Free Summer Concert Guide

June 10, 2011 2:00 PM

Picnic In The City

Picnic In The City

When summer comes to Chicago, it brings with it many good things.  Not the least among them is free concerts.  There are, in fact, so many free shows that it’s difficult to keep track of all the live music one can take in without spending a dime.  Here’s a rundown of notable upcoming performances that are strictly free of charge (ticketed street fests, and those with “suggested donation” entry fees, have been omitted).

Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays

When: Through July 25

Now in its third year, Downtown Sound is a favorite of indie music fans.  The Monday-night highlights include performances by lo-fi favorites Low with Glen Hansard of The Swell Season/The Frames (and the movie “Once”), and the innovative punk of the incessantly-touring Ted Leo + the Pharmacists.  All shows begin at 6:30 p.m.

June 13: Phosphorescent + Campbell Brothers
June 20: Kings Go Forth + Ben L’Oncle Soul
June 27: Low & Glen Hansard
July 4: Seefeel + Cave
July 11: Delicate Steve + Bombino
July 18: Blonde Redhead + My Gold Mask
July 25: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists + Rachel Ries

Chicago Blues Festival

When: June 10-12

The world’s largest free blues festival returns once again to rock Chicago.  Several performances take place on five stages over the course of the weekend.  This one packs in the crowds, so prepare to show up early.


Friday, June 10
Petrillo Music Shell
Eddie Cotton (6:15 p.m.)
Tribute to Robert Johnson: David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Rick Sherry, Rocky Lawrence, Hubert Sumlin and Duwayne Burnside Band (8:00 p.m.)

Saturday, June 11
Pepsi Front Porch Stage
Tribute to Pinetop Perkins featuring Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (4:45 p.m.
Petrillo Music Shell
Dave Specter Band featuring special guest Jimmy Johnson (6:00 p.m.)
Carl Weathersby’s Blues Band (7:15 p.m.)
Billy Branch and The Sons of Blues with special guest Magic Slim (8:30 p.m.)

Sunday, June 12
Pepsi Front Porch Stage
John Primer (4:45 p.m.)
Petrillo Music Shell
Shemekia Copeland (6:00 p.m.)
Lonnie Brooks with guest, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Michael “Iron Man” Burks and Rick Estrin: 40th Anniversary Celebration of Alligator Records (7:30 p.m.)

Picnic In The City

Picnic In The City

Grant Park Music Festival

When: June 15-August 19

By far the oldest free music series in Chicago, the Grant Park Music Festival is now 77 years old.  One may be tempted to joke about the comparable age of the audience, but these free concerts in Millennium Park with the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus are a season’s worth of gems that music appreciators of all stripes should put on their calendar.  Concerts are led by Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar and Chorus Director Christopher Bell, and include a variety of internationally renowned guests.


Opening Night: Symphonie Fantastique
Wednesday, June 15 at 6:30 pm
Pianist Jean-Philippe Collard performs Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major on an opening night program that includes Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

Mendelssohn & Schoenberg
Friday, June 17 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, June 18 at 7:30 pm
The Grant Park Chorus performs its first concert of the season with Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden and Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang, with sopranos Tamara Wilson and Maire O’Brien and tenor Brendan Tuohy.

Regina Carter: Reverse Thread
Wednesday, June 22 at 6:30 pm
Renowned violinist Regina Carter performs with the Grant Park Orchestra, with Maestro Kalmar conducting a program featuring composer Billy Childs’ Violin Concerto, a lament for those whose lives were lost during the war in Iraq.

Independence Celebration
Sunday, July 3 at 5:30pm (venue and time are tentative)
Christopher Bell conducts a celebratory and patriotic musical celebration in Millennium Park for the annual Independence Day Concert.  Expect traditional favorites along with a few surprises.

Spanish Guitar & Alondra de la Parra
Friday, July 8 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, July 9 at 7:30 pm
Conductor Alondra de la Parra makes her Grant Park Music Festival debut with two performances that will include Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez.  Classical guitarist David Russell will perform as soloist.

Choral Masterpieces: Bernstein & Fauré
Friday, July 22 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, July 23 at 7:30 pm
Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Fauré’s Requiem top a program featuring soloists that include counter-tenor Ryan Belongie, soprano Lindsay Metzger and baritone Kevin Keys.

