the combat-fodder "Neo-Titans" have been excised) and a reconfigured, more coherent staging make the daylong play more intimate, and therefore even more of a bonding experience for the community comprising the audience and actors alike.


Bucktown Arts Fest

Things to do Festivals

What began as four neighborhood artists cobbling together a fair has turned into this 30th annual festival offering art, music, poetry, theater and dance. See work from 200 artists, enjoy three stages featuring live music and kick back with a beer and some food.

Foo Fighters
Photograph: Steve Gullick

Foo Fighters

Music Rock and indie

Dave Grohl and his arena rockin' crew are returning to the same corner where he saw his first punk show in 1983. Only this time the gig is in the giant baseball stadium. The Foos should be just as powerful in the Friendly Confines as they were in the sports bar. Urge Overkill, Naked Raygun and Cheap Trick open, making this a Chicago love affair. Only without Chicago (the band).


North Coast Music Festival

Music Music festivals

The other big festival in Union Park (the one that doesn't rhyme with Itchpork) leans heavy on EDM, jam and rap. In 2015, the Chemical Brothers, D'Angelo, the Roots, Porter Robinson, Chromeo, Portugal. The Man, Tycho, Steve Aoki and so many more are booked to play "summer's last stand."

Chicago's Best WingFest
Photograph courtesy of WingFest

Chicago's Best Summer WingFest

Things to do Festivals

Each February for the past 16 years, cooks from restaurants all over the city gather to fry up astronomical amounts of chicken wings and slather them in sauces at Chicago's Best WingFest. Chicago's hottest festival turns up the heat for its inaugural summer Wingfest. Each pass includes all you can handle wings from over 40 Chicago establishments, live music, outdoor games, and craft beer. The festivities also include a wing eating contest, in which competitors try to inhale as many spicy chicken morsels as possible. All proceeds from the event benefit a variety of local charities.

Humboldt Park is filled with punks and rockers during Riot Fest Chicago on September 13, 2014.​

Riot Fest

Music Music festivals

Relocated to the sprawling Douglas Park on the city's South Side, replete with circus attractions, Riot Fest prides itself on being punk. It's bookings are as diverse as "punk" is difficult to define. There's mall-punk, hardcore, emo, goth, metal, thrash, new-wave, rap, gray-haired indie and sometimes Blondie. This year, No Doubt reunites to top the bill, joined by Modest Mouse, Faith No More, Iggy Pop and... Snoop Dog? Sure, whatever. There's something for every former '90s mallrat. Check out our complete coverage of Riot Fest.


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