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Hold Up. Is Taste of Chicago This Summer’s Best Music Festival?

Questlove of The Roots performs last summer in Union Park.   Photo: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

The Taste of Chicago just upped the game for best free live music in the city this summer.

Make no mistake: The Taste has always offered music. But in booking the Roots, Kongos, the Decemberists, Billy Idol, Elle King, Donnie Trumpet, and the Isley Brothers, the festival hones in on the sort of entertainment that defines summertime Chicago. With a zero-dollar entrance fee, it’s competing with the beloved Chicago Jazz Festival and Downtown Sound music Mondays.

Rather than focusing on grub as the Taste’s main draw (with the same standard fare year after year, returnees don’t have much incentive), the festival has curated an artistically versatile lineup. It’s one worth enduring the throngs for.

Taste upping the ante probably isn’t a fluke. With performers like Outkast, Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West headlining recent mega-fests in the city, Taste’s move to book rock, hip-hop, and R&B heavyweights lets the festival tap into an already proven market in Chicago. It doesn’t hurt that festival culture skews young, attracting audiences more interested in spending on experiences than objects. Welcoming performers as disparate as The Roots, Elle King, and the local Donnie Trumpet only helps broaden the festival’s potential audience. Supplemented with primo real estate in Grant Park and gorgeous views of the city, that’s a potent combo.

Of course, a killer lineup also benefits the Taste’s day-one clientele—tourists. While visitors once flocked to the festival for its selection of grilled & fried foodstuffs, out-of-towners will now bump up against the city’s artistic offerings as they stroll the food tents. Better yet, maybe they’ll come chiefly for the music. Think of it as a new form of cultural tourism: Come for the music, stay for the food, hospitality, and beauty.

Here’s the full lineup:

Wednesday, July 6

The Roots
Opener: Donnie Trumpet

Thursday, July 7

Kongos
Openers: Elle King, Transviolet

Friday, July 8

The Decemberists
Opener: Shakey Graves

Saturday, July 9

Billy Idol
Opener: Sons of the Silent Age

Sunday, July 10

The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald and Ernie Isley
Opener: Sheila E.

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