Not long ago, going to a Chicago street festival usually meant settling for '80s cover bands, greasy food and ordinary beverages. That was then. Paralleling the grass-roots evolution of the city's dining and brewing scenes, summer get-togethers have gotten a whole lot more sophisticated. While numerous fests occur any given weekend — dozens upon dozens of celebrations take place through Labor Day — the very best gatherings provide attendees a wealth of options. They're also planned well in advance, meaning their entertainment slots are booked.
Live music on the level of that found at cutting-edge clubs, unique cultural opportunities, fun family-minded pursuits, food from acclaimed neighborhood joints and specialty beers await attendees at certain fests in the upcoming months. Chosen for their diversity and distinctive nature, here are the standout summer block parties worth a sweat.
Chicago Craft Beer Festival
There's something apropos about drinking beer on the grounds of a parish. After all, monks have made ales part of their religious practice for hundreds of years. Here's your chance to partake in such spirituality. Held at St. Michael, this adult-themed event speaks to the explosive interest in microbrews. Featuring specialty offerings from more than three dozen breweries — including local producers Argus, Half Acre, Goose Island, Emmett's, Flossmoor Station and Finch — the affair is capped by performances from blues pianist Marcia Ball and witty singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks.
When: June 21-23
Where: 1633 N. Cleveland Ave.
Admission: 312-642-2498; $35-$50
Long Grove Strawberry Festival
You may have heard the village's radio advertisements touting Long Grove as a gentle escape located just 45 minutes from the Loop. We doubt the accuracy of that drive time, but Illinois' first historic district is nothing if not charming and laid back. And there's no better time to visit than during its annual Strawberry and Apple Festivals (the latter occurs in the fall). Nestled in a setting that evokes a downtown on "Little House on the Prairie" in the 21st century, a cluster of shops, restaurants and booths serve up edible strawberry-flavored delights spanning ice cream to doughnuts. Pony rides, face painting, kiddie rides, sidewalk sales and more than 20 musicians keep you amused.
When: June 21-23
Where: Old McHenry Road and Robert Parker Coffin Road, Long Grove
Admission: 847-634-0888 or visitlonggrove.com; donation requested
Chicago Pride Fest
"Because bigger is always better." You've got to appreciate the whimsical humor of this year's Chicago Pride Fest's slogan. It's in direct reference to the LGBT-themed street festival taking place one week before the always-mobbed Pride Parade that, due to increasing popularity and massive crowds, is being held June 30. Consider Pride Fest the kickoff to what's certain to be an entire week of lavish partying in Boystown. Expect the usually unusual array of arts, crafts and merchandise from local vendors, multiple drag shows and a stage dedicated to Chicago's gay performers.
When: June 22-23
Where: 3700 N. Halsted St.
Admission: 773-584-6631 or northalsted.com; $8
Chicago Green Music Fest
Lollapalooza likes to tout eco-friendliness, but mounds of trash strewn across Grant Park and its surrounding environs at the end of each day indicate its initiatives are "green" in name only. Not so the community-driven Green Music Fest, which requires food services to use compostable wares, prohibits plastic bottles, showcases recycled products, provides a free bike parking area and promotes sustainable ideas. A kids' area encourages entire families to come out, and the music lineup, programmed by Subterranean, claims Manchester Orchestra, Ha Ha Tonka and Snowden (no, not Edward Snowden) as well as the playfully named Hamburglars and the Island of Misfit Toys.
When: June 22-23
Where: 1600 N. Damen Ave.
Admission: 773-384-2672 or greenmusicfestchicago.com; $5
Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival
Here's a clue: Events and spaces tied in with the Land & Sea Dept., a concept-development team made up of the creative minds behind enterprises such as the Longman & Eagle restaurant, warrant immediate attention. And so it goes with the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, boasting more than 50 visual artists, pop-up galleries and snacks from many of Logan Square's hippest eateries, including Parson's Chicken & Fish and Lula Cafe. Bicycle tune-ups, a family activities tent, pop-up cocktail bars, a yoga studio and independent vendors flank two music stages hosting an eclectic roster spanning area psychedelic droners Cave to California funk impresario Dam-Funk.
When: June 28-30
Where: 2600 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Admission: 773-278-4257 or http://maaf2013.org/; $5
Independence Day weekend hasn't been the same in Chicago since the city canned its huge fireworks show in Grant Park. Recognizing that few things are more American than downing copious amounts of sauce-slathered pork ribs, looking up at sulfur-emitting explosions and singing along to classic rock, Naperville Ribfest does the Fourth of July right. A mechanical bull, obstacle course, laser tag, balloon twister and jousting bring Chuck E. Cheese's to you. Slash, Styx, Rick Springfield and Lynyrd Skynyrd headline. Here's your chance to shout "Free Bird" and have the request honored.
When: July 3-7
Where: Knoch Park, 724 S. West St., Naperville
Admission: 630-779-2702 or ribfest.net; $12-$15
Taste of Chicago
Yes, Taste of Chicago seems to be on the ropes. Attendance is down, duration is diminished and various experiments at reinventing the food bonanza to return it to break-even status have failed. Rumors of its imminent demise persist. Which is reason enough to go. Like the Rolling Stones' recent tour, this may be the last time to gnaw on big-as-your-tibia turkey legs and sample vittles you'd likely never otherwise order without first trying. Plus, last year's county-fair-quality music lineup is a thing of the past. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, Jill Scott, fun., Robin Thicke and Kelly Hogan headline the soiree.
When: July 10-14
Where: Grant Park, 300 E. Jackson Drive
Admission: 312-744-5000; free-$25
Square Roots Festival
Formerly known as the Old Town School of Folk Music's Folk and Roots Festival, Square Roots pleases people age 2 to 92 by blending creative performing arts activities, Lincoln Square food, craft beer and the summer season's most worldly musical lineup. Interactive workshops, jam sessions, myriad dance lessons and children's yoga sessions complement multi-continental artists that play styles representative of their homelands. Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, Quebec folk ensemble Le Vent du Nord and Malian singer/guitarist Fatoumata Diawara are among the can't-miss acts.
When: July 12-14
Where: 4400 N. Lincoln Ave.
Admission: 773-728-6000 or squareroots.org; $5-$10
Irish American Heritage Festival
How not to love a festival that involves dogs and avoids the trappings of many of the city's St. Patrick's celebrations? Irish wolfhounds will appear for petting and educational purposes at this annual affair, which also adds drills with the Gaelic Football Club and the opportunity to hang out with the Chicago Fire mascot to its kids-friendly palette. A mashed potato eating contest, singles hook-up dance party, spirits tasting and craft beer tent are among the diversions on the slate for the adults. And it wouldn't be Irish without music. Six dance troupes and companies back a slew of live performers, ranging from traditional folk (Dublin City Ramblers) to Celtic punk (the Tossers).
When: July 12-14
Where: 4626 N. Knox Ave.
Admission: 773-282-7035 or irishfestchicago.com/; free-$15