You can't take advantage of Chicago festival season if you're paralyzed by indecision. But don't fear; Centerstage is here to narrow down your options at least a little bit. What follows is a list of the events you won't want to miss, from family-friendly fairs to massive musical bashes. Don't like to feel limited? Check out the full list of Chicago festivals.
May 8-9 Celtic Fest Chicago FREE Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? In its 14th year, this fest is moving locations (from Grant Park to Millennium Park) and times (from September to May). Thankfully, the city left the best part - the annual Men in Kilts Leg Contest - intact. The new Mothers' Day limerick contest should be fun, too.
May 22-23 Green Festival Over 300 exhibitors turn Navy Pier into a green zone filled with eco-friendly merchandise, how-to workshops, career info, a Kids Zone and organic food and drink. Plus, there will be more than 150 renowned speakers on hand for panel discussions and presentations.
May 29-30 Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival After 25-plus years, you can bet this fest at the "epicenter" of Lakeview knows a thing or two about entertaining a crowd. That means lots of cover bands, arts and crafts vendors and some pretty cool fashion displays.
June 3-6 Mayfest Chicago FREE Gemutlichkeit ("quality time spent in a cozy place") is the watchword at this German event, which features a traditional keg tapping (8 p.m. Friday) and tons of party music in Lincoln Square.
June 5-6 Do Division Street Fest This Wicker Park fes'’s got a built-in advantage: It takes place on a street chock-full of hip boutiques and restaurants, so you know the vendors will be good. The Empty Bottle-booked music's a draw, too, with Pelican, The Hood Internet and YACHT leading the way.
June 5-6 57th Street Art Fair FREE Hyde Park's unofficial summer kick-off event doubles as the Midwest's oldest juried art fair, having been founded by local gallery owner Mary Louise Womer in 1948. The not-for-profit fair now features more than 250 artists and welcomes over 100,000 attendees; its Art Buying Boot Camp will also get you in shape for the upcoming season.
June 5-6 Chicago Gospel Music Festival FREE If you grew up dreading those boring Sunday mornings at church, you owe it to yourself to check out this lively festival, where sermons take a backseat to soul. Performers this year include local legends Ricky Dillard (with the New Generation Chorale on Saturday night) and Albertina Walker (with The Caravans on Sunday night).
June 11-13 Chicago Blues Festival FREE The world's largest free-admission blues festival offers five stages and 70 world-renowned performers, including Delta legend David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Southern crooner T.K. Soul and more.
June 11-13 Ribfest Chicago The annual BBQ celebration in North Center gets even messier this year, with an eating contest planned. Otherwise, expect more of the same: mounds of the city's top ribs (you’ll get to vote on who wins) and indie music. Don't forget the wet naps.
June 12 Drinking & Writing Festival Want to feel better about your drinking habit? This 6th annual event at the Hopleaf, organized by the Drinking & Writing Brewery, celebrates the connection between creativity and alcohol, and there will be plenty of both on hand. Expect brews from several local breweries, a writing contest and appearances from esteemed writers and thinkers. This year's featured writer: Mike Royko (his son, David, will be there to read from his new book).
June 12-13 Metronome Celebration This second-year fest is totally focused on the music, with multiple stages of performers including Akron/Family and Pegboy. There will also be arts and crafts vendors, 20 restaurant booths, a family playground and more.
June 12-13 Printers' Row Lit Fest FREE If you're still on the hunt for summer beach reading, this event — featuring more than 200 booksellers — is a must. After you shop, stick around for readings and panel discussions featuring big-name authors like Sara Paretsky and Walter Dean Myers.
June 12-13 Andersonville Midsommarfest It's not hard to get into a partying mood at this 45-year-old fest, as thousands of people crowd the streets to celebrate Andersonville's Swedish heritage. You'll find more than one type of international cuisine among the many vendors; the music and performances span the globe as well.
June 12-13 Old Town Art Fair It's not just about the art at this renowned fair (although with all the nationally acclaimed artists, it could be). From the Garden Walk to the popular Children's Corner, there are plenty of distractions. If you really need something for your wall, be sure to make a second stop at the nearby Wells Street Art Festival.
June 16-August 21 Grant Park Music Festival FREE All summer long, the Grant Park Orchestra will present a series of classical performances that span the centuries and the globe, from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" (June 16) to Dvorak's "Requiem" (August 13-14). Guest conductors and musicians appear throughout the season; special performances include Pink Martini (June 23) a screening of "Planet Earth Live" (with a live score) on July 21, Malian kora player Toumani Diabate offers a special performance on August 11.
June 17-August 29 Chicago Summerdance Festival FREE Several nights a week throughout the summer, would-be dancers gather on the 3,500-square-foot dance floor in Grant Park's Spirit of Music Garden for an hour of instruction and several more of dancing to live acts. If you've ever wanted to know how the polka should really look, this is your fest.
June 18-20 Taste of Randolph Street Given its name and location in one of the city's hottest dining areas (the West Loop), you’d think this fest would be all about the food. But the music regularly outshines everything else, and this year will be no different, with headliners including Superchunk and Lucero.
June 19-20 Custer's Last Stand Festival of the Arts This is not just any old street fair, but rather a celebration of art and music that enlivens the streets of Evanston with the help of 350 artists, 150 local businesses and over 30 food vendors. Two stages feature music throughout both days with an emphasis on jazz, and there's also a theater stage. There's plenty of attractions for families, with street performers, theater shows and even the occasional animal appearance.
June 25-July 4 Taste of Chicago FREE You won't get the big Independence Eve Fireworks this year, but otherwise, this annual toast to gluttony is as big as ever, with tons of vendors, performers and special guest chefs. There will be 11 new restaurants at the event, including Bobak Sausage Company, Churro Factory, Doreen's Gourmet Pizza, Pegasus Restaurant and Tavern and Shokolad Pastry and Café. Musical acts include Salt 'n' Pepa, Los Lobos, Jon Drake & the Shakes, Occidental Brothers Dance Band International and more. If you're more interested in food stars, check out Mario Batali (June 25, 1 p.m.) and Giada de Laurentiis (July 1, 3 p.m.) at the Dominick's Cooking Corner.
June 27 Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade FREE Unless you moved here from San Francisco, you probably haven’t seen anything quite like this celebration of gay and lesbian culture. Midwestern friendliness – not to mention colorful costumes, dancing and drunkenness – will be on full display at this rowdy event, the culmination of a weekend of Pride parties. Thousands descend on Lakeview for the event, so be prepared for long lines at virtually all of the area's bars and restaurants.
July 1-4 Naperville Ribfest For 22 years, folks have been getting together for BBQ, fireworks and fun in the west 'burbs. This year's celebration will be no different, with yet another lineup of big-name musical acts including Jonny Lang, Los Lobos, the Charlie Daniels Band and Foghat. Save room for ribs.
July 9-10 Old St. Pat's World's Largest Block Party Oprah called this event the place to meet your match after more than 70 couples met here and later married. The party typically sells out early, so get your tickets ($35) in advance - and make sure to get in line early for the drinks that come with the admission price.
July 10-11 Chicago Folk & Roots Festival The Old Town School of Folk Music’s eclectic annual fest may fly a bit under the radar of many Chicagoans, but to know it is to love it (especially if you've got kids in tow). Don't be fooled by the name, as you'll find a whole lot more than just folk music here, from funk (Budos Band) to Nigerian blues (Etran Finatawa).
July 10-11 West Fest The family- and pet-friendly fest draws nearly 30,000 for live music on two stages (plus a third for DJs). This year’s top names include We Were Promised Jetpacks, F***ed Up and Derrick Carter. The event also includes a "kid fest" with stroller parades and pony rides, as well as a "pet fest" featuring grooming stations and a pet beauty pageant and fashion show.
