I assume a lot of you know the famous scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) crawls through 500 yards of sewer shit and comes out the other end… free. That’s how I feel right around this time of year in Chicago. Why do we live in this city and deal with the shit that is winter?? So that we can get some sweet redemption on the other side when the weather turns, and then of course bitch about how hot it is. While it’s crazy how much there is to do in Chicago come summer, seeing good live music outside is always a must for me. The best way to accomplish this is to get out to some of the many weekend music festivals that now take over the city. If you don’t mind braving the crowds and getting a little dirty, then come with me. Let’s take a little tour as I highlight this upcoming summer in Chicago’s music festivals….
Chicago Blues Fest, June 12 – 14 @ Grant Park
One of Chicago’s first big music fests of the year also happens to be the largest free blues fest in the world. And yeah you heard that – it’s free. With all the aggravation of big music fests these days like purchasing 3-day passes online and buying wristbands from strangers off craigslist, it’s nice to have free access to a behemoth of a music fest such as this. Plus it’s more money you’ll have to blow at the food trucks that will be there. In its 32nd year they will pay a centennial tribute to two late godfathers of Chicago blues – Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Saturday night’s headliner is legendary Buddy Guy. Other acts include Billy Branch, Mud Morgenfield, Taj Mahal Trio and Syl Johnson. I personally have only been once before, but this year has piqued my interest for a return visit. And why not?! – as Chicago is supposed to be the Blues Capital of the World. Plus I just might be too old for the other fest in town that weekend….
Spring Awakening, June 12 – 14 @ Soldier Field
There couldn’t be more opposite music fests happening in the city at the same time. Some people probably hear EDM and think it’s some new kind of infection you can get. But to a lot of young folks (and some old) it means brain crushing/body numbing Electronic Dance Music. Outfits most often will include neon and some consist of only body paint, which is fun. This fest takes all of Soldier Field and turns it on it’s head. The lights and the stage pieces alone might melt your face off (or maybe it’s the pill you bought from that 17yr old). As far as the lineup goes, they have gone all out this year with headliners Zedd, Eric Prydz, Hardwell, Tiesto, Afrojack, and Chicago native Flosstradamus. They are also proclaiming that this will also be the midwestern debut of Jack Ü – a collaborative duo of Diplo and Skrillex. Hmmmmm I think my EDM is flaring up just hearing this. Or am I too f-ing old to attend? Let’s see what happens. I’m thinking not. *3-Day Passes only, $200 each, not including the screw-you-over fees.
Lake Shake Festival, June 19 – 21 @ FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island
Disclaimer: I DO NOT know shit about country music. I know they sing a lot about jeans, trucks, drinking’ beer, the wind and broken hearts. However, I don’t mind listening to it and in this case I wouldn’t mind at all. This should be a good time as country music has really caught on and made an impact in Chicago in recent years and now the city has a music fest to call it’s own. Northerly Island can be a little tricky logistically and I worry about how they will manage the crowd with this one (the Jimmy Buffet show was a mess two years ago). Headliners include Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley and Florida Georgia Line. Cassadee Pope will also be performing, who seems to have caught fire since winning season 3 of “The Voice” – I will have to ask my dad about her as he is my foremost authority on such shows. *3-Day Passes only, $199.50 each, not including the dick-over fees.
Mamby on the Beach, July 11 & 12 @ Oakwood Beach (4100 S. Lakeshore Drive)
Another new music fest?? Why not. It seems that in the wake of Wavefront Fest’s recent and early death, there is new hope for a beach music fest. This time React Presents attempts it on the south side, as the city has done a lot in recent years to make that stretch of beach and paths much nicer. Wavefront had the right beach idea, but for whatever reason it just didn’t click on all cylinders. Hopefully things change here for the better. They are packing some serious electronic-heavy indie-type music into two days here. Empire of the Sun (from Australia) puts on a good-looking show but have struggled to make their radio-friendly songs pack a punch in the open air. Hopefully that changes for the better as well. However, Phantogram, Passion Pit, Art Department and the Norwegian veteran duo Röyksopp round out this lineup nicely. But my guess is that some lower billed acts like Matthew Dear, Tanlines, and Robert DeLong will make some serious waves (did you catch that really cool double entendre?) Also, if you are a fan of the late LCD Soundsystem you may rejoice in seeing James Murphy doing a DJ set alive and well. *2-Day passes are $99, not including the standard F-U fees.
