Chicago in Tune is a difficult festival to describe, since it includes basically all live music happening in the city from August 19 till September 19. How that looks to you depends heavily on which shows are on your radar. The Reader has provided you with a number of assists: a show calendar spanning the entire month; lists of gospel, jazz, house, and blues concerts; and these roundups by genre, compiled by Reader staff and freelancers with special expertise in each area. We’ve definitely left some genres out, in the interest of avoiding hairsplitting, and the festival roundup is of course not about a genre at all. Plenty of events could’ve ended up filed in several categories, so we just had to pick one: the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash is under hip-hop, not festivals, and Ruido Fest leads off the Latinx roundup. The best way to be sure you’re hearing about everything that might interest you is to read all of these, I reckon. But of course I was going to say that anyway. Philip Montoro

POP, ROCK, ET CETERA

Chicago musicians keep the city in tune year round, and they’ve even done it through a pandemic—so the month of programming that DCASE has designated Chicago in Tune was bound to feature stellar talents. It includes loads of can’t-miss pop, rock, and punk shows where you might just discover your new favorite artists.

On the opening night of Chicago in Tune (Thu 8/19), lo-fi rockers Sonny Falls and Cold Beaches hit the stage at coffeehouse and music venue Golden Dagger, formerly known as Tonic Room. The venue also hosts alternative trio Microcosms and pop-rock vocalist Serjeeoh (Tue 9/7), the fearless Sophie Sputnik’s moody garage group, Waltzer (Wed 9/15), and quirky indie heads Spirits Having Fun (Fri 9/17). 

For the second night of the festival, the Hideout presents the punched-up indie pop of Bloom and Troigo (Fri 8/20) on its patio stage. The beloved small venue has great outdoor shows booked throughout, of course, including poet and songwriter Kara Jackson (Tue 8/24), Niika & Reno Cruz (Fri 8/27), grungy funk punks Orisun (Tue 8/31), and pop singer Katy Kirby with the hypnotic alt-country stylings of Tenci (Sat 9/11).

Ohmme Credit: Ash Dye

Ohmme, the experimental duo of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham, will perform material from their stunning 2020 album, Fantasize Your Ghost (in addition to some older fan favorites), at a CHIRP Radio-sponsored Thalia Hall show with goth punks Ganser opening (Thu 8/26). 

In a near re-creation of the extravagant showcase dubbed Iconic that they presented at Schubas in 2019, the powerhouse pop lineup of Emily Blue, Thair, SuperKnova, and Carlile reunite at Lincoln Hall (Sat 8/28)—with any luck, Blue and Thair will surprise fans with a live rendition of their take on Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me.” 

That same night, surfy pop-rock oddballs Impulsive Hearts headline a show at Reggies Music Joint with Minneapolis alt-rockers Present Company, emo six-piece Cloud Houses, and the shimmery songs of Pete Cautious (Sat 8/28).

Closing out August, folk band Honey Cellar bring their delightfully buzzing harmonies to Montrose Saloon (Tue 8/31). 

Singer-songwriter Jess Viscius and her new outfit, Bnny, play a record-release show at the Empty Bottle to celebrate their debut LP, Everything, which comes out August 20 on Fire Talk Records (Thu 9/2). And the latest signee to Sooper Records, multi-instrumentalist Jodi, brings the convention-defying music and queer country tales of their intimate new album, Blue Heron, to Sleeping Village (Sat 9/4). 

Also at Sleeping Village, Indigo Hope Finamore and Manae Hammond, who make music as Oux, will deliver a set of their soulful, synth-dipped, electro R&B (Wed 9/15)—when their songs “Rise,” “Queer Like Me,” and “Mood” wash over you, vibe like no one’s watching. 

Given the depth of Chicago’s pool of musical talent, you should never sleep on opening acts here—you never know who might blow you away. Avantist, the grossly underrated rock band of brothers Erick, David, Luis, and Fernando Arias, and dream-pop five-piece Faux Furrs will both get the crowd moving ahead of Cincinnati rockers Sylmar (Subterranean, Sun 9/5). Full of noise, rage, and bass, No Men will get all up in your face supporting no-wave legend Lydia Lunch and her band Retrovirus (Beat Kitchen, Fri 9/10), who are sure to do the same. You’ll probably need earplugs for this one, and be sure to help your fellow showgoer if the mosh pit gets too chaotic—safety first! Jessi Roti

HIP-HOP

So far this summer, three albums by Chicago rappers have hit the top five of the Billboard 200. G Herbo’s 25 landed at number five on July 17, a few weeks after Polo G’s Hall of Fame took the top spot on June 26, displacing The Voice of the Heroes, a collaboration between Atlanta’s Lil Baby and Chicago’s Lil Durk. But as entertaining as chart watching can be, it can’t tell you much about what’s made the local scene so vital and unique over the past decade. Keeping an eye on the city’s concert listings will get you a lot closer.

The Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash returns to Douglass Park this year (Fri 8/20-Sun 8/22). A big part of the festival’s draw comes from its marquee names—ASAP Rocky, Lil Baby, Lil Uzi Vert—but much of the rest comes from Chicago acts. Among the highlights are up-and-comer OG Stevo, the masterful Saba, nonchalant flexer Queen Key, spitfire storyteller Femdot, the dryly cool Nina Tech, and Hurt Everybody MCs Qari and Supa Bwe performing solo sets. The Summer Smash lineup also showcases artists who’ve worked with Lyrical Lemonade founder-turned-videographer Cole Bennett, among them Lil Skies, Ski Mask the Slump God, and Lil Tecca. The fest also nods at hip-hop’s breadth, finding a through line that connects Atlanta screamer Waka Flocka Flame, Los Angeles philosopher Earl Sweatshirt, and Buffalo underground veteran Benny the Butcher.

DJ Manny Credit: Courtesy the artist

Watching what’s happening in Chicago’s clubs will also teach you how far hip-hop’s cultural imprint extends beyond what’s traditionally considered hip-hop. Chicago footwork producer DJ Taye, who began adding verses to his hyperactive, zigzagging dance music on 2018’s Still Trippin, will perform at Smart Bar alongside footwork pros DJ Manny, Jana Rush, and RP Boo (Fri 9/10). Chicago producer and singer Elton Aura creates supple, graceful songs from a soothing blend of R&B, funk, hip-hop, and pop; he plays a patio show at the Hideout with DJ Chris Banks (Sat 8/28). And Sterling Hayes, a hard-grinding member of Chicago hip-hop collective Save Money, celebrates his new album, Beam Scale, at Chop Shop (Fri 8/27).

Touring hasn’t resumed at anything like pre-COVID levels, but quite a few out-of-town hip-hop acts will come through in the next month, including New Jersey hip-hop fusion crew Cook Thugless (Beat Kitchen, Fri 8/20) and New York producer Blockhead, who’s playing a release show for Space Werewolves Will Be the End of Us All (Schubas, Fri 9/3). Subterranean hosts two great hip-hop acts back-to-back: underground champion Homeboy Sandman (Wed 9/8) and rising artist CalenRaps (Thu 9/9). Los Angeles MC Duckwrth brings his smooth, lighter-than-air tunes to Reggies Rock Club (Tue 9/14), and dyed-in-the-wool underground rapper Conway the Machine—a member of prolific Buffalo crew Griselda, alongside Benny the Butcher—headlines Avondale Music Hall (Fri 9/17). Hip-hop moves quickly, and even the biggest stars sometimes drop albums just days after revealing their existence, or announce shows just a couple weeks in advance. So it’s always a good idea to keep checking concert calendars. Reader staff

METAL

Pandemic shutdowns seemed destined to sideline metal and hardcore bands for longer than their peers in other genres. After all, where would you feel more likely to contract a respiratory virus: at a coffeehouse show by an acoustic singer-songwriter, at a seated concert by a chamber quintet, or in a circle pit watching a band of thunderously loud hell-raisers screaming their faces off? As in-person shows have come back, though, metal has been well represented, and the local circuit is stacked throughout Chicago in Tune.

There are a few stadium shows and festivals, of course: Megadeth and Lamb of God at Hollywood Casino Amphitheater (Thu 9/9), Guns N’ Roses at Wrigley Field (Thu 9/16), Faith No More and Coheed and Cambria at Riot Fest (Douglass Park, Fri 9/17-Sun 9/19). But if you like it heavy, the club shows are every bit as exciting.

Florida death-metal pioneers Deicide play Reggies Rock Club with Canadian death-metal legends Kataklysm and reunited slam unit Internal Bleeding (Sun 8/22), and Nashville scuzz rockers Thelma & the Sleaze play Liar’s Club with Chicago-based intergalactic occult weirdos Beastii (Tue 8/24). The end of the week provides a hesher’s bounty of doom and stoner-rock bands: Freedom Hawk, High Reeper, Black Road, and Uncouth at Reggies Music Joint (Thu 8/26) and midwestern stoner-metal veterans Bongzilla at Beat Kitchen (Fri 8/27). If power metal and laser light shows are your thing, you can rev up for the week ahead with Immortal Guardian and Paladin at WC Social Club (Sun 8/29).

