When lollapalooza descends on Grant Park in August, the masses will pay more than $100 to swarm downtown, rock out for three days, and drink lukewarm beer. Fortunately for music-loving Chicagoans, even casual fans will find something appealing at one of the smaller, but not slighter, music festivals priming the local performance pump in June and July. Here are five that offer the most bang for your buck.
|Intonation Music Festival
June 24th and 25th
Where: Union Park (North Ashland Avenue be-tween Washington Boulevard and Lake Street)
Backstory: Last year, this indie rock blowout lured 30,000 fans to an unlikely concert destination in the far West Loop. Can the magic be repeated a second time? With a lineup curated by Brooklyn’s Vice Records (home of British sensations The Streets and Bloc Party, which are both scheduled to headline), the answer is a resounding yes.
Drag Your Friends: To see Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, who collaborated with underground MC MF Doom on the critically acclaimed new album Fishscale. The fest will also feature an ultra-rare resurrection of some psychedelic music pioneers from the late 1960s-Roky Erickson of 13th Floor Elevators and Bay Area power trio Blue Cheer.
Support Local: The time is now to see Rhymefest, a renowned Midwest rapper who once out-freestyled Eminem. A Grammy winner (for co-writing Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks”), Rhymefest will likely draw curious fans angling to hear material from his first album, expected to drop around the time of the fest.
How to blend in: Trucker hat? Ironic T-shirt from eighth grade? Bored expression? All are welcome.
Tip: For pre- (or post-) fest noshing, a nearby Billy Goat outpost at 1535 West Madison Street offers one of the few quick bites within walking distance of the park.
Tickets: $20 for one day, $35 for both, at intonationmusicfest.com
|25th Annual American Music Festival
June 30th and July 3rd
Where: FitzGerald’s (6615 W. Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn)
Backstory: So you’ve never made it down to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival? Here’s a condensed version without the mud, featuring the best of Louisiana, Texas, and Chicago alt-country across two stages at this friendly suburban roadhouse. Plus, Wishbone is catering, previewing their new lease at a spot around the corner, so the grub will be a step above typical fest fare.
Drag Your Friends: Louisiana slide guitarist Sonny Landreth stole the show at this year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans; see him do it again in a more intimate setting. Also appearing is blues guitar hero Walter “Wolfman” Washington, a New Orleans fixture since the early 1960s, who incorporates a heavy dose of soul and blues into his music.
Support Local: Latin jazz group Chévere will showcase its genre-bending style, which borrows from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, funk, and blues traditions. Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks, will also perform from his new album, The Torch.
How to blend in: By sporting a cold beer in your right hand, grilled meat in your left
Tip: Early birds save $5 off the door price by arriving during the first half hour.
Tickets: $25 per day, at door
|International Festival Of Life
June 30th through July 4th
Where: Washington Park (5500 S. Cottage Grove Ave.)
Backstory: Now in its 14th year, this South Side cultural festival features music, dance, and wares from the Caribbean islands and Africa. As a testament to its draw, organizers this year are expanding it from four days to five, with more than 70 acts expecting to lure 200,000 people.
Drag Your Friends: To see LeToya Luckett, one of the original members (along with Beyonce Knowles) of Destiny’s Child (Luckett left the group early on); take your dancing shoes to see Beenie Man, one of dancehall reggae’s biggest crossover stars and a collaborator with Janet Jackson, the Neptunes, and Wyclef Jean.
Support Local: Chicago gospel star Darius Brooks, who got his start with the famed Thompson Community Singers, will show why he’s a three-time Grammy award winner. If you’ve never seen reggae band Gizzae play a Sunday night show at the Wrigleyville institution Wild Hare, catch them here.
How to blend in: Buy a piece of jewelry from the booths from Ghana or Senegal.
Tip: Get there hungry. Fest veterans speak reverently of the cuisine, which ranges from traditional fare from the Caribbean and Africa to New Orleans–style Cajun dishes and American soul food.
Tickets: $30 will get you in all five days, at ticketmaster.com
|Chicago Folk & Roots Festival
July 8th and 9th
Where: Welles Park (North Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and West Sunnyside avenues)
Backstory: This music, dance, crafts, and culture fair, held down the street from the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square, epitomizes the influential Chicago institution. In its early years, Patti Smith and Steve Earle gave star power. Now in its ninth year, the fair has been toned down to a kid-friendly multicultural weekend of regional and international fare.
Drag Your Friends: To see New Orleans soul music queen Irma Thomas in a rare appearance outside her home city. Also catch The Refugee All Stars of Sierra Leone, a group of exiled Guinea musicians who came together while living in a refugee camp in 2001.
Support Local: Dolly Varden’s Steve Dawson will perform from his recent solo album of prime Southern soul. The kids will love Wee Hairy Beasties, a collaboration of beloved local musicians Jon Langford, Kelly Hogan, and Sally Timms.
How to blend in: Pick up a bongo and jam.
Tip: Free polka! Duck into one of the tents on the periphery to learn how to polka, mambo, salsa, or waltz Cajun-style.
Tickets: $5 suggested donation, at gate
|Pitchfork Music Festival
July 29th and 30th
Where: Union Park
Backstory: After curating last year’s wildly successful Intonation festival, the influential Chicago-based music ‘zine Pitchfork decided to go out on its own. It couldn’t keep the name, but no bother: based on Pitchfork’s cache alone (the Web site is credited with igniting the careers of underground heroes Wolf Parade, The Arcade Fire, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) the lineup will likely lure 17,000 fans each day.
Drag Your Friends: To see any one of 38 bands you’ve probably never heard of, including the Silver Jews (a reincarnation of nineties rockers Pavement; on their first-ever tour) and Minneapolis up-and-comers Tapes ‘N Tapes.
Support Local: Wilco lends out drummer Glenn Kotche and guitarist Nels Cline for side projects. Kotche will play selections from a recent solo album of ambient sounds and exploratory jazz, and Cline will team up with Jeff Parker of Tortoise in a quartet setting of avant-garde jazz and Afro beat.
How to blend in: Carry around an art poster from Flatstock 9, a concurrent rock poster fair featuring work from artists worldwide.
Tip: Don’t miss an electronica and hip-hop stage that will feature Kanye’s main man A-Trak, Bjork collaborators Matmos, and Montreal DJ Ghislain Poirier.
Tickets: $20 one day, $30 for both, at ticketweb.com
|Photography: Rhymefest: Courtesy of J Records, Bloc Party: Drew Reynolds, Landreth: Rick Olivier, Ronnie Baker Brooks: Courtesy of Ronnie Baker Brooks, Brooks: Courtesy of Journey Music Group, Beenie Man: Courtesy of Shocking Vibes Records, Thomas: Courtesy of Irma Thomas, Dawson: Sarah R. Gross, Kotche: Michael Wilson, Silver Jews: Courtesy of Drag City Records