Chicago’s Best Summer Outdoor Festivals: Fun Music, Food, Dance
Joyful summer pleasures and treasures are already in the air! Across the United States, our peak festival season kicks off now. In Chicago — a mecca of music, food, drink, crafts, art, dance — its 2022 outdoor merrymaking has shifted into mega-high gear. Over the next three months, more than a score of major events, plus dozens of community fairs and festivities, salute the Windy City’s colossal cultural and culinary talents. It can be happily head-spinning to pick from so many spirit-soaring goings-on, must-see greats and free fun. Check Choose Chicago for a lively line-up, as well as other helpful travel-planning details. Presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the full schedule is at MillenniumPark.org. Here’s the lowdown on a handful of favorite highlights.
Chicago Blues Festival
Chicago Blues Festival (June 9 to 12). Where: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, as well as at various neighborhood stages. Best Bets: This citywide blues-boost is the biggest admission-free blues gathering in the world, hailing Chicago’s blues-born legacy. Applaud a luminous assemblage of masterful musicians, such as Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues, Eric Gales (also known as Raw Dawg), Grady Champion, Joanna Connor, Rico McFarland, The Kinsey Report, The Mike Wheeler Band, Thornetta Davis and Toronzo Cannon. On each of the four days, a different tribute theme is also unfurled, cheering the accomplishments of distinctive artists: Erwin Helfer and The Boogie Woogie Ensemble, Bob Stroger & Friends, Chicago Soul and Women in Blues.
Grant Park Music Festival
Grant Park Music Festival (June 15 to August 22). Where: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park; seated ticket fees, as well as free areas available. Best Bets: Just say, “Wow!” This astounding program uplifts aplenty and has been heralded as a transformative arts extravaganza. It showcases spectacular classical pieces, such as Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, as well as popular contemporary selections at the Independence Day Salute and Lights on Broadway. Its Cirque Goes to Hollywood spotlights live aerialists achieving incredible feats above the stage.
Millennium Park Summer Music Series
Millennium Park Summer Music Series (June 20 to August 18). Where: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park; free. Best Bets: Get set to get excited by the rousing roster of American and global artists, such as DakhaBrakha, a folk-fusion quartet from Kyiv, Ukraine; Femi Kuti, a Nigerian Afrobeat saxophonist; the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra, a 12-piece ensemble expressing musical flair reaped from around the world; Cimafunk, an Afro-Cuban voice who deftly mixes funk with Cuban music and African rhythms; Abigail Washburn, an Illinois-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter and clawhammer banjo player; and Samantha Crain, from Oklahoma, a Choctaw singer-songwriter, poet and musician, who is a two-time Native American Music Award winner.
Chicago SummerDance (July 6 to September 17). Where: Pop-up happenings downtown and citywide; free. Best Bets: This beloved series, steered by professional dance instructors, teaches attendees of all ages and skill-sets how to step out and step in. Learn memorable moves: Afrobeat, Bachata, ballroom basics, East Coast swing, hula, line-dancing, kizomba, merengue, polka hop, salsa and more. Expect lots of smiles and rhythmic revelry.
Taste of Chicago
Taste of Chicago (July 8 to 10). Where: Grant Park alongside the Buckingham Fountain, featuring more than 30 vendors; free admission. Best Bets: Food galore! Entertainment is on tap, too: three stages with free music performances, including Aterciopelados (a rock band from Colombia), Drive-By Truckers (an American rock band based in Athens, Georgia) and Chicago-native Sadie Woods (artist and DJ) — as well as dance sessions and family diversions. In addition, a series of three Taste pop-up events unfold on consecutive Saturdays in the Chicago neighborhoods of Austin (June 11) with Caribbean bites, tacos, gumbo; Pullman (June 18) with ribs, artisanal sandwiches, gourmet sausages; and Little Village (June 25) with Mexican-style ice pops, mac & cheese and gazpacho, among other delish dishes.
Hearty appetites flock to this feast-a-thon, founded in 1980. It fires up iconic Midwestern morsels as well as introduces innovative treats. Chicago’s bustling and wide-ranging restaurant scenes are represented, among them: Arun’s Thai Restaurant, Auntie Vee’s Kitchen, Barangaroos Aussie Pies, BJ’s Market & Bakery, Buona Beef, Chicago’s Doghouse, Churro Factory, Classic Cobbler Baked Goods Company, Connie’s Pizza, Cynthia’s Gumbo Express, Decadent Flavor, Doom Street Eats, Eli’s Cheesecake Company, Esperanza Kitchen Delights, Haire’s Gulf Shrimp, Healthy Substance, Josephine’s Cooking, La Cocinita Food Truck, Mr. Quiles Mexican Food, Mr. E Chef Catering, Ms. Tittle’s Cupcakes, Original Rainbow Cone, Prime Tacos, Franco’s Ristorante, Robinson’s No.1 Ribs, Seoul Taco, Taco Sublime, Tandoor Char House, The Sole Ingredient Catering, Whadda Jerk and Yum Dum. Thirst-quencher bonus: a beer hall, wine tent and cocktail lounge.
“After an all-virtual Taste in 2020 and community pop-ups in 2021, we are thrilled to bring Taste back to Grant Park and back into our neighborhoods in 2022,” says Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Erin Harkey. “There’s something for everyone to enjoy at this year’s Taste, throughout the city.”