Pitchfork Music Festival, July 17 – 19 @ Union Park (1501 W. Randolph Street)
If Blues Fest is the grandfather of music fests and Lollapalooza the father, then Pitchfork would be the crazy uncle who is out of his damn mind. This one has been part of my summer for almost a decade now and it is always something to see. Sure there have been ups and downs – like last year when St. Vincent blew me away and then minutes later rapper Danny Brown almost made me want to nose-dive my whole head into the dirt. That’s how this fest goes. Some of the younger acts you’ve been wanting to see will live up to the hype and you will be glad you saw them when you did. I will never forget seeing The National mid-day at the first ever Pitchfork in 2006 and how they floored me. Yet, there will undoubtedly be other performances that might not quite hit the mark, but you can say you saw them and found out for yourself. And hey – maybe it bumps up your hipster music street cred. The diverse crowd is a condensed mix of all ages and fits fairly nicely into this park. The lineup this year is just as varied with legends like Wilco, comebacks like Sleater-Kinney, and local hip hop phenom Chance the Rapper. But it does not at all end there. I expect a lot from Caribou, Jamie XX, Courtney Barnett, Viet Cong, CHVRCHES and most of all Future Islands, just to name a few. The good thing about this fest is that it’s also logistically not too bad to get in and out of. Oh and did I mention the wide array of hipster street foods? There’s a lot to choose from so be a ready. Cevapcici anyone?? They do sell single-day tickets as well ($65), which is a big plus. *3-Day Passes are $180, plus some kiss-my-ass fees sprinkled on top.
Lollapalooza, July 31 – August 2 @ Grant Park
This is the papa bear. Part of me really misses the earlier days of this fest when it was easier to navigate, but it has become one of the biggest music festivals in the country and has the lineup most years to match. Each day at Lollapalooza seems a lot longer than most other fests. There are usually some good enough acts to get you there early and then to keep you there late. The many food options are pretty great and I’m not sure other fests allow you to regrettably buy whole bottles of cheap Pinot Grigio to drink out of a water bottle in the sweltering heat, but it helps. It’s a struggle getting tickets, getting down there, predicting the seemingly inevitable rain, and then getting the F out of the fest. When you do get rewarded here though you tend to forget all the bullshit. The lineup this years boasts big acts like Paul McCartney, Metallica, new-comer Sam Smith, and Florence and the Machine. Something seems missing from the headliners to me, but there is still a lot to be found in the meaty part of the lineup. We should see some good stuff from performers like Alabama Shakes, festival veterans Hot Chip, Gary Clark Jr., Cold War Kids, Father John Misty, Sylvan Esso, Tame Impala, The Tallest Man on Earth, Toro y Moi, A$AP Rocky, Of Monsters and Men, and TV on the Radio. Get your medication ready also as that EDM infection will definitely flare up again with the likes of Kaskade, Alesso, The Chainsmokers, and Bassnectar. If you really want to rage then keep an eye out for all the aftershows on the Lollapalooza site, which they should be posting soon. You may feel beat up, exhausted, soulless, and just plain dirty, but if you’re like me you will have the sick urge to get up and do it all over again with a new slate of music the next day. Tickets are sold out, but if you decide to turn to craigslist or elsewhere then FYI – face value on single-day tickets is $110 and 3-Day Passes are $275. Good luck people.
