Chicago is America’s Festival City in 2016

Don’t let the proclamation in the headline deceive you: there are gobs, literal dozens, of great American music festivals outside of Chicago. In the same breath, there is also no denying that with seven major-billing music festivals, and at least a half dozen smaller options, Chicago has in 2016 ascended to a top-ranked spot as a festival hub in the Midwest US.

For anyone not on a coast, it’s the city most likely to host your favorite musician this summer. We’re no longer in simple ‘Lolla or P4K?’ territory, and a varied list of festivals catering to damn near every taste should bring a smile to the face of anyone swinging through Ol’ Windy this Summer. Here’s our list of what we’re hitting and missing —

photo cred: City of Chicago
photo cred: City of Chicago

Chicago Blues Festival – Grant Park, June 10-12, FREE

Vibe: Blues music and family friendly

Notable Acts: Shemekia Copeland, Curtis Salgado, Fred Wesley & The New JB’s, Irma Thomas, and more — lineup

Bet you didn’t expect this to start the list, but then again, no young person expects blues to impact them until they shut up and listen. Here’s a great chance to do so with the largest free blues festival in the world, right in the heart of Grant Park.

If you find yourself in spitting distance of Chicago in early June, this is a can’t-miss.  If you’re too old or cool or broke for SAMF, peep this for an evening.

Photo cred:
Photo cred:

Spring Awakening Music Festival – Venue TBA, June 10-12, $189 GA / $299 VIP

Vibe: EDM, with sprinkles of house and techno for the adults

Notable acts: Lineup TBA

Chicago’s React Presents has gone from continual contender as promoter to uncontested juggernaut in recent years, expanding to five dance music-oriented festivals in the Chicago area over the course of 2015. SAMF, which takes the cake of being the most EDM-friendly affair of the bunch, enters into a new era this year, outgrowing its previous home of Soldier Field. After an initial announcement of Jackson Park as the new venue, a snafu between promoters and city officials nixed the plan.

Last year’s SAMF was an absolute blast for the discerning ears to pick and choose their way through an otherwise mass-market festival, with a presence of forward thinking house music that remained steady throughout. This year, we’re concerned that it’s just under two months away and there’s no confirmed venue or major lineup announcement (outside of a few rumors).

If React can pull off the hail mary, there’s no reason to think SAMF won’t be the same bit of fun it always was — but consider our judgment reserved, and breath held, until then.

Photo cred: Timeout Chicago
Photo cred: Timeout Chicago

Mamby On The Beach – Oakwood Beach, July 2-3, $119 GA / $199 VIP

Vibe: Live electronic + hip-hop on one stage, house + techno DJs on the other, gorgeous beach backdrop

Notable Acts: Chet Faker, Atmosphere, Chromeo, Animal Collective, Santigold, Lupe Fiasco, Seth Troxler, Tale of Us, and more — lineup

Simply put, Mamby 2015 was the best first-run of a festival I’d ever attended. React tried their hand at creating an immersive-feeling festival without the camping, and succeeded with a small beach fest that boasted a strong, diverse musical lineup at its backbone. Don’t let notions of React Presents being ‘too EDM’ fool you, Mamby is a lineup of mature party music that doesn’t age discriminate. It’s the most blissful matrimony of old and new dance music stylings I’ve seen in action. Mamby wasn’t without its inaugural faults (there were sound bleed issues and limited vendor options), but overall, it was a festival that succeeded in checking attendees’ worries and cares at the gates. React seems to have heard the feedback from last year — they did confirm to us that a third full stage will be added, the tiki bar will be bigger, vendors more plentiful, and things like ‘silent disco yoga’, henna tattoos, and tarot readings will be among the non-music activities.

Given all the stuff they manage to jam in, Mamby is likely one of the surest sub-$200 festivals you can invest in anywhere, period.

Chicago Open Air – Toyota Park, July 15th-17th, $139-239 GA / $399 VIP

Vibe: Heavy, hard Rock

Notable Acts: Rammstein, The Devil Wears Prada, Hollywood Undead, Disturbed, Korn, Deafheaven, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, and more — lineup

This is a hard rock fan’s wet dream, and even if you think you’ve outgrown that phase of your life, this lineup might make you double take. This is also the anti-Pitchfork, if you’re feeling so adamant. Featuring every hard rock band you’ve ever heard and didn’t hate (and a few you did), Chicago Open Air is a first-run festival that aims to put itself at the tippy-top of major rock events taking place on our shores, clearly taking a page from the likes of UK’s Download Festival and Germany’s legendary Rock Am Ring.

