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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Summer concert preview: Many mega-shows, alternatives

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Chicago's summer concert season this year is one of the busiest and blockbuster-est -- and if you haven't yet committed your music dollars through Labor Day, you may be too late.

In the years since Lollapalooza's arrival as a destination festival each August in Grant Park, Chicago's summer club scene has grown quieter. The festival's radius clauses prevent its hundreds of acts from performing in the area in the weeks before and after the fest, thus sucking some of the air out of midsize rooms from May to October.

This year, though, the city seems to be working a different concert mojo. The schedule consists of one major tentpole show after another.

In a span of 90 days, Chicago's biggest venues will host One Direction, Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi, Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Pearl Jam, Justin Timberlake & Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Depeche Mode, Kelly Clarkson (twice), Pitbull & Ke$ha, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffett (twice), Fleetwood Mac (again), plus the festival runs of Lolla, Pitchfork, North Coast, Ravinia, Spring Awakening, Electric Daisy, Green Music, American Music -- pant, gasp, wheeze.

If you have tickets to these events, no doubt you're excited. If not, no doubt you're fashioning alibis. Whatever the case, we've got you covered. Here's a look ahead at the coming weekend dilemmas, the big-ticket tentpoles -- and some available, affordable alternatives.

Memorial Day weekend
Summer's first holiday offers a new electronic dance music festival, the Electric Daisy Carnival (May 24-26 at Chicago Speedway in Joliet; CORRECTION: tickets still available here!), a long-running, roving destination festival that's setting up shop this year near Chicago for one of its annual handful of dates. The local stop features a paltry slice of the lineup that eventually plays the festival's Las Vegas engagement but includes Avicii, David Guetta, Kaskade, Tiesto, Wolf + Lamb and more. Three late nights on a concrete speedway with samey EDM pounding out of every speaker stack? Yeesh, y'all have fun.

Alternative: Still need to dance? The perennial Blowoff nights with rocker Bob Mould and DJ partner Richard Morel are heady club outings (May 25 at Metro; $16,

The hottest music this weekend, though, will be earlier at Metro, where Chicago's Chance the Rapper will throw down at two shows, May 25-26. The first show sold out so quickly they added a second, which sold out even faster. "Acid Rap" has the biggest buzz of the year thus far.

Economy special: The city's Downtown Sounds series opens with two bands led by excellent innovators, the Lee Ranaldo Band and Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, May 27 in beautiful Millennium Park. Can't beat the $0 price.

Getting yer ya-yas out
AX012_1441_9.JPGThe Rolling Stones set up camp for a week at Chicago's United Center, playing three big shows May 28, May 31 and June 3 (tickets at the United Center's box office and You might assume this would be sold out, but no. The Stones, each of them richer than Solomon, are charging ticket prices that require a third mortgage on your home. Tickets remain at the $450 and $600 levels. Calling all 1 percenters!

The shows that did sell out in a flash this week belong to the pride of McHenry, Alkaline Trio, celebrating its excellent new pop-rock album, "My Shame Is True" (May 30-31 at Metro).

Quirky alternative: The inimitable Robyn Hitchcock plays this week at comfy City Winery, a great venue for this baffling bard's Byrdsian tunes. Bonus: WXRT program director Norm Winer lives up to his name by selecting the lady-petrol pairings to go with the show. That's either going to be insufferable or utterly magic. Worth checking out, either way (May 30 at City Winery; $25 music only, $15 extra for wine,

Beyond the blues
The Chicago Blues Festival trundles on as one of the city's most venerable of cultural institutions, this year opening June 6 with Shemekia Copeland (joined by 14-year-old guitar phenom Quinn Sullivan), and continuing for days with such icons as Bobby Rush, Irma Thomas, Jimmy Johnson, Otis Clay, the Bar-Kays and more. Can't beat the lakeshore views or the price (June 6-9 at Millennium Park and Grant Park; free,

