In the summer, the city’s downtown and lakefront are filled with the sound of sublime songs, slide guitars, haunting violins, and sultry saxes, as revelers dance, mingle, and celebrate the city’s astounding contribution to music through a series of free festivals. Here, we highlight six of the biggies, bringing together the very best in house, gospel, blues, jazz, classical, and world music.

Chicago House Music Festival

House Music Festival
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the City of Chicago

The Chicago House Music Festival is the unofficial kick off to the summer music festival season. The free event in Millennium Park brings DJs and live performances showcasing the various sounds and styles of house music, the musical form born in Chicago that has gone on to revolutionize dance music internationally. House Music Festival brings in both nationally recognized artists and homegrown talent, such as Mr. A.L.I., Reel People, Tony Humphries, Gene Hunt, Mark Grusane, and First Lady.

Chicago Gospel Music FestivalChicago Gospel Music Festival

Celebrating the genre’s deep Chicago roots with traditional choirs and contemporary urban gospel music in the city where the genre was born, the Chicago Gospel Music Festival is a free event in May that features local and national artists at the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park.

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Chicago Blues Festival

See legendary musicians at the Chicago Blues Fest

The Chicago Blues Festival in Millennium Park is the largest free blues festival in the world. Over three days and on five stages each June, more than 500,000 blues fans and a line up of renowned musicians prove that Chicago is indeed the “Blues Capital of the World.” Past performers include Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, B.B. King, the late Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, and the late Koko Taylor.

Grant Park Music Festival

Carlos Kalmar Conducting Grant Park Music Festival

Head to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park for the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series of its kind — the Grant Park Music Festival. The Grammy-nominated Grant Park Orchestra, along with the 100-plus-member Grant Park Chorus and special guest performers and conductors, bring the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and more to Millennium Park all summer long. Spread out on the Great Lawn and enjoy.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Chicago Jazz Fest

The longest running of the city’s lakefront music festivals, the Chicago Jazz Festival is also one of the most popular. Known for its artistic creativity, the August festival promotes awareness and appreciation for all forms of jazz through free live musical performances at two stunning downtown venues: the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park.

World Music Festival

Band performing on stage at Chicago World Music Festival
The annual World Music Festival Chicago in September brings music from all over the world to Chicago for this popular 11-day festival. The city-wide, multi-venue celebration has attracted over 650,000 concertgoers and presented more than 650 artists and ensembles from more than 80 countries since it began in 1999.