The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events originally planned to celebrate the Year of Chicago Music in 2020. Then the pandemic diminished those festivities to the point that the city declared 2021 the Year of Chicago Music too. 

The ongoing surge of the Delta variant means the U.S. won’t be rid of the pandemic this year. The New York Times COVID-19 tracker says at least 620,000 Americans have died of the virus, and that number will keep growing as the unvaccinated remain on the fence about a “personal choice” that affects everyone. In Cook County, 60 percent of residents ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, which mitigates but doesn’t eliminate the danger to public health. 

Chicago officially reopened June 11, and with it live music began a gingerly return. The city’s music venues—where artists, fans, and live production professionals convene for a few magical, impossible-to-replicate hours—have largely begun hosting shows again. In response to the Delta variant, most are requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test for entry. If you’re going to a concert, check with the venue first to learn its current policy.

Celebrating the Year of Chicago Music in 2021 is certainly safer than it would’ve been in 2020, and DCASE has declared a citywide monthlong festival called Chicago in Tune that runs from Thursday, August 19, till Sunday, September 19. None of the city’s usual downtown festivals is happening this year, but DCASE will honor Chicago’s rich musical heritage with plenty of programming at Pritzker Pavilion and in other parks. Chicago in Tune also includes for-profit festivals such as Ruido Fest, the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash, the Pitchfork Music Festival, and Riot Fest. 

In fact, Chicago in Tune includes every concert in every venue in the city for a month. It’s more a name than an event, and it’s an exhaustively inclusive name—which means this Reader guide couldn’t possibly be complete. Instead it provides an entryway to the thrilling depth and diversity of the city’s music communities.

Music brings people together unlike any other art form, but COVID-19 continues to make it complicated to gather. Breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are a minuscule fraction of new cases, but seeing live music necessarily carries at least a small risk. It’s up to you to decide what you can tolerate: Packed into a club, or standing on your own in a park? In any case, please bear in mind the danger you could pose to everyone else, especially kids and others who can’t be vaccinated—get your shots, wear a mask, and encourage people in your life to follow suit. 

The Reader’s guide to Chicago in Tune includes interviews with people in different parts of the local scene, essays on genres with deep roots in the city, and a dozen curated lists of concerts. For information on shows not included here, visit Do312’s Chicago in Tune concert calendar. And however you decide to celebrate, make safe choices so that everybody who can bask in the glory of live music will still have the chance to do it tomorrow.

How DCASE helped Chicago music survive the pandemic shutdown

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events couldn’t present many events, but it found lots of other ways to support artists and venues.

Jonn Wallen of Oui Ennui has released 18 records since contracting COVID

Spurred by a brush with death, he’s sharpened his skills and become part of a larger music scene.

Beverly Phono Mart works to boost record-store culture on the far south side

Mallory McClaire and Chantala Kommanivanh came out of lockdown with a brick-and-mortar space on 103rd Street.

Third Coast Percussion evolves along with the pandemic

Managing director Reba Cafarelli describes how the ensemble and its staff adapted to the suspension of live music.

Chicago celebrates a century of Black gospel

A free Chicago in Tune showcase in Millennium Park links the music’s history to
its future.

Chicago has nurtured jazz since its infancy

The Chicago in Tune jazz showcase in Millennium Park reaches from 1940s bebop to present-day avant-garde experiments and pop hybrids.

Chicago house reshaped pop around the globe

Chicago in Tune showcases decades of house-music history in a three-hour concert.

The blues has become part of Chicago’s DNA

The pandemic couldn’t sever the music’s deep roots, and Chicago in Tune’s Millennium Park concert showcases its thriving variety.

Seven more doors into Chicago in Tune

Expert advice about the month’s best rock, pop, hip-hop, metal, classical, experimental, and Latinx music

Show calendar

Music to see on all 32 days of Chicago in Tune