Chicago: A Season of Festivals for Summer 2012

In anticipation of the return of Virgin Atlantic seasonal flights to Chicago in early May, we’re taking a look at the Windy City’s summer schedule, which turns out to be a bumper line-up of top-notch, open air festivals across the city…


Chicago Blues Festival


The Chicago Blues Festival is the largest free blues festival in the world, and still remains the largest of all Chicago’s music festivals. This year will see Chicagoan and Grammy-winning blues and gospel singer Mavis Staples headline the last night of the festival on Sunday June 10th. Along with a host of performances across five stages, including tributes to Lightnin’ Hopkins and the last of the Delta Bluesmen, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who died last year, there will also be a number of preview events taking place around the city on various dates throughout May and June, including performances at Navy Pier, Daley Plaza and the Chicago Public Library.



Jimmy Vaughan, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton and B.B King at the Chicago Blues Festival 2010 © denao

Jimmy Vaughan, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton and B.B King at the Chicago Blues Festival 2010 © denao


Chicago Blues Festival, Grant Park, 8 – 10 June 2012 

Pitchfork Music Festival


Chicago-based online music publication Pitchfork launched a two-day festival back in 2006, which drew crowds of more than 18,000 each day. Since then, the festival has expanded to a three-day event and run every year. As a hugely influential organisation that focuses on underground and independent music, Pitchfork have been able to attract the cream of indie rock royalty to Union Park each year, with previous festivals playing host to the likes of Sonic Youth, Fleet Foxes and The Flaming Lips. This year’s line-up has been partially announced, with 30 more bands due to be revealed in the coming months.



Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 © Incase

Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 © Incase


Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, 13 – 15 July 2012

Lollapalooza Music Festival


Lollapalooza started out in life as a touring festival that travelled to different locations across the United States and Canada. Its inaugural event in 1991 was a truly ‘alternative’ effort, not just in its choice of artists and bands – genres from hip hop and dance to heavy metal and punk were all represented – but in the diversity of the line-up overall, with a focus not just on music, but on comedy, visual arts, and giving a platform to political and non-profit organisations. Lollapalooza has now put down roots in Chicago, and has been held in Grant Park since 2005. The festival now spans more than 115 acres, with an ever more eclectic array of artists from the worlds of reggae, electronica, indie, rock, hip-hop, modern roots and more.



Lollapalooza by M. Janicki

Lollapalooza by M. Janicki


Lollapalooza, Grant Park, 3 -5 August

In-Fashion: The Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival


2011’s inaugural In-Fashion: Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival will return this year (exact dates still to be announced but will be late August/early September) and will once again feature exclusive events, designer and celebrity appearances, in-store promotions and exciting entertainment, across the five primary categories of fashion and beauty, lifestyle, culinary, technology and culture. The event exists to reinforce the Magnificent Mile’s reputation as one of America’s great shopping destinations and takes place over two weeks.


In: Fashion: The Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival, various locations, date tbc

Chicago Jazz Festival


The Chicago Jazz Festival is a free, four-day celebration of jazz that takes place at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park over the Labor Day weekend. When Duke Ellington died in the summer of 1974, a number of Chicago musicians came together just a few weeks later and held a festival to honour him, which drew crowds of 30,000 jazz fans. A few years later in 1978, a different set of musicians created the John Coltrane Memorial Concert, and the following year the Jazz Institute of Chicago began to plan its own August festival. With three different jazz events competing for much the same audience, the organisers got together and created the first Chicago Jazz Festival – the first of which attracted 125,000 people. It is now the most extensive free jazz festival in the world, and has seen some of the all-time greats – Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter – grace its stage.



Muhal Richard Abrams at the Chicago Jazz Festival © Graffiti Photographic

Muhal Richard Abrams at the Chicago Jazz Festival © Graffiti Photographic


Chicago Jazz Festival, Grant Park, 30 August 30 – 2 September  Virgin Atlantic operates seasonal flights to Chicago, beginning 7th May 2012. Visit Virgin Holidays for a hand-picked selection of Chicago hotels and a range of holidays in Chicago.

Photos: Header shot © Fotoluminate | and thanks to Flickr photographers M. Janicki, denaoIncase, Graffiti Photographic

About Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.
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