Best Local: Chicago Blues Festival 2012

The Blues Capital of The World Takes it To The Streets

Brace yourself—it’s summer in Chicago, aka street fest season. I dare you to complain about the sweltering temps when you have events like the Chicago Blues Fest headed your way. Trust us; this is one to get excited about.

The Chicago Blues Fest is the biggest free blues festival in the world and the largest of the city’s music fests. From Friday, June 8 to Sunday, June 10, Grant Park will be amped up with five stages to accommodate the legendary blues players and up-and-and-comers alike, plus the 500,000 or so music lovers. So, yeah, not exactly a block party.

Sure, “largest free music festival in the world” just reeks of tourism rhetoric. With headliners like Mavis Staples and huge panels discussions and tributes to Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and more, the fest can and will draw international listeners. Regardless, believe the locals make a point to swing by for a sing-along or two.

Don’t let Grant Park disorient you into lost, mindless wandering. Here are the insider tips to navigating the hordes of fans, dealing with the heat, nabbing a little merch, and, of course, jamming with the tunes this city has historically poured its pride into.

  1. Watch out for that giant, burning ball of fire: As with any street festival, the sun makes its presence painfully known after not too long. Grant Park has some appealingly shady trees, but unfortunately not many of those life-saving branches will be close if you want near-front-row action. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Bring a little fan if you’re extra heat-sensitive.
  2. Walking is a workout: Between the five stages and endless lines of vendors, you’ll be doing a lot of strolling. And although wielding a chair through it all sounds nightmarish, you’ll thank yourself for a comfortable place to sit when you want to kick back and enjoy the jams. A lighter option is to grab a blanket. Now just pick a spot, spread and sprawl.
  3. Save your appetite: Street fests offer notoriously over-priced and under-satisfying grub. Either travel with snacks or leave the Park for lunch and/or dinner. Right across the street is Hot Woks Cool Sushi (30 S. Michigan Ave.), an affordable Asian fusion joint with a cool vibe. Check Yolk (1767 N. Milwaukee Avenue), a good, cheap food diner .
  4. Let yourself get some merch: Chicago Blues Fest is a big deal; grab a t-shirt. The official tees aren’t absurdly priced (maybe around the neighborhood of $30 or $25), but there are Blues Fest tees from outsides vendors at the fest, like Chicago Jazz Magazine, for example. Splurge on an official poster and grab a “knock-off” tee for $15. No shame.
  5. You might want a ticket: Wait, isn’t this a free festival? Well, yeah. But come time for the nighttime headliners in Grant Park’s Petrillo Music Shell and you’ll need a ticket if you want a seat and a decent view.

Get There From Columbus Plaza: Walk to Michigan and S. Water and hop on the 26 Bus headed toward Ewing/106th. Get off at Michigan & Van Buren/Congress. Commute Time: 17 minutes.

Get There From Naperville: Take I-88 E and merge onto I-290 E. Continue onto W. Congress Pkwy. Commute Time: 40 minutes

***Not a blues fan, but need to just get out? Here are some other street fest options going down this busy summer weekend: Ribfest Chicago, June 8-10 (Lincoln Ave. and Irving Park Rd.); Andersonville Midsommarfest, June 9-10 (Foster Ave. and Clark St.); Printer’s Row Lit Fest, June 9-10 (Dearborn St. from Congress to Polk).