There really isn’t a whole lot of positive news out there.  Chicago sports haven’t exactly been their best recently, with the exception of the Bulls and Mr. Rose, of course.  Illinois Division 1 sports are going down the tubes.  The economy is still in the shitter, not showing any signs of improving any time soon.  The school system is just as bad.  We are looking at a possibility of getting into another war or two.  It’s all pretty depressing.  But spring is finally here and festival season is right around the corner.  It’s getting to be that time of year when all the summer music festivals are announcing their lineups and starting to sell tickets.  For me, music has been the shining ray of hope and happiness in a very dark time, and Chicago may be the best place to live in the summer if you are a music fan.  And it is only getting better.

Sure, there are bigger festivals than Lollapalooza — which is by far Chicago’s biggest music festival — and there are definitely states that have more festivals than Illinois, but there really is no better city to be in during the summer if you are a music-freak like myself.  I’ll prove it in 11 different points (I tried for ten, but ten can’t contain the Chicago music festival scene).

1. – Lollapalooza: Arguably the best alternative music festival in the country, nay, the world.  This festival has been around for a decade and shows no signs of slowing down.  They even contribute back to the city by leaving the grounds downtown at Grant Park more beautiful than they found them, all without using taxpayer dollars.  Started by Jane’s Addiction front-man, Perry Ferrell, Lollapalooza has been the name in alternative music festivals around the world.  Sure, the ex-travelling festival may be branching out to Chile, Brazil and other countries around the world, but Chicago’s first weekend in August continues to be the premier Lollapalooza weekend.  Where else could you see Cold War Kids, Kid Cudi, Foo Fighters and Deadmau5 all playing at the same time???

Three-day passes go on sale this week for the “Secret Sale.”  No, the lineup isn’t up yet, but have you ever seen a Lollapalooza lineup that wasn’t worth at least twice that?  If you’re not quick enough to get on the $75 secret sale (they usually get snatched-up in a couple of hours), you will be able to by three-day passes at the early bird price on March 27th for $200.  Official Site

2. – North Coast Music Festival: The premier electronic/hip hop music festival of the midwest.  Last year saw David Guetta, Wiz Khalifa, Benny Banassi,  STS9 aka Sound Tribe Sector 9 (which has crazy followers like Deadheads, which I hope are just referred to collectively as the Sound Tribe) and many other huge acts.  When it comes to hoppin’ on a bus or cab to the land of eargasms (a.k.a. Union Park), North Coast is about as good as it gets.  “Summer’s Last Stand” definitely lived up to the hype this past year and I’m sure this summer will be no different.  Official Site

3. – Lollapalooza After Parties:  There are very few festivals that will allow their artists to play shows anywhere near the festival location within a month.  Perry Ferrell slaps every other festival promoter in the face by not only allowing it, but supporting it by tying Lollapalooza artists’ Chicago shows to the festival itself.  Now, these shows aren’t a few weeks before or after the festival, they are DURING the festival.  People that have lived in Chicago the past decade have no idea how truly unique of an experience this is.  Of course, during these shows there are guest appearances up the yin-yang, and those that can’t afford the higher prices of the festival can still afford to catch their favorite artists from Lollapalooza for a fraction of the cost.  Way to be a man of the people, Perry!  This past year, if you were fast enough, you could have seen The Foo Fighters at one of the smaller venues in Chicago in The Metro (where Jane’s Addiction chose for their CD release party this past fall).

4. – Pitchfork Music Festival: Pitchfork Magazine is one of the most highly respected names in indie music and their summer festival in Grant Park, the same location as Lollapalooza,  will be bringing amazing indie music from all over the world to Chicago for the 8th-straight year.  This year’s headliners include Vampire Weekend, A$AP Rocky, AraabMUZIK and Feist, with more to be announced before the festival hits July 13-15.  If you were fortunate enough to go last year, you would have been a part of a mudfest that made Lollapalooza’s Sunday look like a dry afternoon in the desert.  Official Site

5. – Spring Awakening Music Festival: This is a new one this year;  Held at Soldier Field, this brand new 2-day festival will feature the very best in electronic/dance music on Saturday June 16th and Sunday June 17th.  Headliners include Skrillex, Afrojack, Wolfgang Gartner, Diplo, Laidback Luke, Flux Pavillion, Moby and a dozen other heavy-hitters.  If all you want is the dance music and nothing else, this is your weekend.  Considering that all 7 DJs I mentioned usually sell their tickets for about $30 or $40 for a solo show, $120+fees/taxes is peanuts!  Official Site

