In summer, music in Chicago means one thing: festivals. It’s almost as though, after a typical brutal winter, we collectively can’t bear the idea of hearing one more note played in a crowded nightclub, dimly lit concert hall, or claustrophobic tavern. We want our music under the bright, blue sky and in the open air, with all the randomness, confusion, sense of community and acoustic challenges that represents. And boy howdy, do we ever get it.
Chicago Blues Festival
June 12-14, Grant Park
Still the largest free blues festival in the world, and one of the cultural events most associated with the city by out-of-towners. This year’s fest—the thirty-second—features local legend Buddy Guy as the headliner, and celebrates the centennials of both Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Other acts include Billy Branch, Toronzo Cannon, Clarence Carter, Eddy Clearwater, Syl Johnson, Zora Young, Taj Mahal Trio, Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang, Charlie Love and Chick Rogers, among many others. Over half a million people are expected to pour into Grant Park for the chance to bliss out to every kind of blues imaginable, including acid, electric, Delta, New Orleans, Kansas City, West Coast, St. Louis and (of course) Chicago. Free.
Pitchfork Music Festival
July 17-19, Union Park
After ten years, this laid-back, all-ages fest can probably be called a Chicago institution. This summer, hometown favorites Wilco, Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa welcome rock royalty Sleater-Kinney and The New Pornographers. Also appearing: Future Islands, Sophie, Ought, Churches, Run the Jewels, Iceage, A$AP Ferg, Panda Bear, Caribou, A.G. Cook, Jamie XX, Mac DeMarco, Todd Terje & The Olsens, Ex Hex, Tobias Jesso Jr., Jimmy Whispers, Bully, Ariel Pink, Bitchin Bajas, How to Dress Well, Mourn, Protomartyr, Single Mothers, Natalie Prass, Parquet Courts, Ryley Walker, Future Brown, Mr Twin Sister, The Julie Ruin, Waxahatchee and more. There’s also a wide range of local vendors, and a popular record fair run by CHIRP Radio. $65-$180.
July 31-August 2, Millennium Park
By now, Lolla’s a brand name bigger than most of the acts on its roster—though this year, Paul McCartney manages to top it fairly easily. (And you might want to argue about Metallica, Sam Smith, Alabama Shakes and Florence + The Machine.) Lolla’s also become almost more about tactics than the music; you need a plan before you plunge in, the way you do before parachuting into Libya or something. This summer’s lineup includes Bassnectar, The Weeknd, alt-J, Of Monsters and Men, Kaskade, Kid Cudi, Alesso, Tame Impala, A$AP Rocky, Brand New, TV On The Radio, NERO, Dillon Francis, Kygo, Carnage, Twenty One Pilots, Father John Misty and on, and on, and on. $110-$275.
Chicago Jazz Festival
September 3-6, Millennium Park, Chicago Cultural Center
This year’s festival has an audience-friendly hook: the Billie Holiday centennial. Look for hipsters to show up wearing gardenias in their hair; and I’m talking both sexes. There’s also the Billy Strayhorn centennial for more advanced cognoscenti, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the hometown organization that has kept jazz a powerful cultural force in this town. Scheduled acts include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band, José James, Bobby Hutcherson Quintet, Brian Gephart Sextet, Douglas Ewart and Inventions and more. Free.
North Coast Music Festival
September 4-6, Union Park
The sixth annual outing is labeled “Summer’s Last Stand,” and though it’s concurrent with Jazz Fest, you can expect the younger crowd at this EDM/hip-hop/house/indie/jam fest to do their best to live up to the billing. This year’s superstar acts are D’Angelo and The Chemical Brothers, but there’s plenty of additional excitement from Atmosphere, Twin Shadow, Steve Aoki, Tycho, Galactic with Macy Gray, Booka Shade, Future Rock, The Disco Biscuits, The Glitch Mob, Portugal. The Man, Kill The Noise, Manic Focus, Gold Panda, Wale, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and hella more. $160-$260.