Things to do in Chicago

Chicago Music Festivals

From Riot Fest to Lollapalooza, Chicago's vibrant reputation for music festivals precedes it. 

As nippy winter temperatures warm up, the city comes to life with music, food, festivals, and fun all summer long. No matter what type of tunes you obsess over, you'll find a festival for it.

Chicago’s Music Festival Calendar

While there are some unique festivals at other times of the year, the big, exciting ones begin their rituals in June, offering a lot of things to do in Chicago for music lovers and cultural enthusiasts alike.

Below, we list some of the most unique and thrilling musical performances that everyone talks about, along with their dates. Some of the others we've included may not be at the forefront, but their creativity and jams earn a spot on this list.

Photographer: bbernard

Chicago Blues Festival — Expected June

You won’t be singing the blues at the Chicago Blues Festival, unless you’re just singing along. This festival is the biggest free blues festival in the entire world, christening Chicago with the moniker "The Blues Capital of the World."

For 3 days, more than half a million Blues fans of this spiritual music gather in Chicago and have an absolute blast. Past performers include some big names in blues music, B. B. King and Koko Taylor.

Grant Park Music Festival — Expected June through August

If you’re a lover of classical music, the Grant Park Music Festival series is right where you need to be. For 10 weeks throughout the summer, classical pieces are expertly performed several nights a week in the center of the park. Awe-inspiring guest performers and conductors grace the park, as well as the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and the Grant Park Chorus.

Square Roots — Expected July

We know you're probably thinking of math with this festival, but Square Roots is all about luxurious sounds wafting through the crowds. Described as a party in Lincoln Square, this thrilling math-free street fest is home to a lot of live music in chicago and frothy craft beer.

Global artists treat guests to delectable tastes of their culture's music as they boogie down to the international soundtrack. Guests can also experience the family fun events and craft market when they need a break from the inspired dancing.

Ravinia Festival — Expected June to September

The Ravinia Festival is a fun-filled summer-long indoor and outdoor festival series in Ravinia Park, just outside Chicago. Styles range from classical to country music, so there's something to play the eardrums of every music lover.

Performance venues for the festival include The Pavilion, The Martin Theatre, Bennett Gordon Hall, and The Lawn. For a change of pace from expensive festival fare, you can order a ready-to-eat picnic from local grocery stores and restaurants to take with you and munch on at the park.

Taste of Chicago — Expected June and July

If you love food and days of music, you'll love the Taste of Chicago festival, a foodie and music buff extravaganza. The "taste" part is all about food; it's one of the greatest and most expansive food festivals on the planet. With music on several stages, this free-to-attend event is designed to be fun — and filling — for the whole family.

Chicago Pride Fest — Expected Late June

Raise your pride flag high during the 2-day Chicago Pride Fest that celebrates LGBTQ+ life in Chicago's Northalsted neighborhood. Heart-pounding live music on three stages blends with creative dance exhibitions, edgy guest speakers, and conformity-defying drag performances. With more than 150 vendors of both food and merchandise, there'll be plenty to see, eat, and do.

Photographer: Svet foto

Pride in the Park Chicago — Expected Late June

In the same lakefront area at Grant Park where the incredible Lollapalooza is held each year, you can close out Pride Month and celebrate diversity at one of the most inclusive music festivals, the Pride in the Park Chicago festival.

Along with unforgettable loud music and LGBTQ+ performers, artists, and vendors, you can enjoy unique local cuisine, lighthearted drag performances, and more.

Windy City Smokeout — Expected Mid-July

In case you wondered if the Windy City Smokeout is family-friendly, the smoke in the name refers to barbecue. Pitmasters converge on this aptly named festival to grill up tasty treats, which are paired with craft beers from around the country. If you’re a fan of beer, barbecue, and bands, this festival is a can’t-miss experience.

Pitchfork Music Festival — Expected Mid-July

Die-hard music fans already know all about Pitchfork Music Festival. Known for its cheeky reviews of mainstream music, Pitchfork is renowned for curating an eclectic blend of well-known and up-and-coming artists in every genre imaginable. The 3-day festival attracts over 50,000 fans and hosts vendors selling gifts, crafts, food, and too much more to list.

Wicker Park Fest — Expected July

If you’re looking for cutting-edge music from national acts and local talent, the Wicker Park Fest is a riveting 3-day festival that celebrates the neighborhood’s rich musical heritage. Enjoy the area’s unique character, great food from local restaurants, arts and crafts, and tons more.

Lollapalooza Chicago — Expected Early August

With one of the craziest festival names, Lollapalooza, the epitome of extraordinary and unusual, is guaranteed to be a wild ride. As one the biggest Chicago festivals of the year, more than 100,000 Lollapaloozans come from all over to be amazed by some of the biggest acts in the music business.

Set on the lakefront at Grant Park, attendees immerse themselves in a lively party atmosphere. When you’re not jamming to your favorite band, you can fill up on the fantastic festival grub at Chow Town, the food festival nestled inside the music festival.

Chicago Jazz Festival — Expected Labor Day Weekend

If you're jazzed about music, the Chicago Jazz Festival has all that jazz and more. Running since 1979, the festival features jazz music at two venues, Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center. You'll see incredible local, national, and international talent all in one place, with food and drink available.

Photographer: Geoff Goldswain

North Coast Music Festival — Expected Labor Day Weekend

West Coast? East Coast? It's neither — the North Coast Music Festival takes place annually on Labor Day weekend. This festival features some of the biggest names in electronic music along with large-scale art pieces and interactive installations.

ARC Music Festival — Labor Day Weekend

While the ARC Music Festival might not be as well known as some others, it's an exciting time for fans of house and dance music. In Union Park in 2023, the festival concluded with a special "ARC After Dark," spilling the festival vibe into participating venues all across Chicago.

Riot Fest — Expected September

Riot Fest in Douglas Park is your chance to be part of the biggest riot in Chicago — without worrying about getting arrested. Someone had the inspired brainchild of combining loud, live alternative rock music with a carnival, colorful festivities, and local food. Come for the big artists, but stay for the carnival rides (yes, rides!).

World Music Festival Chicago — Expected September

Since 1999, the one-of-kind World Music Festival Chicago has been held annually and featured artists from dozens of countries around the world. Growing to 10 consecutive days of amazing music in 2023, this festival brings the music of the world to you, right here in Chicago.

Photographer: Rudy Balasko

Other Festivals

While the chill of fall in Chicago always brings the big outdoor summer music festivals to an end, you can still have fun at festivals and events with live music at other times of the year listed below. We also included some lesser-known festivals during the summer that don’t make the big headlines but are still sure to be lots of fun.

January: Tomorrow Never Knows — January 17 to 21, 2024: This event features local indie music and comedians.

February: UChicago Folk Festival — February 9 and 10, 2024: Since 1961, people have gathered from all over to hear the best folk music.

May:

June:

  • Heatwave Music Festival — Expected June 2024: Dance the day away on Northerly Island to artists like deadmau5 and Tiësto.
  • Summer Smash Festival — Expected June 2024: Come and join in on the biggest hip-hop party of the year.

July:

  • Southport Art & Music Fest — Expected July 2024: Enjoy music along with fine art, jewelry, sculptures, and photography.
  • Fiesta Del Sol — Expected July 2024: The largest Latino festival of its kind, celebrating Latin food, music, and culture.

August:

  • Sangria Festival Chicago — August 19 to 21, 2024: The name says it all. Enjoy sangria, Latin American food, and music.
  • Ribfest Chicago — Expected August 2024: If ribs and rock music are your thing, you'll have a great time.

September:

  • Hyde Park Jazz Festival — September 28 and 29, 2024: If you can't get enough of jazz, come and see this event on the south side.
  • Taste of Polonia Festival — Labor Day Weekend 2024: Celebrate Polish culture and food with live music performed by dozens of bands.

