Chicago Blues Fest

chicago blues fest
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As the largest blues festival in the world, the annual three-day Chicago Blues Festival attracts over 500,000 music lovers and listeners from around the globe each June to hang out, relax, and sway to the tunes in Grant Park.

Produced by the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, the Chicago Blues Festival has been bringing the blues to countless fans since 1984. Arguably the Blues capital of the world, the City of Chicago works each year to present this FREE, three-day extravaganza and uniquely Chicago musical experience.

The first festival was held a year after the death of Blues legend Muddy Waters (1915-1983), and it began as a tribute to his memory and influence on the genre. Waters, originally from Mississippi, moved to Chicago in 1943 and began his career playing guitar and singing at house parties and bars on Chicago’s West and South sides.  His first single, “I Can’t Be Satisfied/I Feel Like Going Home,” sparked the beginning of modern Chicago Blues and firmly planted Waters as one of the most influential Blues musicians ever. He went on to collaborate with other iconic Bluesmen and performed on stages big and small, locally and internationally. The first Chicago Blues Festival featured such well-known artists and staples of the Blues as Eddie Taylor, Estella Yancey, and Jr. Wells, who played in memory of this Chicago-based music icon and firmly planted the festival in Chicago history and tradition.

As the first and largest music festival of the summer season, the festival paves the way for the months to come, drawing large crowds and big names. The full lineup is announced each spring on the Chicago Tourism website. This year’s (2011) festival took place June 10-12 and featured several well-known artists including the following headliners: Rick Sherry, Rocky Lawrence and Duwayne Burnside Band on Friday night, Billy Branch and The Sons of Blues with Magic Slim on Saturday night, and Lonnie Brooks with Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Michael “Iron Man” Burks, and Rick Estrin on Sunday.

Before grabbing a blanket, your friends, and a couple bottles of water and heading down to Grant Park for the festival, be sure to read the Chicago Blues Festival FAQ page for a list of festival do’s and don’t’s.

The festival officially ends at 9:30pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, but why stop the fun there? Check out our Loop Neighborhood Guide ( to find the perfect post-festival bar or restaurant to sit and reminisce about the day’s back-to-back programming.

As festival fanatics here at UPchicago, we couldn’t give a bigger thumbs-up to the Blues Fest. Not only is it free, but it also offers great music, a great venue for hanging out, dancing, and checking out the Chicago skyline and a whole weekend of fun for all ages. Even though the festival has already come and gone for this summer, we suggest adding the Chicago Blues Festival to your Summer Bucket List. Start each Chicago summer off to the right track and get crackin’ on that bucket list the second weekend of June!

The Essentials:

Admission: Free
Save the Dates: Second weekend of June annually
Hours: 11am-9:30pm
Location: All events located in Grant Park
Phone: 312.744.3316


Getting there:

L: Red Line Lake, Monroe, and Jackson stops; Brown, Purple, Green, Pink, and Orange Lines Randolph, Madison, and Adams stops; Blue Line Washington, Monroe, and Jackson stops
Bus: #1, #3, #4, #6, #7, #14, #26, #X28, #126, #143, #145, #146, #147, #148, #151
Driving: Park in the Millenium Garages
Bike: The festival provides a free Bike Valet and other bike parking is available along the perimeter of Grant and Millenium Parks

Chicago’s Favorite Blues Venues

Flickr Credit: Discosour

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” -Berthold Auerbach

Oh, the Chicago blues. One of the greatest musical genres of all time. (No bias here…) Though the underground blues scene may not be what it once was in this city, there are still plenty of great venues churning out timeless music every night of the week. So, if you’re in need of a little ‘dusting off’, check out these local favorites around town.

Lee’s Unleaded Blues
Location: 7401 S. South Chicago Ave.
Phone: 773.493.3477
Kingston Mines
Location: 2548 N. Halsted St
Phone: 773.477.4646
Rosa’s Lounge
Location: 3420 W. Armitage Ave.
Phone: 773.342.0452
Self-proclaimed “friendliest blues bar”
B.L.U.E.S on Halsted
Location: 2519 N. Halsted St.
Phone: 773.528.1012
Blue Chicago
Location: 536 N. Clark
Phone: 312.661.0100
Location: 5201 S. Harper Ct.
Phone: 773.684.1472
Artis’s Lounge
Location: 1294 E. 87th Street
Phone: 772.734.0491
(Jam session) – Monday nights for more than 20 years
Buddy Guy’s Legends
Location: 754 S. Wabash Ave
Phone: 312.427.1192

Annual Chicago Blues Festival
The Chicago Blues Festival is also a great place to enjoy live, authentic Blues music. As the largest free Blues festival in the world, this giant concert has been taking place in Grant Park for more than 20 years. For four days every June, some of Blues’ greatest legends take to six stages to celebrate the music that calls Chicago home. Among those who have performed are Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. For more information about the Chicago Blues Festival, check out

The UPchicago team is out busily reviewing each of these great blues joints, so check back soon for more info and our own insights on the best of the Chicago blues scene.