7 Chicago Music Festivals To Catch This Summer

Dierks Bently, Lil Baby, Phoebe Bridgers, Rancid, and Diplo walk into a stadium…

Lollapalooza | Photo by Sydney Gawlik
Lollapalooza | Photo by Sydney Gawlik

2020? Let’s never do that again. After missing out on a full year of festivals, Chicago is wasting no time getting back on track for 2021 to help reestablish itself as the summer music festival capital of America. With every major festival from Lollapalooza to Riot Fest now back in action with lineups announced and tickets on sale, here’s your guide to YOLOing your Chicago summer like there’s no tomorrow. Because who the hell knows—maybe there won’t be.

Windy City Smokeout - Country Music & BBQ Festival
Windy City Smokeout - Country Music & BBQ Festival

Where: United Center Parking Lot
When: Thursday, July 8 - Sunday, July 11
The lowdown: What’s better than gorging yourself on succulent smoked meats and crisp craft beer on a hot summer day? Doing so in the presence of country-western greatness, of course. Put a little tang in your twang as Windy City Smokeout takes over United Center’s epic 18-acre parking lot to kick off what promises to be a top notch festival season. Both the food and the tunes are guaranteed to slap, with appearances from musical icons like Dierks Bently, Jon Pardi, Brett Eldredge, and ol’ Mr. Hootie himself, Darius Rucker alongside a bounty of booze and finger lickin’ good pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and a whole lot of sides courtesy of the country’s top pitmasters.
The lineup: Headliners include Brett Eldredge, Morgan Evans, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Kolby Cooper, Hailey Whitters, Cody Johnson, and Jon Pardi. BBQ standouts range from midwest titans like Bub City, Green Street Smoked Meats, and Murphysboro’s 17th Street BBQ to out-of-towners like Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ from South Carolina, Texas’ own Salt Lick BBQ, and North Carolina whole hog legend Sam Jones BBQ, among others.
The rules: Ticket-holders must undergo a screening via Health Pass by CLEAR, a free mobile product that runs through a variety of virus-related questions including a feature where vaccinated folks can securely link out to their vax card while the non-vaccinated must upload proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the prior 72 hours. Masks are also required when entering or exiting the grounds.
The cost: 4-day passes start at $125 per person. Buy yours here.

Lollapalooza | Photo by Katrina Barber

Where: Grant Park
When: Thursday, July 29 - Sunday, August 1
The lowdown: Festival season returns to Chicago in a major way as Lollapalooza loudly shatters the city’s post-COVID silence with another four-day bacchanal in Grant Park. One of the world’s largest music festivals brought in 400,000 people in 2019 and offers a little something for everyone with 170 bands across eight stages from pop and hip-hop to rock and EDM.
The lineup: Headliners include Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus, Tyler the Creator, and Post Malone, with a deep bench of supporting acts including Megan Thee Stallion, Marshmello, Journey, Band of Horses, Young Thug, Modest Mouse, and hometown heros Whitney.
The rules: Attendees must show proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination or for the unvaccinated, a negative COVID-19 test result obtained within 24 hours of the day’s events. 
The cost: 4-day passes start at $375 per person. Buy yours here.

The Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival
The Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival

Where: Douglass Park
When: Friday, August 20 - Sunday, August 22
The lowdown: Chicago’s biggest hip-hop fest touches down in Douglass Park for a three-day bash highlighting young, independent up-and-comers in the rap game. First held in Chicago in 2018, Summer Smash is a newer entrant to Chicago’s crowded summer calendar but quickly made a name for itself as a fan favorite attracting a full 40,000 attendees in 2019.
The lineup: Headliners include A$AP Rocky, Lil Baby, and Lil Uzi Vert, but don’t sleep on the smaller font acts hidden in the 80+-artist lineup like Earl Sweatshirt, City Girls, Lil Yachty, Internet Money, and Babyface Ray.
The rules: Exact COVID requirements haven’t been announced yet, with the festival only stating: “We are working diligently with health officials to ensure all proper safety restrictions will be enforced… Stay tuned for updated health policies and restrictions.”
The cost: 3-day passes start at $275 per person. Buy yours here.