The onslaught continues over Labor Day weekend. Noisy hardcore group Knocked Loose headline two stacked bills at Metro (Thu 9/2-Fri 9/3), with Gatecreeper opening the latter. Chicago/Gothenburg mini fest Scorched Tundra returns to the Empty Bottle with a single-night showcase (Sat 9/4) featuring western-infused doom outfit In the Company of Serpents, Minneapolis D-beat/crust punks Hive, and local death metallers Roman Ring. Iowa doom merchants Telekinetic Yeti and local Lovecraftian instrumental duo Plague of Carcosa share a four-band bill at Bourbon on Division (Fri 9/3).

Starless Credit: Chris Eichenseer

The following week, Reggies Music Joint hosts a lineup of boundary-breaking local artists, headlined by doomy slowcore band Starless, who are celebrating the release of the album Hope Is Leaving You; opening are dark experimental group Anatomy of Habit, heavy rockers Lavisher, and musician and audio engineer Sanford Parker (9/11). On the same night, Cobra Lounge gets brutal with Dallas death metallers Devourment and Cleveland hardcore titans Ringworm.

The past year and a half has proved that Chicago’s metal scene can’t be stopped by a submicroscopic infectious agent. (To quote 3rd Rock From the Sun on viruses: “They are stealthy, but they are stupid.”) With vaccinations on the rise and clubs instituting stricter COVID-19 safety policies, we can afford to hope the city will never know a time without live metal again. Reader staff

LATINX

Ruido Fest falls on the first weekend of Chicago in Tune, featuring smooth Mexico City dance-pop band Little Jesus, local retro-pop trio the Mini Projects, Miami-based Venezuelan singer Maye, and many more. Old-school Latin-alternative icons Café Tacvba, Panteón Rococó, and Caifanes headline, along with Puerto Rican reggaeton star Ivy Queen. Don’t miss producer Camilo Lara and his group Mexican Institute of Sound, Afro-Colombian synth-pop artist Lido Pimienta, and tropical disco-funk band Los Amigos Invisibles (Union Park, Fri 8/20-Sun 8/22).

Lido Pimienta Credit: Daniella Murillo

The Ruido afterparties are equally great: highlights at Cobra Lounge include Las Nubes, who conquered Iggy Pop’s heart in Miami (Sun 8/22), and the radical reggaeton of La Doña paired with the chill jams of Inner Wave (Fri 8/20). Silverio will pounce on synths to create dark electronic music at Reggies Rock Club (Sat 8/21), while Alex Midi of Mœnia will spin at Simone’s (Sat 8/21).

Two free shows at FitzGerald’s present relatively traditional Latinx music: Chicha Roots honor the golden age of Andean cumbia (Thu 8/19), and Jarochicanos and Joel Castellanos present a night of son jarocho (Thu 8/26). Jarochicanos also teach the zapateado that accompanies son jarocho at a fandanguito in Hermosa Park (Thu 8/19). The following week, Ida y Vuelta explore folk sounds from Veracruz at Sleeping Village (Fri 8/25). 

In Pilsen, Tierra Roja and Los Sudakas perform Andean folk, boleros, son cubano, and son jarocho at Wings Fire House on Western at 25th, a second-floor restaurant that hosts live music (Fri 9/3).

Other upcoming lineups at Wings Fire House include Latinx funk, ska, and soul with OvejaNegra, MuTaTe, Mr. Funko, and DJ Gildelgar (Fri 8/27); Latinx rock with Las Cruxes, Kelroy, and Rai (Fri 9/10); and an homage to Mexican pop group RBD called Tributo Celestial that’s sure to please lovers of cheesy 90s Latinx pop (Sat 9/11).

The city’s ¡Súbelo! showcase (Harrison Park, Sat 9/4) will feature Mexican rap-rock band Molotov and other Latinx performers. SummerDance in the Parks includes cumbia by Quinto Imperio (Davis Square Park, Wed 9/8) and salsa by Chicago Latin Groove (Portage Park, Wed 9/15).

Kombi hosts Kumbiaholics at Simone’s (Sat 8/28), but if you’re looking for a different flavor, DJ Flores Negras (vocalist for doom-metal band Rosaries) and DJ MaddJazz host a goth cumbia night at Subterranean (Fri 8/27).

