Chicago boasts a musical legacy that few cities can challenge. This is the Midwest Mecca, where urban blues, gospel and house music were born.
For three summer weekends, music lovers can enjoy house, gospel and blues festivals for free, with the Chicago lakefront and downtown cityscape as their backdrop.
Kicking off on Memorial Day weekend and continuing through mid-June, the native sounds of Chicago will fill the ears and hearts of locals and visitors from all over the globe.
Chicago House Music Festival
The percolating rhythms of house music developed in Chicago during the 1980s, and have expanded to revolutionize the international club scene. Catch some of the city’s hottest house DJs, including Ron Trent and Paul Johnson, at the Chicago House Music Festival each May.
Chicago Gospel Music Festival
Millennium Park & Chicago Cultural Center
Although gospel music is steeped in sacred church traditions, the genre actually stems from the decidedly secular blues culture. The development of gospel music was fundamentally influenced by Thomas A. Dorsey, a former bluesman who mixed syncopated rhythms and blues vocals into religious music. He staged the first gospel concerts on Chicago’s South Side. The Chicago Gospel Music Festival is a testament to just how big the genre has become.
Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, explains that, “Gospel music is the inspiration for so many music genres including the blues, soul, R&B, pop and jazz,” said Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “We look forward to celebrating the music started here in Chicago more than eighty years ago and the current scene.”
Chicago Blues Festival
Now in its 35th year, this is the largest free blues festival in the world. The Chicago Blues Festival celebrates the city’s rich blues legacy; blues icons like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon traveled from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago during the Great Migration, bringing their acoustic guitars that became electrified to reach the big city crowds.
Chicago house, gospel, and blues bars and venues
Post festival, head to these spots to experience authentic Chicago house, gospel and blues music culture.
Chicago house music venues
3730 N. Clark St.
646 N. Franklin
A River North mainstay, Spybar features a new generation of house DJs that often mixes deep house with techno and other influences.
Chicago gospel music venues
House of Blues Gospel Brunch
329 N. Dearborn
Sundays, 10:00 am and 12:30pm
This brunch serves up an all-you-can-eat buffet, as well as talented local gospel singers performing traditional and contemporary songs.
Chicago Gospel Lunch Cruise
Spirit of Chicago at Navy Pier
600 E. Grand
Sail away on a two-hour cruise that combines the inspiration of gospel music with the beauty of Chicago’s skyline and lakefront.
Chicago blues venues
Buddy Guy’s Legends
700 S. Wabash
Owned by Chicago’s elder statesman of the blues, Buddy Guy’s Legends showcases the best local and national blues performers, as well as tasty Cajun dishes as a nod to Buddy’s Louisiana roots.
Rosa’s Blues Lounge
3420 W. Armitage
If you want to get off the tourist track visit Rosa’s Blues Lounge for an authentic hole-in-the wall blues experience.
536 N. Clark
Noted for highlighting Chicago’s blues queens, Blue Chicago is a tiny club with lots of atmosphere.
2548 N. Halsted
A Lincoln Park landmark, Kingston Mines is the city’s largest and rowdiest blues club, with two stages and a substantial college crowd.