With a rich music history spanning from blues to indie rock and an unbeatable summer climate, Chicago seems tailor-made for the summer concert season. Each year, the city plays host to two major weekend-long rock festivals — Pitchfork Music Festival in July and Lollapalooza in August — but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The outdoor concert season is jam-packed from June through September and touches upon every genre under the sun. Mark your calendars for the following:
Conductor Carlos Kalmar is back on the podium to kick off this incredibly popular 10-week alfresco concert series at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion (Grant Park was the original home to the series, which began in 1935). This evening’s program includes Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, Turkish; Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4; composer Andrew Norman’s 2005 piece, Drip, whose manifesto of “chopped up” sounds he compares to a tossed salad.
Tip: If you want a spot on the lawn, arrive before the 6:30 p.m. start time and stake your claim with a blanket. Chicagoans are known to stage elaborate picnics that begin upwards of 30 minutes ahead of tuning.
What began in 2005 as a tightly curated lineup of bands dubbed the Intonation Festival is now an annual ritual for indie-music-loving elitists. Staged in Union Park on the Near West Side, this year’s Pitchfork represents an almost oxymoronic mix of genres. Headliners are Björk (July 19), Belle & Sebastian (July 20) and R. Kelly (July 21). Supporting acts include MIA, Yo La Tengo, The Breeders, Wire, Solange and dozens more.
Tip: Take the El. Parking is difficult, and the bike racks (of which there are hundreds) get overloaded quickly, but the Ashland-Lake El stop on the Green Line is conveniently on Union Park’s northwest corner.
Highly decorated Chinese pianist Lang Lang joins the city’s symphony orchestra for this evening concert at Ravinia Park, marking the half-way point through the 109th season of the country’s oldest outdoor music festival. It’s a powerhouse program, including works by Beethoven, Wagner, Prokofiev, Britten and Verdi.
Tip: Unless you don’t mind listening from a half-mile away, buy a $25 ticket within Ravinia’s Pavilion. The $10 lawn “seats,” aglow with portable candelabras, sprawl back from the stage as far as the eye can see.
This is the granddaddy of all summer festivals — one of the biggest in the country and among the biggest in the world. Conceived as a multiple-band traveling festival in 1991, Lollapalooza dropped anchor in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2005 and has been drawing international fans in the hundreds of thousands ever since. This year’s headliners include The Cure, Mumford & Sons, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Phoenix, The Postal Service and Vampire Weekend, and more than 100 other bands are on the lineup.
Tip: Unlike many festivals, outdoor water is allowed at Lolla — and you’re going to need it, as this is historically one of the hottest weekends of the summer. Just be sure your bottles (two max) are factory-sealed and no larger than one liter each.
The last of the city’s Loops and Variations series of new music and electronica concerts, this bill showcases contemporary sextet Eighth Blackbird as well as composer-drummer Kotche (a member of local rock group Wilco) and experimental electronic musician Flanigan, visiting from New York.
Tip: No need to pack a heavy picnic basket: Plenty of nearby cafés and markets — Toni Patisserie, Mariano’s, Pastoral, even the massive State Street Walgreen’s — stock picnic-friendly food and drink with a nod toward Millennium Park’s summer concerts.
Photos courtesy of Lollapalooza, City of Chicago, Grant Park Music Festival, Rebecca Smeyne and Russell Jenkins