July 16-18 Pitchfork Music Festival Want to know who’s gonna be playing Lollapalooza next year? At least a few names are likely to come from this fest, booked by the infamously snarky music-review site Pitchfork. This year's lineup includes Pavement, Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem, Broken Social Scene, St. Vincent and much more. No wonder three-day passes sold out in record time ($40 single-day tickets are still available).
July 17-18 Sheffield Garden Walk See some of the most beautiful gardens this side of Eden with self-guided tours around Lincoln Park homes; don't forget the dozens of packed house parties along the way. The fest hosts some big-name musical acts (Cowboy Mouth and Rusted Root this year), plus a Kids Corner featuring a ferris wheel, petting zoo and other entertainment.
July 18 Chinatown Summer Fair FREE Enjoy cultural entertainment on the hour, a children's area, street vendors, live music and access to Chinatown's unique shops and restaurants at this neighborhood fest. For the true Chinese-culture vulture, the lion dance procession at 1 p.m. should not be missed.
July 23-25 Pierogi Fest FREE Make your way to Whiting for this unique ethnic event featuring pierogis, polka bands, a parade and Mr. Pierogi. This costumed character, along with his friends The Pieroguettes and Miss Paczki, makes the rounds of the fest and performs a number of musical spoofs. There will also be plenty of family fun, a pierogi toss contest, a beer garden and an art show.
July 24-25 Taste of Lincoln Avenue FREE Thousands of Chicagoans pack the streets to hear more than 40 local and national music acts on five entertainment stages at this Lincoln Park event. There's also a block-long Kids Carnival that includes a giant slide, petting zoo, face painting and more.
July 29-August 1 Newberry Book Fair FREE Come indulge your inner bibliophile at the best little book fair in town. The Newberry Library has more than 100,000 donated titles, priced to move. From antiques to zoology, you'll find texts on every topic, most for less than $2. Stop by on Saturday for the infamous Bughouse Square Debates in nearby Washington Square Park.
July 31-August 1 Wicker Park Fest When it comes to neighborhood music fests, this is about as good as it gets — and the residents of this eclectic area wouldn’t have it any other way. Past artists have included DeVotchka, The Thermals and Prefuse 73, so set your expectations high for this year's lineup. Make sure bring an appetite, too; local BBQ fave Smoke Daddy is a sponsor.
August 6-8 Lollapalooza 2010 When we say there's something for everyone Perry Farrell's mammoth festival, we're not just paying lip service. If you can't find at least one act you like amidst the 100-plus on the bill, well, you might want to give up on music in general. The Strokes, Green Day, Lady Gaga and Soundgarden are among the "headliners," but you're just as likely to find your favorite band halfway down the list, playing a small stage in the afternoon. While you're exploring, make sure to drop by the Kidzapalooza area, where many a big name has played a set for the wee ones over the years.
August 7-8 Northalsted Market Days The sheer numbers of this event, called the largest street fair in the Midwest, have got to spark your curiosity: six city blocks, 17 entrance gates, more than 30 musical acts, around 400 food, arts and crafts vendors. And we haven’t even mentioned the crowds yet. As usual, this year's lineup is full of nostalgia acts including Joan Jett and Jon Secada.
August 14 Bud Billiken Parade FREE High-school drill teams, floats, marching bands and more make the trek down MLK Drive in the country's largest African-American parade (you might also see a few celebrities, as past guests have included Barack Obama, Oprah and Muhammad Ali).The after-parade picnic boasts more than 80 local businesses and 170,000 participants.
August 14-15 Chicago Air & Water Show FREE The lakefront fills up rapidly for this event starring the Blue Angels, especially at the North Avenue Beach "Main Stage", where you'll get the best views and play-by-play commentary. You can get good views of the action in the air and on the water (sometimes both at once) from other locations, including nearby Oak Street Beach.