Avoid the crowds: Like blues-roots music but also like to sit down? Catch the Steepwater Band, a great Chicago band since '98, headlining a bill of like-minded rockers (June 7 at the House of Blues; $12 advance, $15 day of show, Like smart alt-rock? The Dandy Warhols are celebrating the 13th anniversary of their seminal album, "13 Tales From Urban Bohemia," playing its dazed-indie bliss in its entirety (June 8 at the Vic Theatre; $25, Like shameless pop schmaltz? Pitbull & Ke$ha and all their various corporate logos will be on display this weekend too (June 9 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre; $25-$120,

Summer's start
By June 14, spring is fully awake. Heck, summer's stirring. But this is the weekend of Chicago's Spring Awakening Festival, a fresh annual rave of mostly electronic dance acts, this year featuring Bassnectar, Calvin Harris, Felix da Housecat, Flosstradamus, Paul Oakenfold, Zeds Dead and dozens more. Early offerings sold out, but a few third-round, three-day tickets remain (June 14-16 at Soldier Field; $180 general, $260 VIP,, with another price hike looming.

Awesome alternatives: The 15th annual Taste of Randolph Street festival has a killer alt-rock lineup the same weekend, featuring Divine Fits, the Joy Formidable, Milo Greene, Lord Huron and more (June 14-16 outdoors around 900 W. Randolph; suggested donation of $10, There's also Evanston's prodigal son, Ezra Furman, returning to play the 6 Corners BBQ Fest on the Northwest Side (June 15-16 at Irving Park, Cicero and Milwaukee;, or the Heavy (yes, this band) bringing sexy soul back (June 16 at Double Door; $20,

America the musical
The perfect bill for July 4 week/end is FitzGerald's 33rd annual American Music Festival, this year featuring a superb collection of folk and roots music including James McMurtry, Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones, the Bottle Rockets, John Fullbright, Marcia Ball, Ian McLaglan, the Fleshtones, Jimmy LaFave, NRBQ, Brave Combo and more (July 3-6 at FitzGerald's in Berwyn; $30 tickets, $100 festival pass, Three stages, and barbecue!

Alternatives: Lordy, more EDM?! But this lil' fest has the best location for it: the Wavefront Music Festival, featuring Fatboy Slim, Frankie Knuckles, James Murphy and more, all on Montrose Beach (July 5-7; $189 weekend passes, $299 VIP, Or pack a picnic for David Byrne & St. Vincent under the North Shore trees (July 6 at Ravinia; $55-$65 reserved, $27 lawn,

Clusterfreak, part 1
AX209_04C3_9.JPGThe pop music gravity in Chicago in the middle of July may form a singularity and devour the city whole. In addition to Taste of Chicago -- featuring fun. (July 10, pictured at left) and Robert Plant (July 12), among others (July 10-14 at Grant Park; $25 for music, -- Bon Jovi returns to Soldier Field (July 12; $66.50-$572,, Bob Dylan & His Band bring the roadhouse to Bridgeview's Toyota Park with Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Richard Thompson (July 12; $62-$190, and Bruno Mars winds down from his omnipresence, bringing along Ellie Goulding (July 13 at United Center; $40-$200,, which was close to a sellout last we looked.

Sellouts of the summer: One Direction, Britain's dull little boy band, holds down two nights this week, too, both sold out -- which may not be surprising, given that they put tickets on sale a year ago, when 1D hysteria was at its peak (July 13-14 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre).

Clusterfreak, part 2
Deep breath, and dive back in: Pearl Jam, led by one of the Cubs' biggest fans, plays Wrigley Field (July 19; one of Wrigley's fastest sellouts); a well-choreographed boybandpalooza, featuring New Kids on the Block (oh, excuse me, NKOTB), 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men, holds down the Allstate Arena (July 18-19; $35-$105,; the fruitiest of jam bands, Phish, does three nights on the lakefront (July 19-21 at Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island; $45-$60 each night, $120-$150 all three nights,, and, whew, country star Jason Aldean busts out two shows at Wrigley, with Kelly Clarkson and more (July 20-21, the 7/21 date is sold out, $69-$89,

Meanwhile, just past the West Loop, the annual Pitchfork Music Festival brings one of its most interesting lineups in years, featuring Bjork, Belle & Sebastian and (say wha?!) R. Kelly headlining, plus Savages, Wire, the Breeders, M.I.A., Low, Yo La Tengo and more (July 19-21 at Union Park; $50 each day, $120 weekend pass, And don't forget the Vans Warped Tour still exists -- and still rocks -- this year with Reel Big Fish, Motion City Soundtrack, Hawthorne Heights and hundred of similar pop-punk bands (July 20 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheater; $37.50,

Then there's pop's power couple, Beyonce and Jay-Z, in Chicago within days of each other. She arrives first (July 17 at the United Center; sold out). He comes later, appearing as the sidekick to Justin Timberlake (July 22 at Soldier Field; $39.50-$250, JT & Jay-Z are close to selling out, and that's the show to pick -- Beyonce's a wonder to behold, but if they live up to their tuxes, the coupling of these guys will be the mega-show of the year.

Air-conditioned alternative: To my amazement, "American Idol" is still on, and recently Harry Connick Jr. appeared on the talent show to mentor the young warblers. It nearly drove him crazy -- his frustration in trying to explain songcraft to a bunch of vocally proficient but soulless brats is palpable. Wanna see why? Watch and listen as Connick takes the songbook in hand (July 19-20 at Symphony Center; $49-$109,

The breather
In between Pitchfork and Lolla weekends, you need a diversion. Exhibit A: Shoes! The Zion-based power-pop legends finally book a metro-area show (July 27 at S.P.A.C.E.; $20-$35, Exhibit B: Watch the fancy fingerwork and hilarious O-faces at the U.S. Air Guitar Midwest Semifinals (July 27 at Metro; $15,

The whole Lolla,and not much else
AX243_771A_9.JPGLollapalooza sets up camp in Grant Park for the weekend of Aug. 2-4. Once again, it was a quick sellout this year before performers were even leaked, and the schedule (posted now) reveals some difficult decisions among the headliners (the Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Mumford & Sons, Postal Service, the Cure, Phoenix) and more than a hundred others.

Alternatives: Nothing I can recommend in good conscience (though if I had my druthers I'd be at Steely Dan, Aug. 1-2 at Ravinia; sold out except for some $27 lawn tickets on Aug. 1, This would be an excellent weekend to hit the dunes.

Lil Swift
Persistent country wunderkind Taylor Swift, an international brand at age 23, somehow will manage (with more than a few pitch-corrected notes) to fill a few hours at the city's biggest venue on the first post-Lolla weekend (Aug. 10 at Soldier Field; $39.50-$386.50,, with pop gold-spinner Ed Sheeran. In the 'burbs, rapper Lil Wayne returns to action after some health problems (Aug. 10 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre; $20-$120,, with T.I. and, the rapper with whom Wayne recently found himself embroiled, Future.

Feathered-hair alternative: On paper, the Sailing Rock Tour looks like a splendid hipster goof, a languid way to spend a late-'70s summer afternoon -- the bill includes Christopher Cross, Orleans, Gary Wright, Firefall, John Ford Coley, Robbie Dupree and Player (can you name their hits?) -- though it could be utterly depressing. Have faith in the former. Aurora's not far down to paradise ... (Aug. 10 at River Edge Amphitheatre in Aurora; $30-$60,

Cool down
The summer season winds down toward the end of August with big shows from '80s synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode (Aug. 24 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre; $35-$180,, Maroon 5 with more Kelly Clarkson (Aug. 25 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre; $35.50-$125.50,; the 35th annual Chicago Jazz Festival, this year featuring the Charles Lloyd Quartet, Jason Moran, Donald Harrison and more (Aug. 29-Sept. 1 at various venues; free,; and the annual summer close-out sale that is the North Coast Music Festival, a stew of hip-hop, EDM and jam bands featuring Wu-Tang Clan, Afrojack and Big Gigantic (Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at Union Park; $135 weekend pass, $225 VIP,

Area alternative: Rockford's Cheap Trick returns to the North Shore to perform two classic albums in their entirety, "Sgt. Pepper Live" and the great "At Budokan" -- with an orchestra, no less (Aug. 31 at Ravinia; $70-$60 reserved, $27 lawn,

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Looking forward to great summer concerts!

I read the Stones rocked in Chicago!

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on May 19, 2013 8:00 AM.

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