Chicago Jazz Festival, September 3 – 6 @ Millenium Park
Going on 37 years, this fest is also free and aims to raise awareness and appreciation for Chicago jazz as well as jazz from international artists all over the globe. With all the very loud blaring music you’ll hear this summer, it might be nice to finish things off with some smooth jazz on Labor Day weekend. Though not all of it is smooth, as the fest usually attempts to feature experimental styles of jazz as well. It is also known as a good showcase for young Chicago jazz talent that wouldn’t normally have such exposure. Then there are seriously seasoned musicians like Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 who will be coming up from New Orleans to kick things off Thursday night at the Chicago Cultural Center across the street. The rest of the weekend will feature Bobby Hutcherson Quintet, Douglas Ewart and Inventions, Mark Turner Quarter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and a close-out performance by Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band. Two younger talents to see are Cyrille Aimée, a french jazz singer with a softer but very crisp sound, and Jose James, an american vocalist known for blending modern jazz with hip-hop who will be doing a tribute to Billy Holiday. See you there?? Cool, see you there.
North Coast Music Festival, September 4 – 6 @ Union Park
This one proudly calls itself summer’s last stand. And it seems it makes a good case considering who they are bringing out for this festival, which also takes place at Union Park. I am more than pleased to see The Chemical Brothers are back headlining this year to coincide with their new album coming out in July. And speaking of new albums, D’Angelo is still fresh off his newer highly regarded album Black Messiah and will be headlining as well. Another wide array of artists include Chromeo, Portugal. The Man, Atmosphere, Disco Biscuits, The Roots and what should be a monstrous rager with the help of Steve Aoki. Booka Shade and RAC both have good track records with their past Lollapalooza performances so it’s cool to see them fill out the middle of the bill. Tycho will be a nice escape in the midst of all the craziness as his brand of electronic is a little more ambient, but still very good. One seemingly big curveball is that tomorrow Wednesday, May 13 they will be announcing one more surprise rock headliner. Hmmmmm…..Nickelback?!? I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Either way, this should be a fun one if you have any gas left in the tank after attending each and every one of these fests I am telling you about. Don’t forget to save your neon shit from Spring Awakening too. *3-Day Passes only, $159 each, plus some kick-in-the-gut fees.
Riot Fest, September 11 – 13 **NOW @ Douglas Park (1401 S Sacramento Dr.)
Did you think we were done?? Almost. If any fest has gained a ton of steam in this city and even across the country, it is Riot Fest. It is considered one of the best run music festivals out there right now. Last year the weather blew, but even in spite of that we still had an incredible time. Last year had some major bands like Weezer, Slayer, Rise Against, Jane’s Addiction and The Flaming Lips, just to name a few. My personal nerd highlight was seeing The Offspring play “Self Esteem” live for the first time. It really took me back a ways and more importantly it seemed to take the whole crowd back with me. I feel like a lot of the music here may have that effect on fans as a lot of the bands that play here have been around a long time. Who doesn’t want to revisit the awesomeness that was 90’s rock? Humboldt Park offers a newer and exciting locale making for an interesting configuration that they look to be expanding on this year. However, the folks behind Riot Fest had to put in a lot of money and hard work trying to restore the park after last year. In addition to all the rock music, a lot of other carnival rides and games are mixed in along with the always entertaining carnies that run them. Not to mention there’s a shit ton of good food as well. The crowd is definitely different than any of the other fests as it consists of more rock fans and has a little older demographic (case in point – yours truly). The lineup has not yet been announced so stay tuned. Early Bird Tickets are sold out and I wouldn’t be surprised if the general admission passes go quickly once they go on sale. Get your vintage rock tee ready or go buy a fake one from Urban Outfitters.
Well that’t it, for real this time. I’m done. Although – I still feel I left out quite a bit. What about Ruido Fest in Pilsen or The Grateful Dead at Soldier Field?? That’s the exciting part though, as it gives you all plenty of room to explore for yourselves. After attempting to hash this all out I have definitely gotten myself more excited for this upcoming slate of music and honestly, it might be one of the biggest summers for music this city has ever seen. So I hope to see you out there, sweating, boozing, and ready to hear and see some good stuff. And I expect only high fives as usual when we cross paths.