The things that make us hesitant include being directly opposite Pitchfork (in both schedule and sound), the too-steep-for-casuals prices, but above all, the billing of “craft beer” and “gourmet man food” above the actual headliners. If I wanted to pay too much money to surround myself with that, I’d stay the fuck in Logan Square — but seeing My Bloody Valentine, Marilyn Manson, Five Finger Death Punch, and Slipknot in the same day might provide a good outlet for the aggression those things inspire in me.

Photo cred: Joseph Mohan, Pitchfork

Pitchfork – Union Park, July 15th-17th, $65 Single Day / $165 GA Three-Day

Vibe: Super hip and music-centric

Notable Acts: Anderson.Paak, Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds, FKA twigs, Holy Ghost!, Oneohtrix Point Never, Carly Rae Jepsen, and LOTS more — lineup

If metal is not your speed, you’d do much worse than coming to Pitchfork for a day or two. For all the hoity-toity reputation that surrounds Pitchfork as an event and publication, the affair is delightfully stripped free of VIP rank-pulling and gimmicky festival tsotchkes. The lineup this year is a who’s-who of songwriting and performance talent – old, new, and emerging – and Pitchfork is the perennial showcase of it. Close your eyes and point to a name on the lineup, google them, and peep the ardent followings that prove each of their talent.

Few lineups touch this year’s at any price, but you’ve got to be the type who is willing to see some shit you’ve never heard of as a key component to your festival experience. Pick P4K if that’s you.

Kanye West at Lollapalooza 2008, Photo cred: C3 Presents

Lollapalooza – Millennium Park, July 28-31, $335 GA Four-Day (SOLD OUT) / $2,200 VIP Four-Day / $4,200 Platinum Four-Day

Vibe: The one all your rich friends are going to

Notable Acts: J. Cole, Lana Del Rey, The 1975, Radiohead, Future, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Disclosure, and LOTS more — lineup

The grand mack-daddy expands to four days this year, and for all the insane talent Lolla is bringing to town, the vast, vast majority of people reading this have next to zero chance of seeing any of it. Selling out of GA tickets in minutes after the lineup announcement, and boasting VIP tickets that start at two grand, Lolla seems to be at peak opulence in 2016. There’s no doubting that the amount of talent rivals any and every other festival in the world this year, but the idea of spending $350 for a city-based, non-camping festival is already hairbrained – and downright offensive when you notice the $4,200 Platinum pass.

Our recommendation is hitting up any number of the myriad after parties, but if you’re lucky enough to cop a ticket without sacrificing life + limb to do so, go have your fun. Otherwise, Lollapalooza is priced miles above what it should be.

Photo cred: React Presents

North Coast Music Festival – Union Park, Sept 2-4, $159 GA Three-Day / $259 VIP Three-Day

Vibe: Hat pins and hula hoops

Notable Acts: Odesza, Bassnectar, Zedd, Logic, Grouplove, Galantis, Action Bronson, Juicy J, Sleigh Bells, Matoma, Ty Dolla $ign, more TBA — lineup

North Coast is always pretty nice, but short of mind-blowing. With a lineup that sounds deceptively EDM-heavy, NCMF is reliably a great way to close out a summer, combining the best feelings of a more intimate festival with being smack dab in the middle of Chicago. I’ll be the first to admit that NCMF 2016’s first wave announcement is perhaps one of its weakest — which is saying something, as it’s still an impressive first wave. React also confirmed to us that there’s a combined graffiti & silent disco area, thusly creating a theme of React pairing silent disco with a variety of activities across festivals.

Really, the only big hurdle to us is what a Saturday crowd filled with Bassnectar stans might do to the overall vibe, but otherwise count on this one being a chill way to cap off the summer for electronic music lovers. Older fans and those wanting a more well-rounded musical experience would do well to hold out for Riot.

Photo cred: Cobra Productions, Riot Fest

Riot Fest – Douglas Park, Sept 11-13, $149 GA Three-Day / $299 VIP Three-Day

Vibe: Everyone over 25; everyone who likes something else more than dance music

Notable Acts: No Doubt, System Of A Down, Modest Mouse, The Prodigy, Iggy Pop, Snoop Dogg, Motorhead, Rancid, Tenacious D, Ice Cube & Special Guests, Alkaline Trio, LOTS more — lineup

If ever there was a festival that someone is coming for Lolla’s crown, it is definitely Riot Fest. With a laundry list lineup of new-classic performers with long-established chops, you’d be hard pressed to go wrong at this one. There’s music for every taste as Riot deftly walks the line between alternative and mainstream, with greater nuance than Lolla, at less than half the price. It’s not even a competition when you put the two lineups next to each other. Our verdict is that if you feel some type of way about not going to Lolla, you can cop tickets to Riot and, almost guaranteed, have a better time.

Not a big seller for the EDM fans, but if you like pretty much any other type of music, you’ll enjoy yourself at Riot Fest. Of any of the festivals we’re watching, this is hands-down the best value for its current price tier.

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