Celebrating 50 years of promoting and preserving Afro-Puerto Rican culture, Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center presents an all-bomba gathering (Thu 9/9) with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Barcelona-based group Mancha ’E Plátano, and Bomba con Buya (the two bands also play Wed 9/8 at the Old Town School). The festivities continue with Bámbula: Afro-Diáspora en Chicago, a series of outdoor bomba dance parties (Kelvyn Park, Fri 9/10; Julia de Burgos Park, Sat 9/11; Senka Park, Sun 9/12). Sandra Treviño

CLASSICAL 

Chicago in Tune overlaps the Grant Park Music Festival on one end and the Ear Taxi Festival on the other. Grant Park closes its season just as Chicago in Tune begins, with a program that includes Handel’s choral-orchestral whammy Dettingen Te Deum (Pritzker Pavilion, Fri 8/20-Sat 8/21). Pritzker Pavilion also hosts a Grammy Legacies concert (Thu 9/16) featuring Eighth Blackbird, tenor Karim Sulayman, performance poet J. Ivy, singer-songwriter and actress Tarrey Torae, and a world premiere by Pamela Z

That same day, Ear Taxi kicks off its Spotlight series with the debut of Rhythm Is Image, focusing on works that treat sound as a tactile phenomenon (Constellation, Thu 9/16). Later that weekend Chicago-based Kosmologia, the brainchild of composer Carmen-Helena Téllez, brings Téllez’s own piano works into dialogue with Bach’s (PianoForte, Sat 9/18-Sun 9/19). 

Fifth House Ensemble Credit: Courtesy the artists

Fifth House Ensemble mounts an outdoor concert in collaboration with the American Indian Center’s Big Drum Ensemble, featuring commissions by Shawn Okpebholo and Patrick O’Malley; the water-cycle-themed program also includes “In Wisconsin Woods” by composer and Lenape Center codirector Brent Michael Davids (Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, Sun 9/19). The same afternoon, vocal quartet Fourth Coast Ensemble premieres A Brush With Our Time, based on the poetry of Zen artist Kazuaki Tanahashi; Tanahashi will paint large-scale enso calligraphy around the space (Ruggles Hall at Newberry Library, Sun 9/19).

Access Contemporary Music’s season starter includes guests Nadia Sirota (the violist and podcaster of Meet the Composer fame) and Liam Byrne (bass viol) playing Donnacha Dennehy’s Tessellatum (Davis Theater, Thu 9/9). The Frequency Series at Constellation remains reliably intrepid: percussionist Patti Cudd delivers a live rendition of her decadent still motion, released by new local label Sideband Records (Sun 8/22), and pianist Shi-An Costello transforms famous collectively improvised pieces (Terry Riley’s In C, Julius Eastman’s Stay on It, and Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union) into solo arrangements (Sun 9/19). 

If you have to be choosy this summer, though, choose opera. Elastic Arts’ AfriClassical series passes the baton to Ayanna Woods, whose ensemble performs music from FORCE!, Anna Martine Whitehead’s collaborative “punk opera” about women and femmes of color sharing a prison waiting room (Sat 8/28). And Third Eye Theatre Ensemble phoenixes itself from pandemic ash with a bewitching double bill: the midwest premiere of Kamala Sankaram’s The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace and a commission by Elizabeth Rudolph called Petticoats & Sliderules (Edge Theater, Fri 9/17-Sun 10/3). Hannah Edgar

EXPERIMENTAL 

“Experimental” is more a how than a what, and most of the shows here could’ve fit in at least one other category. The Pitchfork Music Festival (Union Park, Fri 9/10-Sun 9/12), one of the best such events in Chicago, features a slew of great experimentalists on Friday’s lineup—including sound-collaged dance-music project the Soft Pink Truth, frenetic postpunk mavericks Black Midi, art-pop troubadours the Fiery Furnaces, and beloved psychedelic act Animal Collective. Former Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon plays on Saturday (with a solo date Fri 9/10 at Thalia Hall), and prismatic glam-rock star Yves Tumor plays on Sunday (with an aftershow that night at the Empty Bottle). Thurston Moore, also a former member of Sonic Youth, has two shows at the Bottle later that week (Tue 9/14-Wed 9/15).

At Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, Experimental Sound Studio presents a series of widely varied 30-channel sound installations that take full advantage of the gridlike trellis of overhead speakers spanning the lawn. The installations will be active roughly one day per week throughout Chicago in Tune, for two hours each day; the six 20-minute works are by Whitney Johnson (aka Matchess), I Gusti Ngurah Kertayuda & Bill Parod, Stephan Moore, Kitundu, Kioto Aoki, and Natalie Chami (aka TALsounds). ESS also hosts a concert series at Lake Forest College that celebrates ephemeral but powerful experiences. Artists include avant-garde vocalist Carol Genetti (Sat 9/11) and taiko drummer Kioto Aoki (Sat 9/18).

