Let's start it on a positive jam, man, and talk about some encouraging developments. North Center's Ribfest, one of my personal favorites, has extended to a third day and will begin Friday night. Fitzgerald's American Music Festival has a powerhouse line-up: Joe Ely, Jon Dee Graham, Tarbox Ramblers, Over the Rhine, "long tall" Marcia Ball, Robbie Fulks, Shemekia Copeland, BeauSoleil and Carrie Rodriguez are all worthy of headlining. The only challenge is having to choose between those Americans and this American on Independence Day weekend.
Make Sam proud. Go see some American music.
I'm encouraged by the new Metronome Chicago festival: four stages of rock, punk, electronic and folk, all booked by local experts, plus a fifth stage of music from local schools.
A couple other quick updates: the Country Music Fest is moving back to Grant Park after being by Soldier Field in 2008. ... Light-rock station WTMX ("The Mix") is booking Jammin' at the Zoo this year, leading to this ultra-bland lineup: Sister Hazel/Josh Kelley; Matt Nathanson/Brett Dennen; Five for Fighting. I'm not going, but I did leave it on the list because hearing music at the zoo is a cool experience. But please XRT, please book cool bands next year. ... Pitchfork didn't make the spreadsheet because a) I'm not going, and b) no one interesting is playing. ... I want to plug St. Michael's Celebration: not only do they have Freddy Jones Band, but check out their poster: the first five sponsors are alcohol and rock 'n roll. Alas, we already have plans that night.
Apparently no aspect of life is immune from the economic doldrums, including the festival scene. Some changes I noticed from last year: Blues Fest has been shortened by one day (thanks, Mayor Daley). Pizza Fest and Wine Fest (the one in North Center, not the one in Old Town) won't be back. Summer on Southport got canceled for a different reason: the Cubs will have three concerts this year and they couldn't find a feasible date.
And in my perspective, the economy has affected the musical bookings as well. This blog's co-authors noticed more local artists than usual, and fewer national/travelling bands. This could be a chicken-or-egg situation: as record labels cut back on budgets, signed bands can't afford to travel as far or as much. With that absence, concert promoters look to the local stable of artists to fill those empty stages.
Here are my official disclaimers. One: This list has a North Side bias. The official City of Chicago website lists twice as many festivals as I have here. But let's face it: you probably aren't going to Ghanafest on 55th Street, and if you are, God bless ya, you can find that information on your own. (If you're serious you could look here or here or here.) In reality, you're going to go to the same festivals I am--the ones on the North Side you can either walk to, el to or cab to. You'll have a beer or two at these festivals and you won't want to drive.
Two: I do not guarantee any of the information here. It was collected in early May, and a lot can change between now and festival time. Check the website to see if they've changed the band lineup or the cover.
Three: I think I know which one will be great (Ribfest, Taste), which ones will be insanely crowded (Lincoln Ave, Taste), which ones will have the best people watching (Randolph, Hideout), and so on. But I just don't know. So ... "Caveat Festor" ... let the festivalgoer beware.
The spreadsheet is here. To view it online, go here. NEW THIS YEAR, I've added a smiley sun logo to the festivals that I can personally endorse from experience.
Finally, local band Hello Dave has released a great summer soundtrack tune, appropriately (if not creatively) named "Summer in Chicago." Click here to listen to Hello Dave's "Summer in Chicago."
Enjoy the summer everybody!
Tift Merritt, onstage at the 2008 Country Music Festival.