Summer is a special time of the year in Chicago, where we make up for the insanely cold days of our winters. One of the ways we do so is to take to the streets and the lake, and in between barbeques, beaches and music festivals, we forget about all about snowy times.
Here’s a selection of the best the summer musical season for 2016 has to offer, which includes many free outdoor festivals.
Millennium Park Summer Concert Series (Pritzker Pavilion, Mondays and Thursdays through August 25)
Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs offers us a marvelous concert series on Mondays and Thursdays with visits by many renowned international artists, including bilingual indie singer-songwriter Gina Chavez from Austin, Swedish pop singer Jose Gonzalez and inimitable great jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri. It’s the perfect site for a musical picnic (wine allowed!) where you can enjoy how the sunset reflects on the sublime waves of aluminum of the architect Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
Chicago Summer Dance (Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park, June 24 to September 11)
This series, a favorite for both locals and tourists, takes place Friday, Saturdays and Sundays all summer at an open-air dance floor in a lovely garden just off off Lake Michigan. First, you have a chance to take a dance class by professionals in each genre. Then, you can show off your new moves to live music provided by wonderful bands such as New York’s Los Hacheros with their Latin soul, Cuban son and Puerto Rican salsa from the Golden Age of Latin Music or the suave, sweet romantic African-tinged salsa of Angola’s Ricardo Lemvo and his Makina Loka. And finally, there’s tasty treats and wine to be had nearby. Win, win, win!
Miramar (Hermosa Park, June 24)
The super-talented Rei Alvarez y Marlysse Simmons-Argandoña from the fabulous jazzy salsa ensemble Bio Ritmo along with Laura Ann Singh have created Miramar. This new band focuses its efforts on the Puerto Rican bolero tradition and in particular the compositions of Sylvia Rexach, poeta, singer, songwriter and artist from Puerto Rico. Miramar comes to Chicago as part of the concerts presented by the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
Xenia Rubinos (Logan Square Arts Festival June 25)
This year’s Logan Square Arts Festival brings amazing experimental indie Brooklyn-based Cuban/Puerto Rican keyboardist and vocalist Xenia Rubinos to us in the wake of a new album, “Black Terry Cat”, that adds funk and incisive political commentary to a body of work which never fails to surprise. Local favorites Son Monarcas also take the stage at Logan Square Arts Festival, adding their rocked up Chicago-style son jarocho to the solidly stellar lineup.
Centavrus (Double Door, June 26)
We always love the visits from the Mexican band Centavrus, a band who took its name from Pancho Villa’s nickname. Led by DJ/Producer musicians but always in the context of live instruments, the band takes corridos from the Mexican Revolution and other tunes with a folkloric and regional Mexican base and propels them fiercely directly to the 21st Century.
Chicago Mariachi Festival (Millennium Park, June 26)
The Mariachi Heritage Foundation presents the second annual mariachi in two stages in Millennium Park. Last year’s inaugural festival drew such a massive crowd - over 10,000 - that some of the audience had to wait til others left to enter the park. This year, amongst other distinguished mariachis, we will have visitors from Texas and Zacatecas. Additionally, local folkloric dance groups and mariachi students will be performing. Viva México en Chicago!
Lila Downs (Symphony Center, June 28)
It will be a treat to see Mixteco and North American diva and Grammy-winner Lila Downs at Symphony Space, and accompanied by the Symphony itself. A charismatic and passionate performer, the impeccably bilingual Downs can take on any genre from cumbia to jazz to folkloric music, and she sings in several Mexican indigenous languages in addition to her two native tongues.
Federico Aubele (Schuba’s Tavern, July 3)
Singer-songwriter Federico Aubele creates luminous soundscapes driven by a sweet voice that he accompanies with a nylon string guitar and bandoneon samples from his native Argentina. His music always echoes with touches of melancholy, perhaps evoking the tango of his homeland in addition to the winters of Berlin where he lived for several years.
Ruido Fest (Adams/Medill Park, July 9, 9, 10)
The second edition of Ruido Fest will bring the best of the best of Latin Alt beats and grooves to Pilsen, Chicago’s classic Mexican neighborhood. The lineup includes pioneer indie darlings Aterciopelados from Colombia, experimental psych band Las Robertas from Costa Rica, Mexican regional rockers La Santa Cecilia de Los Angeles, pop songstress Natalia Lafourcade from México y and many more, including a great selection of local talent.
Celebrate Clark Street ( Clark Avenue between Morse y Touhy, July 16 and 17)
For the eleventh year, the small but potent Celebrate Clark Street celebrates the cultural riches of Rogers Park, a neighborhood where dozens of cultures and languages happily coexist in the space of a few blocks. The lineup always includes local favorites such as Sangre Michoacana; this year we also will have a chance to experience Guatemalan Gaby Moreno’s lovely, powerful voice, the electronic punked up electronic funk of L.A.’s Palenke Soultribe, and DJ/Producers from the Colombian Collective el Freaky. Added bonus: the amazing tacos with hand-made tortillas are as tasty as the lineup!
Evanston Ethnic Arts Festival (Dawes Park, July 16 and 17)
In a privileged park space right next to the lake, the Evanston Ethnic Arts Festival always offers a great selection of music, international artisanal crafts and cuisine in addition to a magnificent views. The 31st edition of this fest will bring us Guatemala’s indie ballad singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno as well as New York’s fiery percussionist Johnny Blas y Su Afro Libre Orquesta as well as local artists such as the Chicago Folklore Ensemble, a string quartet with storyteller who share luminous international folk music and stories.
Colombian Festival (Copernicus Center, July 16 and 17)
This year’s Colombian Fest will be headlined by two of Colombia’s great living legends whose music is irresistibly danceable, master accordionist Anibal Velasquez and Los Locos del Swing who is 79 years young and Sonora Carruseles, a band that in its twenty years of music-making has shaped the face of Colombian salsa. Additionally, Latin Grammy winners Cimarrón, masters of the unremittingly festive and lightning-fast harp-driven joropo dance music from the plains of eastern Colombia will share a musical heritage that fused creole Spanish, indigenous and African roots. Don’t forget your dancing shoes!
Monsieur Periné (Chop Shop, August 19)
This talented Colombian band comes to our city for the first time, and it will be a pleasure to see them in the intimate atmosphere of the Chop Shop. Led by the velvety voice of Catalina García, the band uses horns, violins and guitar to give very criollo touches to what they term “romantic swing”. It’s a quirky gypsy jazz sound that is retro, Colombian and slightly rocked out all at the same time.
And remember you can also check out the Chicago music live offerings for the summer in Beat Latino previews.