Chicago boasts a musical legacy that few cities can challengeThis is the Midwest Mecca, where urban blues, gospel and house music were born. 

In fact, Chicago plays a prominent role in the MAX® feature, America's Musical Journey, currently in theaters, which "celebrates the diverse music and creative risk-taking spirit that characterize America." 

For three consecutive 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

May 26, 2018, 2-9 pm
Millennium Park
FREE admission

Chicago House Music FestivalPhoto: City of Chicago

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 this may.

The featured line up includes: ​Louie Vega and Elements of Life, Gifted Souls featuring Joe Smooth & Craig Loftis, Chez Damier, Mike Dunne,Donna Edwards and Jose Marquez at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion; Ron Trent, Adam Gibbons, DJ Sabine, Excursions with Cordell Johnson & James Vincent, DJ Duane Powell and John Simmons on the Deep House Stage (Chase Promenade North); and Paul Johnson, DJ Deeon, Ron Carroll, Zernell and Celeste Alexander on the Chicago Stage (Chase Promenade South)

Check out the full schedule here.

Chicago Gospel Music Festival

June 1 noon-4 pm, Millennium Park
June 2 5:30-9:30 pm, Chicago Cultural Center
June 2 11 am-9:30 pm, Millennium Park
FREE admission

Chicago Gospel Music Festival-2016Photo: 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.”

Headline acts include: The Canton Spirituals, Israel & New Breed, “Oh Happy Day”: Chicago Choirs Celebrate the Music of Edwin Hawkins, The Walls Group, The Tri-City Singers Reunion and many more. 

Check out the full schedule here.

Chicago Blues Festival 

June 8-10, 11 am-9:30 pm
Millennium Park
FREE admission

Blues Fest 10Photo: City of Chicago

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. 

Headline acts include: Corey Dennison Band; Mississippi Heat with Billy Flynn and Giles Corey; Special Tribute to Bob Koester and the 65th Anniversary of Delmark Records; Selwyn Birchwood; Willie Clayton; Little Walter Tribute; Fantastic Negrito, Kenny Neal and Mavis Staples.

Check out Headline Performers Performance Schedule Updates and Blues Festival Preview Performances.

Celebrate Chicago’s African American Music Legacy at the Chicago Cultural Center

78 E Washington St
Garland Gallery, First Floor South
April 28, 2018 - January 6, 2019

Chicago Cultural CenterPhoto: NormanKelley © Hedrich Blessing

In conjunction with this trio of music festivals, and in celebration of Chicago’s music legacy, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events presents the exhibition Bronzeville Echoes: Faces and Places of Chicago’s African American Music at the Chicago Cultural Center opening April 28. The exhibition explores the legacy of Chicago’s African American music scene from Ragtime to the contemporary genres of House and Hip Hop through the unexpected stories of legendary musicians and the places where they performed.

Find out more here.

Chicago House, Gospel & Blues Bars & Venues

Buddy Guy's LegendsPhoto: Buddy Guy's Legends

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


3730 N. Clark Street

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.


House of Blues Gospel Brunch
329 N Dearborn
(312) 923-3000
Sundays, 10:00 am and 12:30pm
Tickets $42.50

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
Tickets $54.90

Sail away on a two-hour cruise that combines the inspiration of gospel music with the beauty of Chicago's skyline and lakefront. 


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.