6. – Chicago Blues Festival: Top blues acts from all over the world converge on Chicago’s Grant Park for three days of top tier music at the world’s largest free blues festival.  Started in 1984, every June you can stroll around the park’s grounds listening to the best in up-and-coming blues musicians as well as the living legends.  You can also catch some blues-centric jazz, rock, and soul throughout the festival.  Over the past 27 years the festival has seen larger than life acts such as B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Official Site

And hey, if you’re out of town for that weekend or you’re more of a night owl, check out Kingston Mines on N. Halsted St. every night until 4am (5am on Saturdays) for the best blues in Chicago from the likes of Joanna Connor and Linsey Alexander, who live for the music.  This place is especially amazing in the summer, and I have the not-safe-for-public stories to prove it.

7. – Chicago Jazz Festival: Celebrating its 34th year this summer, the Chicago Jazz Festival is held at, you guessed it, Grant Park.  The four-day festival occurs on Labor Day weekend and, like the Chicago Blues Festival, is 100% free.  Also like the blues festival, the jazz festival brings together the best of Chicago, the nation and the world.  Run by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, this festival also includes late night performances at locations throughout the city.  Past legendary performers include Miles Davis, Benny Carter and Ella Fitzgerald.  Official Site

8. – World Music Festival Chicago: Musicians from all different genres and locations around the world come to the city to showcase their music across various locations all over Chicago.  One of the best parts of this festival is that artists will play multiple sets across different locations.  So, even if you have to work one night or the show is on the other side of the city, chances are you can catch that same act when and where you can make it. World Music Festival: Chicago returns September 21- 27.  Official Site

9. – Neighborhood music festivals: Every weekend of the summer there is a neighborhood music festival.  Admission ranges from free to $10, which grants you access to usually two or three stages of live music.  Last year I went to the Roosevelt Street Festival to see Reverend Horton Heat, but was pleasantly surprised to hear the most famous Japanese comic punk band in the world open.  Before Peelander Z, I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert and the band got the entire crowd to yell out how they like their steaks cooked.


10. – Summer Camp Music Festival:  Less than three hours from Chicago (near Peoria), Summer Camp Music Festival at Three Sisters Park is a great way to get out of the city and into mother nature during your music festival weekends.  Hosted in Chillicothe, IL, this 3-day long festival is host to over 100 different bands on 6 stages.  Over the past 11 years of the festival’s history, they have been host to legends like Willie Nelson, The Flaming Lips, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic and Medeski Martin & Wood.  This year’s headliners for the May 25-27 festival include moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Jane’s Addiction, Pretty Lights, Lotus, Zed’s Dead and electronic supergroup Gigantic Ungerground Conspiracy (featuring members from Big Gigantic, Underground Orchestra and Conspirator/The Disco Biscuits).  For under $200 ($100 if you were on top of things) it is a steal for the caliber of talent involved in the event, which is basically the midwest Bonnaroo.  Official Site

11. Every Other Festival in Driving Distance:  Cabin Fever Indoor Camping and Music Festival (Peoria), headlined by Rusted Root, is a unique concept where people actually camp at the indoor venues.  Summerfest (Milwaukee) is a short train, car or bus ride away.  With over a million attendees and hundreds of bands over 11 days, it is a great way to get out of the state for a day, get drunk, eat decent food and jam out to one of the dozen headliners playing every night.  Electric Forest Music Festival (Rothbury, MI) is a shorter drive than Detroit and is host to the biggest names in electronic music.  Identity Music Festival doesn’t always tour the same cities (and never Chicago), but it always hits a city within driving distance of Chicago. This is THE electronic music tour of the USA.  There are also about 10 different alternative rock music festivals in northern Illinois and Wisconsin every year that are easily within driving distance.

With six huge festivals within city limits, dozens of neighborhood festivals and another couple-dozen festivals within driving distance (not to mention all of the acts that just stop by during their tours) Chicago is clearly the heavy-hitter when it comes to summer music.  And if you are looking for a plentiful source of pride and joy in the Windy City, the live music scene is definitely that bright, shining light.

If you can’t afford to buy concert tickets, check out sites like, venue websites and Facebook pages, and your favorite radio station’s website for plenty of opportunities to win free tickets.  I think I won about 30 pairs of tickets last year, all to shows I actually wanted to attend.

Contact Party Marty

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