Best of the Fests: A brief compendium of Chicago's Street Festivals


June 9th, 2011 by Rami

We'll leave Lolla and Pitchfork (and the $90 ticket prices, $10 bottles of water, and standing a football field's length away from your favorite band in 100 degree weather) to the tourists. This summer, you're more likely to find us Bloodshoties at one of the many of Chicago's long-standing, traditional street festivals. The $5 donation most of the street festivals ask for go towards supporting programs in individual communities throughout the year, rather than concert promoters. For the most part, these fests have some pretty darn good live music as well—including appearances from some of our very own. So, here's a rundown of our favorite Chicago street fests and the Bloodshot artists playing them …

Of course, Rob had something to say about this:

"Call me a grouch, or stop your ears with cotton candy when I wax rhapsodic about the 'good old days,' but these days I typically avoid Chicago Street festivals. They have proliferated like mushrooms on a rotting log (find me a neighborhood that DOESN'T have one ... I'd like to move there) and rarely have much of a sense of the 'neighborhood' they purportedly represent. Sure, certain ones like Midsommarfest in Andersonville may toss a Swedish sop to the crowd here and there, but street fairs are largely just an excuse for shirtless dudes in mandals to booze it up in public and hoot along to a Dave Matthews or Talking Heads tribute band. I can't say I have ever experienced any meaningful musical moments at a street fair. Nor do I need to stand on hot asphalt jostling with folks to paw through the merch at the tie-dye or 'ethnic' craft booth staffed by shaggy hippies, or be buttonholed by the cell phone tent to update my plan. So there."

Thanks, Rob.


RIBFEST: June 10-12

Waco Brothers (June 11, 9p), Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers (June 10, 7:45p)
(We also recommend: Ezra Furman & The Harpoons and Hayes Carll)

Here's what our radio guy and enthusiastic carnivore Joe Swank says about this weekend's fest:

"Ribfest! All the varieties of saucy-porky goodness that a farm boy could want. Literally the first time in history that I could not possibly eat another rib, was last year at Ribfest. Got my Waco Brothers bib ready for Saturday night. I will be victorious and deemed winner by the Rib Gods of satiation!"



Robbie Fulks and Nora O'Connor (June 12, 8p)

Bloodshot publicist and Andersonville resident JP says:

"Skip Midsommarfest's coverband-palooza (Really? 16 Candles plays twice this weekend? Guuuuuuuuh ...) grab a limited-edition glögg slushie at Simon's or a falafel wrap from Taste of Lebanon, and check out the side stage, where you'll catch Robbie and Nora. Skål!"


BLUESFEST: June 10-12

Sanctified Grumblers (June 10, 4:45pm)



Whitey Morgan and the 78s (7/2), The Bottle Rockets (7/2)

Says super intern Camille and all-around great Fitzgerald's bartendress:

"My favorite fest would have to be Fitzgerald's American Music Festival, not only because I work there and it's my most profitable weekend of the year, but because I think we have a diverse group of bands/musicians grace the three stages that are available. Groups from New Orleans and Austin come up and keep coming back because they love playing it. Jon Dee Graham has called it his favorite gig of the year, and you can tell when you watch him play with that preacher style enthusiasm only Jon Dee can muster. Fitzgerald's website will give you all the details and how to get there via the blue line for the city dweller."

Rob took a second out of his bitching to also proclaim Fitzgerald's AMF as his favorite:

"The Fitzgerald's American Music Fest is one the reasons I moved to Chicago. The vibe and the music remind me of all that is good in this racket and how a bunch of folks who genuinely love music can create an event that is both successful and true to its vision. I am also partial to the Folk and Roots fest because it is stumbling distance to home, and its success is much like Fitzgerald's. Last year's line up was just a great joy and I saw all sorts of music that, on paper, I doubt that I would have ended up liking."



JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound (June 18, 5pm)
The newest addition to the Bloodshot family!
(We also recommend: Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers and Reverend Horton Heat)


The Bottle Rockets (June 18, 8:30p)
(We also recommend: Tom Schraeder and His Ego and Hoyle Brothers)

Says Nan:

"I like the street fests where the bands are booked by a real club booking talent buyer.  A couple of those good ones are Wicker Park Fest, Ribfest, and this year Six Corners.  Clearly the street fests where all the performances are by cover/tribute bands are not booked by cutting edge music fans (such as the sadly misnamed Lakeview Music Festival).  I also dig the craft oriented street fests like the Renegade Craft Fair.  Even better when a street fair combines good music and handmade goodies."



Ha Ha Tonka (July 23)
(We also recommend: Murder By Death and Joe Pug)

Selina, another one of our lovely interns, counts Wicker Park Fest amongst her favs:

"My favorite fests include: Do-Division, West Fest, Green Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Fiesta del Sol -- which is the sole South Side festival out of all of these on my list. The goal this summer is to get out to more fests so I can see what I'm missing out on. :)"

Tour publicist Leigh Ann agrees:

"Wicker Park Fest has been one of my favs in the past few years. Usually offers a good mix of genres. This year looks like a great line up featuring our boys, HHT, among others. Tips for fest goer's: whenever possible, the Bloodshot lunchbox AKA six-pack cooler is one of my best buddies for my outdoor summertime drinking needs. Also, wear good shoes. Don't be one of those losers looking for the mate to their shoes in the crowd."



The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (July 30, 12:15p)
(Holy shit! Toad the Wet Sprocket is playing this festival!)


And there you go—an abridged version of Chicago's street festivals (featuring Bloodshot bands!) to get you through the summer. Here are some parting words from Rob to think about as you head into this weekend:

So, enjoy your warm overpriced beer and your medley of Santana's greatest hits ... I'll be at home with a pitcher of Pimm's cups, grilled homemade sausages and my feet in the kiddie pool I swiped from the neighbor's backyard.


[Wacos live photo by Steve T]