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About This Festival

“Sweet Home Chicago” was a beacon to blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta, who helped make it one of the biggest spots in the country for urban blues music. The Chicago Blues Festival greets music fans with lakeside lounging for three days of free outdoor concerts in early summer.

If you don’t agree with many locals that Chicago is the blues capital of the world, there will be plenty of moments during the festival when you’ll feel like changing your tune. It’s the perfect town for a tune, after all.

Festival History

Chicago’s first blues festival opened in 1984, just a year after the death of blues icon Muddy Waters. As an important Chicago institution, the festival celebrates an important part of the city’s heritage and highlights the musicians who live their lives playing and singing the blues.

In the past, the festival has honored and presented artists such as: Eddie Taylor, Estella Yancey, Junior Wells, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Bessie Smith and Skip James. Chuck Berry has shared the stage with Keith Richards, and John Lee Hooker has held the audience spellbound. Each year’s presentation brings more memories, and visitors come to enjoy the music and bask in the blues.

Festival Strategy

Over three festival days, musicians perform at five stages throughout the day (and evening). Often, there are at least two stages with acts at the same time, and a wide variety of acts ensure that you’ll find plenty of bands to enjoy.

With one exception, the small stages are scattered around the park and provide comfortable, intimate settings to enjoy music. That exception is the Petrillo Music Shell, which is larger and where the headliners perform. One of the best ways to enjoy the festival and get an earful of just about everybody is to stroll around and catch different bands, rather than parking your blanket in one place.

People Watching

In addition to great music, you can get a taste of some quality barbecue and other culinary options from local food vendors. If you’re not from Chicago, pay attention to the lines at the food stands, because sometimes they signal a huge crowd favorite.

While the music is playing, don’t forget to glance around at the crowd, because this event presents some great people watching. Get fashion tips, watch some interesting dance moves, snark at clothing choices, or be amazed at attendee behavior (in a good or bad way). It’s especially helpful when you’re far from the stage.

Discover Blues Clubs

Take advantage of the blues immersion, and make at least a couple of outings to the city’s blues clubs while you’re in town. Whether you choose to park yourself at Buddy Guy’s Legends, Rosa’s Lounge, or Lee’s Unleaded Blues, you’re likely to find great musicians from the festival—so you can get a double dose. And the next day, you can start all over again.

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