Elastic Arts reliably books experimental music in many genres, and the month of Chicago in Tune is no exception. JG Thirlwell of Foetus will deliver an electroacoustic audiovisual performance called “Silver Mantis” (Sat 9/11), and the underrated Ohio trio of Jayson Gerycz, Jen Powers, and Matthew Rolin will improvise a set of folk-jazz (Fri 9/3). 

The Empty Bottle will present Nebraska’s favorite queer electro-industrial leather maniac, Plack Blague, sharing the bill with local no-wave punk-metal duo Ozzuario and a DJ set from Him Hun (Fri 9/3). A few days later (Mon 9/6) it hosts a night of performances from three Chicago natives: young guitarist extraordinaire Eli Winter, synthesist Jordan Reyes, and Rebecca Valeriano-Flores, guitarist and vocalist for postpunk band Negative Scanner.

Negative Scanner Credit: Vita Photo

The Museum of Contemporary Art presents its Tuesdays on the Terrace jazz series at 5:30 PM, when its exhibits are still open. The first show to fall within Chicago in Tune features reedist Mwata Bowden (Tue 8/24), a second-generation member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a Chicago institution founded in 1965 to support the autonomy of experimental Black artists. The following week’s concert (Tue 8/31) is by the Alexander McLean Project, a group led by vocalist Dee Alexander and guitarist John McLean. Joshua Minsoo Kim

FESTIVALS

Last summer’s festival season was canceled before it began, but as vaccines tamped down new infections this spring, it felt like we might be heading out of the woods. Then the Delta variant took over and undid what we thought we knew about COVID. Mixed signals from politicians and public health officials fueled the confusion: Masks or no masks? Are outdoor events still safer than indoors? How likely is a vaccinated concertgoer to get a breakthrough infection standing in line for a porta-potty—or to pass that infection along?

Every photo of a sea of fans at Lollapalooza fueled fears that the fest would be a superspreader. As of this writing, its impact remains unclear, but new COVID cases are rising steeply. That said, there are still reasons to be optimistic about music festivals during Chicago in Tune. Vaccination, in combination with precautions such as masking, social distancing, testing, and self-quarantining, alleviate a huge amount of risk. 

The eclectic Millennium Park Summer Music Series continues through mid-September at Pritzker Pavilion. It includes Contemporary Indigenous Voices, cocurated by Sicangu Lakota rapper Frank Waln and featuring Leonard Sumner, Lyla June, and Tall Paul (Mon 9/6). Afrodija Social Club (Mon 8/30) is a multidisciplinary performance by DJ Sadie Woods that explores diasporic music and culture. 

Fans of motorcycles and hot rods unite at Motoblot (outside Cobra Lounge, Fri 8/27-Sun 8/29), whose musical component includes psychobilly legends Nekromantix, Las Vegas rockers the Delta Bombers, and Chicago punk and ska acts such as Mystery Actions, the Crombies, and Aweful.

PorchFest Roscoe Village (Sun 8/29) presents live music on 15 porches around the north-side neighborhood, with a full lineup and porch map provided to those who register online

Labor Day weekend is stacked with big music events. Delmark Records, Earwig Records, and the Rockwell Business & Residents Association present the Rockwell Blues & Jazz Street Stroll (Sat 9/4), a daylong fest on Rockwell between Irving Park and Berteau; the headlining set by the Delmark All Stars Band includes appearances by Jimmy Johnson, Jimmy Burns, Sharon Lewis, and others. The new ARC Music Festival hosts two days of electronic music (Union Park, Sat 9/4-Sun 9/5), with sets from house and techno luminaries such as Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, and Hiroko Yamamura. In case that’s not enough dancing, the North Coast Music Festival features the likes of Kaskade, Louis the Child, Zeds Dead, and GRiZ (SeatGeek Stadium, Fri 9/3-Sun 9/5).

The Pitchfork Music Festival descends on Union Park (Fri 9/10-Sun 9/12) with an impressive mix of indie rock, rap, soul, and experimental music, featuring headliners Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, and Erykah Badu. During the final weekend of Chicago in Tune, Riot Fest returns to Douglass Park (Fri 9/17-Sun 9/19), bringing a roster of cult favorites (including a reunited Mr. Bungle) and a slate of headliners that mixes hip-hop and rock: Run the Jewels, Lupe Fiasco, Smashing Pumpkins, Coheed and Cambria.

In 2021, every music festival is subject to change. But with a little luck—and a lot of community effort—Chicago’s festival season will give us a chance to create once-in-a-lifetime memories that can help us get through whatever comes next. Reader staff