October: Lincoln Park Wine Festival — Expected October 2024: Taste wine and enjoy live music while strolling through the art market.

Beyond the Music: Festival Experiences

While you're probably really stoked about seeing your favorite artist perform live, there are many fun and interesting things to do and see in and around the music festivals in Chicago. You'll have an even bigger blast if you explore some of these:

Food, Art, and Cultural Elements at Festivals

The food is usually amazing, and there are often dozens of vendors with all kinds of scrumptious delicacies at the biggest music festivals to make your taste buds dance, too.

Many festivals, such as Lollapalooza, have trendy extras such as lounge parties, autograph tents, and an art market. Make sure you look around so you don't miss something outside the ordinary.

Family-Friendly Activities and Kid-Centric Festivals

Wondering if music festivals are any place for your own family circus? Many festivals have spaces just for your little acrobats to jump around and burn off their boundless energy. For example, Lollapalooza has its own "Kidzapalooza", and West Fest, just outside of Chicago in West Town, includes a "Kids Fest" that even has pony rides.

In addition, there are many fairs, festivals, and fun activities for kids throughout the year in the Chicago area.

Camping, Glamping, and Other Accommodation Options

Most festival websites list recommendations for nearby hotels, but you might be wondering what else is available off the beaten path. Because Chicago is a big city, you can't really "camp" in a tent at most festivals; however, there are RV campgrounds in the suburbs.

If that still sounds too boring, there have been a few lesser-known festivals near Chicago, such as Campfire Music Festival, that include glamping as a part of the festival experience. New ones pop up every year, so keep your eyes peeled when you're making your plans.

A Guide for Festival-Goers

Before you take the big leap into the exciting world of Chicago festivals, we've got a few suggestions that can help make your experience even more amazing. Much of what is listed below has been compiled from festival-goers who learned this the hard way. Take these tips into account so you can have the most unforgettable time possible.

Tips for Attending Festivals in Chicago

Experienced festival-goers will tell you this for starters:

  • Google the festival and learn as much as you can about it before the festival
  • Use public transportation
  • Try new experiences
  • Pace yourself
  • Indulge in the food
  • Give yourself time to bounce back when it's over

What to Wear

We'd definitely be wearing a costume, but keep in mind that it can get pretty hot, so the following is up to you:

  • Comfortable shoes that you won't mind getting muddy
  • Light clothes for warm weather
  • A cool hat
  • Funky sunglasses
  • A crazy costume

What to Bring

You might be thinking that once you've got your wristband, you're good to go, but hang on a minute. You also want to make sure you have these:

  • Cash (but not large amounts)
  • Water bottle
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Extra shirt
  • Water. Bottle.
  • Toilet paper, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer
  • Light rain jacket or poncho for crazy changes in weather
  • WATER BOTTLE (seriously)

How to Plan Your Day

All the noise and excitement might make you feel a little overwhelmed, but here's how to make sure you still have fun:

  • Check the festival website for its "Dos and Don'ts" before you go
  • Avoid the mad rush times
  • Create a "must-see" plan from the lineup, but be flexible
  • Make time to explore the festival and check out other unexpected things

Staying Safe and Making the Most of Your Festival Experience

We're confident you'll have a safe trip in Chicago, but you should still think about your safety along with these tips:

  • Stay in groups
  • Have a predetermined meetup spot in case you get sidetracked
  • Chug plenty of fluids the day before the festival
  • Stay hydrated during the event (remember that water bottle!)
  • Stay off your phone and in the moment
  • Have an incredible time!

Support Chicago Music Festivals & Arts

There's nothing quite like the Chicago Musical Festival scene, with all the excitement and sheer immersive sensory experience that comes with it. There's something for everyone, regardless of your age or taste in music.

If you've never been to one, now might be the time to attend an event and support the artists and organizers who go to great lengths to make sure they're once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Also, if you'll be in Chicago between December 7 and 28, 2023, come and see our holiday show, 'Twas The Night Before, a thrilling yet festive celebration of love and cheer created especially for families.

More articles about