Jennifer Koh Returns
Wednesday, August 3 at 6:30 pm
Violinist Jennifer Koh returns this year to perform Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto, and Maestro Kalmar conducts Brahms’ First Symphony.

Closing Night: Verdi Requiem
Friday, August 19 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, August 20 at 7:30 pm
Verdi’s Requiem Mass will feature four soloists and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus to bring the 2011 season to a soaring, dramatic close.

Music Without Borders

When: June 16-July 21

Musical artists from around the globe make their way to Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion for this Thursday night series.  The double-bill concerts include some rare appearances, with an enlightening and inspiring array of traditional, folk and hybrid musical styles.  All concerts begin at 6:30 p.m.

June 16: Dandana: A Celebration of Muslim Voices featuring Hakim + Alim Qasimov Ensemble
June 23: RAM + Sexteto Tabala
June 30: Diogo Nogueira + Freshlyground
July 7: Rupa and The April Fishes + Baloji
July 14: Sierra Maestra + Susheela Raman
July 21: Yemen Blues + Etran Finatawa

Taste Of Chicago

(credit: CBS)

2011 Taste of Chicago

When: June 24 -July 3

Most come for the food, but for those looking for free live music, the Taste usually has plenty on the menu.  Throughout its history, the Taste has been known for its lineup of internationally renowned and local artists.  Despite budget cutbacks, this year measures up rather nicely, in part due to the consolidation of four of the city’s annual lakefront music festivals: Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival, the Chicago Country Music Festival, Celtic Fest Chicago and the Chicago Gospel Music Festival.  Latin Music Day is June 24, Rock/Pop Day is June 25, Gospel Day is June 26, World Music Day is June 27,  Singer/Songwriter Day is June 28,  Celtic Music Day is June 29, Country Music Day is July 1, June 28 & July 2 are Variety Days, and July 3 is the Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Party (blues).


Illinois Lottery Taste Stage
Monday, June 27

Broadway in Chicago, including Beauty and The Beast, Million Dollar Quartet, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, Memphis, The Addams Family and others (subject to change) (6 p.m.)

Petrillo Music Shell
Tuesday, June 28

The Lemonheads, Material re-Issue (formerly MaterialIssue) (5 p.m.)
Thursday, June 30
Natalie Cole (5:30 p.m.)
Friday, July 1
Loretta Lynn, Court Yard Hounds (Martie Maguire and Emily Robison of Dixie Chicks) (5 p.m.)
Saturday, July 2
Everest, The Jayhawks (3 p.m.)
Sunday, July 3
Greyson Chance, Shane Harper (3 p.m.)

Dusk Variations
August 1-22
One of the more interesting summer musical offerings, free or otherwise, is Dusk Variations. Now in its third year, the series combines pop, alternative and classic rock sounds with classical music, and consists of four Monday night Millennium Park concerts.  All shows are at 6:30 p.m. in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

August 1: Turtle Island Quartet Presents the Music of Jimi Hendrix and David Balakrishnan
August 8: My Brightest Diamond with Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras
August 15: Rasputina
August 22: A Steve Reich Celebration: Presented by eighth blackbird and Third Coast Percussion

Chicago Jazz Festival

When: September 1-4

The Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park and Grant Park get jazzed up this Labor Day weekend with the 33rd Annual Chicago Jazz Festival. The music begins at the Cultural Center on Thursday, September 1, with afternoon performances, and on Thursday and Friday evenings the festival moves to Millennium Park.  On Saturday and Sunday, the festival takes over Grant Park, with three stages of live jams.


Thursday, September 1
Chicago Cultural Center
Shanghai Stories featuring Francis Wong (1:45-2:45 p.m.)
Jim Gailloreto’s Jazz String Quintet (2:00-3:00 p.m.)

Friday, September 2
Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Saxophone Summit featuring Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane (8:00 – 9:30 pm)

Saturday, September 3
Grant Park, Petrillo Music Shell
Orbert Davis’ Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble (7:10-8:10 p.m.)
Cassandra Wilson (8:30-9:30 p.m.)

Sunday, September 4
Grant Park, Petrillo Music Shell
Ira Sullivan 80th Birthday Celebration (6:00-6:55 p.m.)
David Sanchez with special guest Stefon Harris (7:10-8:10 p.m.)
Roy Hargrove (8:30-9:30 p.m.)

Greg Wahl is a Chicagoan, a freelancer, a grad student, and a seeker of all things awesome & interesting throughout the city and beyond.

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