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The (Pretty) Complete List of Center Square Summer Festivals

By Mike Fourcher | Thursday, June 6, 2013
Festgoers check out one of the music offerings at the 2012 Ribfest Chicago. Credit: Sarah Tilotta

Festgoers check out one of the music offerings at the 2012 Ribfest Chicago. Credit: Sarah Tilotta

Update (July 17): Ravenswood Remix announced it is now “Chicago Remix” and will be in Logan Square this year.

Welcome to a new Chicago summer! That means lots of festivals and plenty of reasons to be outside. Contrary to what many may think, Lakeview is not where the most festivals are held. Nope, it’s Center Square where the action’s at. Here we provide, for your planning convenience, our annual guide to the festivals and what to expect.

Maifest Chicago, May 30-June 2, Lincoln & Leland

While it’s not the first festival of the season, it’s considered by many to be the “Kick off” fest of the summer. Beer, brats, tents and a relatively laid back crowd make this drink fest more family friendly (in the afternoon) than you’d think. Be sure to try the pickled herring.

Ribfest Chicago, June 7-9, Lincoln & Irving Park

The fastest growing area festival, Ribfest expanded an extra block last year and attracts tens of thousands of people who want to smell like barbecue for the weekend. Unique among festivals in that it strives to annually book upcoming bands – and have interesting food.

Epiphany Summerfest, June 15, Damen & Bradley

A day-long block party with the usual kid-oriented stuff to do, food and drink, and then some actual good music with Open Suggestion and the Katie Todd Band at the end of the afternoon.

GriffinFest, June 22, Foster & Winchester

Less of a traditional street festival than a theater company throwing a big party to celebrate their new location and new season (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), GriffinFest so far seems to have the marks of most summer festivals but we have great expectations since it’s organized by a bunch of artists.

The Freak Out at the NBGC Carnival. Credit: Jordan Graham.

The Freak Out at the NBGC Carnival. Credit: Jordan Graham.

Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club Carnival, June 26-30, Irving Park & Rockwell

This is exactly what you’d imagine a carnival to be like. Lots of neon at night and more fried dough than you can imagine. The Boys & Girls Club strives to make the daytime kid-centric, and offers a reasonably priced all-day pass for parents to unleash their kids on the rides.

Summer Pride on Southport, June 29-30, Southport & Waveland

Rebranded with a rainbow “pride” element this year, since this year it falls on the same weekend as the Pride Parade. Operated by Star Events (which operates many summer fests), expect your usual Chicago festival line up of music and food vendors. One notable difference: the Sunday Gospel Brunch. We’re curious to see how authentic a gospel performance can get in Lakeview.

Taste of Lakeview, July 6-7, Lincoln & Belmont 

Another Star Event rebranding effort, Taste of Lakeview is replacing last year’s Rock Around the Block, which angered local merchants because it was so poorly planned and organized. While last year’s festival lacked any significant theme, this year’s fest is meant to feature local restaurants – although none have been showcased yet.

SquareRoots, July 12-14, Lincoln & Montrose

This is the second year of SquareRoots, the ambitious replacement to the once beloved RootsFest. Last year’s festival, a combination of RootsFest’s music lineup and beer from the area’s many craft brewers, was widely considered a success. Organized by the same company as  Ribfest Chicago, Big Buzz Idea Group, SquareRoots is so far proving to be a unique and interesting summer festival experience.

Chowing down at the 2010 Burgerfest. File Photo.

Roscoe Village BurgerFest, July 13-14, Belmont & Damen

Now in its sixth year, BurgerFest actually draws a fairly large group of interesting burger makers, but pulling a big crowd has always been a challenge since it generally falls on the same weekend as the Taste of Chicago and now SquareRoots. In past years the festival has drawn some interesting music acts (Foghat and The Smithereens!), but this year it seems to be falling back on the usual line up of cover bands best experienced with a beer in hand.

BenFest, July 19-21, Irving Park & Leavitt

Probably the most famous of the various North Side church festivals, BenFest is expanding to three days this year. Yes, the music is pretty much the same as most festivals, but BenFest is much more kid-oriented with a ton of rides and things to do. You won’t find many swerving recent Big Ten grads here. Also: The fest is held in the church/school courtyard, rather than the street, creating a different experience.

Retro On Roscoe, August 10-11, Damen & Roscoe

One of the first big summer festivals, RoR stretches six blocks down Roscoe Ave. and includes a classic car show, three stages, a tots carnival ride section and lots of non-food vendors. While most summer fests are about getting a beer and planting yourself in front of a stage, the sheer size of RoR invites strolling on a nice afternoon.

St. Demetrios Greek Fest, August 16-18, Winona & Washtenaw

Their website isn’t up to date yet, but we called to make sure it’s happening this year. Yes, it’s a church festival. But really, the food is awesome. And the music. And the dancing, if you can catch it. Every year Greek-Americans pour in from the suburbs to come to their old family church festival in what used to be “New Greektown”. This is one of the few truly authentic ethnic festivals in the area.

In between the rain, throngs came out for the 2011 Ravenswood Remix. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

In between the rain, throngs came out for the 2011 Ravenswood Remix. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

Ravenswood Remix, August 31-September 1, Ravenswood & Belle Plaine

A festival that focuses on indie and folk art? New, up and coming bands that don’t play covers? Yes, please! To boot, the festival supports arts programs at Hamilton Elementary and other local public schools. Now in it’s third year, The Remix bursts with creative energy so many other fests lack. If you’re looking for something to do on Labor Day weekend, this is a pretty good way to spend it.

German Day Festival, September 6-7, Lincoln & Leland

Yes, this is festival is essentially a replay of Mayfest but in the late summer. Same tents, beer and food. That’s not such a bad line up. However, the real stand out of the festival is the Baron Friedrich von Steuben Parade. Once big enough to roll down State Street every year (Remember the end of Ferris Bueller? Yeah, that parade.) the parade attracts a unique blend of neighborhood groups, politicians, dirndls, lederhosen and old fashioned cars. Oh, and a whole bunch of people drink beer while they watch from the sidewalk.

Guinness Oyster Fest, September 7, Damen & Roscoe

A smaller festival than most, Oysterfest is less about a long afternoon in front of a bandstand than a stop along the way to slurp some oysters and beer.

North Side Irish Fest, September 13-15, Lincoln & Irving Park

Although it’s “hosted” by the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, this is another Star Events reboot, formerly the North Side Summerfest with a focus on hot dogs. That theme didn’t seem to work out so well, so now it’s going Irish. Details are still being worked out.

Queen of Angels Harvest Jam, September 20-21, Western & Sunnyside

Set up in the church parking lot, Harvest Jam is like many church fests, cover bands, beer, face painting. But at this time of year, you have to go for the roast corn.

Oktoberfest Chicago, September 27-29, Lincoln & Southport

Once the quaint St. Alphonsus Parish Oktoberfest, this became a roaring event a couple years ago that spills far out of the (admittedly big) church basement and onto the streets. Genuine “oom-pah” bands have played at past festivals, and yes there’s a pretty good “Kinderfest” section, as any decent church festival would require.

Ravenswood ArtWalk Tour of Arts & Industry, October 5-6, Ravenswood Corridor

Once a sprawling two-mile event area with venues along Ravenswood between Lawrence and Roscoe Avenues, RAW has been working to consolidate the event space this year. Past RAW Tours have opened up studios and lofts so you can not only see great art, but also how it gets made. Details are still being worked out.

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  • Brian Miller

    According to their Facebook page, Ravenswood Remix is moving to Logan Square for 2013.

    https://www.facebook.com/RavenswoodRemix

    • vouchey

      Thanks, Brian. That’s a good catch. We’ve removed it from our calendar.

  • Lethe

    Is SquareRoots actually running Saturday, Sunday and Monday (7/12-14)? Or did you mean 7/11-13 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)? Actually, checking your other events, you have many of them running Saturday, Sunday & Monday!

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