House, blues, hip hop, gospel, and just about every other culturally important form of music you can think of. It’s all in the Windy City. And it’s everywhere, and anywhere, as it should be.
Chicago is one of the most sacred cities in the world when it comes to music history. From legendary jazz clubs like The Green Mill to world-class music venues like House of Blues, it’s almost impossible to visit and not give yourself completely to live music.
A (packed-out) free afternoon opera performance under the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome was the moment it hit for me that Chicago takes not just music, but accessibility, very seriously.
Just that night, back in October of last year, people were lining up around the block to see Madonna put on an intimate performance at the iconic Chicago Theatre. Around the same time, I walked past a billboard advertising a show by Max Richter performing music from The Leftovers and his acclaimed conceptual Sleep. Unfortunately for me (I listen to Richter’s music daily and have never seen him live), the show was the night before and I had absolutely no idea he was going to be there.
I felt stupid that someone, who religiously checks what live music is on in whatever city I’m travelling to far in advance, could miss something as personal and beloved as a Max Richter performance (a very inexpensive one too). But it just goes to show just how much is happening in Chicago at any given moment. And how important it is to do thorough research before you go.
Luckily I managed to grab tickets to see Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T and North Carolina’s Rapsody that same week, and had my first unforgettable experience watching a jazz band at the aforementioned Green Mill, sitting so close – perfectly made Old Fashioned in hand – I thought the trumpet would knock me out.
Chicago’s Year of Music
Chicago is, without any doubt, mecca for music fans, and it’s not just during massive contemporary festivals like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork Music Festival. The love of live music is year-round here, placing the Chi up there with music-steeped cities like Memphis, New Orleans, Austin, Nashville, New York City and Seattle.
That’s why this year the city of Chicago has decided to celebrate one of their most distinctive traits. 2020 is the “Year of Music” for the Windy City, which means the next 12 months are going to be jam-packed with as much musical celebrations as possible.
This will all centre around an 18-day celebration of music called “Chicago in Tune.” Various venues and organisations around the city will be taking part, and the program will be anchored by three multi-day, free-admission festivals, each highlighting a style that has been integral to Chicago’s music history.
House, Gospel, Blues
The first cab off the rank is the Chicago House Music Conference & Festival, which takes place from 21st to 23rd May. That’s three days of live performances, DJ sets and industry meetings from some of the biggest names in the genre’s history. Last year saw various panel discussions, keynotes, and performances in both clubs and outdoors on Millennium Park’s iconic Jay Pritzker Pavilion. More information can be found at chicago.gov.
The Chicago Gospel Music Festival is up next, stretched across four days from 26th to 30th May. Many genres are closely related to Chicago, but gospel is inseparable. If you’re in town for that, expect top local and national gospel artists making for what is the largest outdoor gospel music festival of its kind. This year will include a number of performances from local choirs and artists in “Sacred Spaces” on the south and west sides of the city, alongside big-ticket concerts like a musical tribute to the late Rev. Clay Evans and a headlining set from award-winning artist Kirk Franklin. More information can be found at chicago.gov
Chicago in Tune will wrap up with the Chicago Blues Festival from 5th to 7th June, three days of celebrating the city’s rich Blues tradition and the genre’s myriad of influence over the likes of soul, R&B, rock and hip hop. It’ll be the 37th year for this historic festival, which in 2020 includes headliners like soul vocalist Sehmekia Copeland, Grammy-nominated Candi Staton, and Memphis guitarist Eric Gales. A full line up can be found at chicagobluesfestival.us.
Outside of those three festivals, music will still every corner, church, club, park, dance hall and concert venue of Chicago, kicking off on 21st May at 11am with a free concert of over 5,000 singers at the Chicago Children’s Choir’s Paint the Town Red event in Millennium Park.
If you’re heading over during Chicago in Tune then it’s a good idea to get familiar with all the events going down. Across the 18 days, a variety of free and ticketed events will take place throughout, including performances from Lyric Opera, Chicago Sinfonietta, the People’s Music School, Little Kids Rock, Chicago Blues Revival, Blues Heaven Foundation, the Logan Center for the Arts, the Irish American Heritage Center, Refuge Live, the Old Town School of Folk Music and The Promontory. A full list of all events will be listed at do312.com.
Also be sure to look out for more music events being announced for the Year of Music. And the best place to stay updated is at choosechicago.com.
Feature image: Adam Alexander Photography Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago .