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

Millennium Park
FREE admission

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
FREE admission

Chicago Gospel Music Festival-2016
Photo by Andrew Miller


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

Millennium Park
FREE admission

Blues Fest 10

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

Buddy Guy's Legends

Post festival, head to these spots to experience authentic Chicago house, gospel and blues music culture.

Chicago house music venues

3730 N. Clark St.

A Chicago institution, Smartbar has been serving up cutting-edge house music for over 30 years. You’ll hear the best underground house by legendary DJs like Derrick Carter.

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.

Blue Chicago
536 N. Clark

Noted for highlighting Chicago’s blues queens, Blue Chicago is a tiny club with lots of  atmosphere.

Kingston Mines
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.