North Coast Music Festival
North Coast Music Festival

Where: SeatGeek Stadium
When: Friday, September 3 - Sunday, September 5
The lowdown: Originally a multi-genre fest held in Union Park, this annual Labor Day tradition dating to 2010 has leaned heavily on its EDM roots in recent years while bouncing around from Northerly Island to its new digs at suburban SeatGeek Stadium. For 2021, organizers are planning a main stage inside the stadium with three additional stages in a soccer dome and surrounding fields.
The lineup: Headliners on the 100+-act bill include Kaskade, Griz, and Zeds Dead, with additional acts like Louis the Child, Claude VonStroke, Diesel (a.k.a. Shaquille O’Neal), Bonobo, Green Velvet, NGHTMRE, and more providing backup.
The rules: The festival’s initial COVID safety plan calls for increased hand sanitizing stations, contactless concessions, modified security searches to minimize contact, and “health screenings and mask mandates as directed by local officials.”
The cost: 3-day passes start at $243 per person. Buy yours here.

Pitchfork Music Festival
Pitchfork Music Festival

Where: Union Park
When: Friday, September 10 - Sunday, September 12
The lowdown: Originally launched in 2005 as Intonation Music Fest, this Pitchfork magazine-curated stunner rubs elbows with Lollapalooza as one of the OGs of the Chicago festival scene. The hipster hangout is known for showcasing indie bands so cool you’ve never even heard of them along with a smattering of bigger names across three stages, this year swapping its traditional mid-July date with a new September dance card.
The lineup: The uniquely all-female bill of headliners include Erykah Badu, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon, Angel Olsen, and Phoebe Bridges, with a reliably stout assemblage of backing acts including Animal Collective, Waxahatchee, The Fiery Furnaces, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Danny Brown, Cat Power, and Chicago treasure Jamila Woods.
The rules: All attendees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have proof of a negative PCR test administered within 24 hours of each day’s events.
The cost: 3-day passes start at $195 per person. Buy yours here.

Riot Fest
Riot Fest

Where: Douglass Park
When: Friday, September 17 - Sunday, September 19
The lowdown: Chicago’s annual “punk rock carnival” is about as good as it gets when it comes to large-scale music fests in Chicago. It got its start inside a series of local clubs back in 2005 before expanding to its current outdoor format in 2012 (not to mention being kicked out of its original Humboldt Park home in 2015). Today, the fiercely beloved punk-flavored multi-genre fest has carved out a unique niche that draws more than just the mohawked set.
The lineup: Headliners include The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Run the Jewels, with yet another excellent undercard of supporters including the Pixies, Faith No More, Lupe Fiasco, NOFX, Dinosaur Jr., Vic Mensa, Gogol Bordello, Devo, Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, and more.
The rules: The festival’s initial safety guidelines call for enhanced sanitation and hand-washing stations plus full compliance with local regulations and mask mandates, including potential vaccination/testing requirements for entry.
The cost: 3-day passes start at $200 per person. Buy yours here.

Spring Awakening Music Festival
Spring Awakening Music Festival

Saturday, October 3 - Sunday, October 4
Addams/Medill Park
The lowdown: For the first time, Chicago’s biggest EDM festival isn’t being held in its usual June slot—hence the new “Autumn Equinox” tag. Originally stationed at Soldier Field, the nine-year-old electronic megafest has found a new home in Addams/Medill Park in recent years and can always be relied upon to showcase an eye-catching spectacle studded with the who's-who of dance music’s elite. Pack your glow sticks.
The lineup: Acts include Adventure Club, Diplo, Madeon, Dillon Francis, Galantis, Martin Garrix, Matoma, RL Grime, Baauer, Zomboy, AC Slater, and more.
The rules: COVID policy details are scarce, but hopefully we won’t have to worry about that by October (fingers firmly crossed). They do, however, have a COVID-19 waiver posted on their site.
The cost: 2-day passes start at $169 per person. Buy yours here.

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Jay Gentile is an award-winning freelance journalist specializing in travel, food & drink, culture, events and entertainment stories. In addition to Thrillist, you can find his work in The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Chicago Tribune, Lonely Planet, VICE, Outside Magazine and more. Follow @thejaygentile