Festival season! Just typing out the words gets me excited to trudge around the parks of Chicago, enjoy a cold beverage in the sun and anxiously pray for dry weather. Oh yeah, and there's music too! So much music. If cutting a rug in the fresh Chicago air is your thing, then you're in the right city. Your feet will hate you come September, but who cares?! You just rocked your socks off all summer.
I've had the luck of attending pretty much every major festival the city holds at least once and, believe me, picking a favorite was not an easy task. Based on previous experience though, the real winners definitely shine through.
Nominee: Riot Fest
September 13 - 15
2012 marked the first year that this Chicago punk rock pinnacle made its way outdoors. Previously held throughout the many indoor rock-appreciative venues in the city, Riot Fest was turned into a three-day circus -- literally, there were carnival rides and jugglers. Guys like Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello and Andrew W.K. graced the stages. There were food trucks. And circus performers roaming the festival grounds. It was awesome. A true step in the right direction for a punk tradition that's been a staple in the city for years.
Nominee: Wavefront Music FestivalMontrose Beach
Dates TBA, likely 4th of July weekend
Wavefront was brand new in 2012 and did not disappoint in the least. All dance music festivals are becoming a trend in Chicago so it's important that they each bring their own unique experience. Was it the festival's incredible location on Montrose Beach that made it such a blast? Or maybe it was the way the festival's lineup paid homage to Chicago as the true home to house music with sets from Boys Noize, Duck Sauce and Erick Morillo. The ability to dance barefoot in the sand notched it up there too. Details for the 2013 installment haven't materialized yet but the reoccurrence of these elements alone makes it a nominee to reckon with.
Nominee: North Coast Music FestivalUnion Park
August 30 - September 1
Another dance music oriented festival, held every year in West Loop's Union Park. However, this one also sprinkles in jam bands and rappers throughout the weekend. Last year headliners included party inducer Girl Talk, Chicago's own Umphrey's McGee and former Outkast rapper Big Boi. It's lauded as "summer's last stand" because it takes place over Labor Day weekend so be warned: people party hard. There's plenty of shade in Union Park to cool off after a scorching dance session, though.
Nominee: Wicker Park Music FestivalWicker Park, corner of North and Milwaukee avenues
Dates TBA, likely last weekend in July
The only street festival (a festival that takes place in the city streets, instead of a park) on our nominee list and for good reason: there is no other street festival in Chicago with the musical prowess of Wicker Park Fest. Each year the lineup is top notch -- especially considering admission is typically free (though a $5 donation is very strongly encouraged so as to keep it coming back). For those with varied taste, this is a solid choice. Bands performing anything from indie pop to heavy rock to alternative country to punk to electronica can always be found in the lineup.
Nominee: LollapaloozaGrant Park
August 2 -4
The obvious and most popular choice for festival fans. Once a yearly gaggle of bands that toured the country, Lollapalooza has morphed into a stationary summer fest with Grant Park secured as its permanent home (for the foreseeable future anyway). Lolla's best credited with being able to put the underground "next big thing" on the bill as well as the already ruling kings and queens of the mainstream scene (i.e. Lady Gaga, The Foo Fighters).
And the Choosie goes to...
In the end, the ideal festival of choice comes down to two things: the music and the experience. Without both, you're not getting your money's worth. While all of the nominees fulfill each of those categories none do it as well as this new reincarnation of Riot Fest.
If you're any kind of a rock music fan (and who isn't?) you'll be hard not to please. If there's a lapse in bands that you care to listen to, go check out the carnival grounds. Watch your favorite band while you ride a top the Ferris wheel. Nibble a butter-soaked corn on the cob while you bop your head to that song you used to rock out to when you were a teenager.Discover your new favorite band.
With so much to do, three days goes by awfully quick. Plus, it scores extra points for its timing -- late enough in the summer to escape scorching temperatures. You can't go wrong with any of our nominees, but Riot Fest has become the cherry on top on a very sweet festival season in Chicago.
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