August 20-22 Gold Coast Art Fair FREE An expected 350,000 will descend on Grant Park's Butler Field for the 53rd year of this massive art festival (now in a new location). Expect fine art from nearly 400 vendors, along with eclectic music and food from local vendors.
August 28-29 Bucktown Arts Fest FREE Fight the (gentrification) powers that be with a hearty roster of local music, art and food at this neighborhood fest. The event has drawn upwards of 30,000 people in recent years and is truly a grassroots event: It is put on completely by volunteers.
September 3-5 North Coast Music Festival Promoters (the same folks behind West Fest and Metronome) promise a strong lineup of rock and electronic acts at this first-year event in Union Park. All we're saying is, don't make plans for Labor Day weekend.
September 3-5 Taste of Melrose Park FREE Get all of the Taste, without all of the cost. There will be more than 75 different offerings available at this suburban fest, all priced under $2 for tasting portions. We recommend the sfingi (Italian doughnuts) offered by the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles. You'll also enjoy four stages of entertainment, plus a Senior Oasis, kids' activities and a Salute to America fireworks display on Sunday.
September 3-6 African Festival of the Arts Along with live performances by local and international artists (previous acts have included James Brown, George Clinton and Hugh Masekela), this 21st-annual event includes scores of authentic art, jewelry and food items.
September 4-5 Chicago Jazz Festival FREE Though it's the oldest of all the city's lakefront festivals at more than 30 years, the Jazz Fest hasn't gotten crotchety. It still hosts an entertaining mix of performers, from big-band legends to experimental up-and-comers, with recent headliners including Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
September 10-12 German Day Festival (aka German-American Festival) FREE Dance to the traditional German music with the mix of locals and college kids at this festive ethnic celebration. When you get tired, try out the food and drink – beer (free from the ceremonial first keg) and bratwurst and thuringer sandwiches with sauerkraut or potato salad. The event coincides with the annual Von Steuben parade on Saturday starting at 2 p.m.
September 10-12 Festival de la Villita You're likely to see at least a few Mexican celebrities at this family-friendly celebration of the Dia de la Independencia in Little Village. Plan for an extra-large party on Sunday, when the festival is the end destination for the 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade.
September 11-12 Renegade Craft Fair FREE Looking for a one-of-a-kind gift? You've got a good chance of finding it at this popular impromptu market, which features over 300 artists offering jewelry, knitting, t-shirts, 'zines and more - not to mention music from independent artists.
September 17-18 Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival and Art Fair FREE A true fiesta with music, food and art from the Latino community, Viva! showcases local, national and international salsa, reggaeton, mariachi and Spanish pop talent. Regardless of who plays, this popular fest generally attracts a lively crowd, so bring your dancing shoes.
September 24-30 World Music Festival Couldn't take that vacation abroad this summer? No worries; you can get all the international culture you crave at venues around Chicago during this eclectic fest. This year's lineup will again feature tons of Chicago debut performances from worldly artists, so you're bound to find something new.
September 25 Hyde Park Jazz Festival FREE Better start training now for this jazz marathon, which offers over 30 performances in 13 venues throughout the Hyde Park neighborhood. This year's performers include Orbert Davis, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Reginald Robinson, John Burnett Orchestra and Dana Hall.
September 25-26 Chicago Gourmet 2010 Top toques from around the country will again descend on Millennium Park for a celebration of all things culinary (including lots and lots of wine). The price tag is steep, but this is a foodie's paradise.
October 8-9 Chicago Country Music Festival FREE Dust off that cowboy hat and join 100,000 of your closest country friends for two days of music on three stages, along with a dance tent and a Kids Corral. The fest moves for the third consecutive year (this time to Millennium Park), but the level of talent should still be top-notch.
October 7-221 Chicago International Film Festival Forget Hollywood. Chicago is the country's film capital...for two weeks in October, at least. The oldest competitive international film festival in the country, CIFF has been a springboard for great directors such as Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter and Susan Seidelman.
Map our your summer with this handy Chicago Festivals Map: