Chicago, IL

Chicago Illinois Summer Events and Festivals to Return in 2021

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Some Chicago Cubs and Socks Fans Allowed to Attend Games and other events and festivals have been approved but Taste of Chicago and the Air and Water Show are likely out.

Credit: w:en:FlyingToaster, on Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)

After the frigid Chicago winters, it’s no wonder that local residents are desperate to do things outdoors once the temperatures start to warm up. This likely contributes to the reason that Chicago holds a huge number of outdoor festivals and events in the spring and summer months. Flower shows, arts and crafts festivals, concerts, sports events, outdoor film and theater festivals, auto and boat shows, parades, music festivals, farmer’s markets, street festivals, marathons and bike races are just a few of the normal slate of activities and events that occur during the warmer Chicago months.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak the 2020 all of these activities in Chicago during the spring and summer seasons had to be canceled. This caused thousands of local vendors to lose income that for many carried them through much of the rest of the year. It also was a firm indicator for residents that the stay at home order and spread of the virus were not going to be short term circumstances leading to many people starting to experience the negative effects of isolation.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated that she expects the summer of 2021 to look more like the summer of 2019 and less like 2020 though she added this would depend on how Chicago is doing in the battle against COVID-19.

"I think we are cautiously optimistic, but I am not going to predict specific events taking place over the course of the summer. Obviously for some events we need to start making some decisions soon, and we have been in discussions with various organizers of some large-scale events for some time now, but they also understand that we have to be cautious and follow public health guidance.” - Chicago, Illinois Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Every spring, the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation must approve the city’s list of festivals, cultural events, and other special programs. This week they signed off on the entire slate of the annual festivals and special events traditionally held in Chicago.

This decision came just days after the announcement that Mayor Lightfoot had agreed to allow some fans to attend both the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox season games, but only in a limited capacity. Both teams can sell tickets for 20 percent of their seats for the 2021 season. Despite this being 80 percent below sell out numbers, it is considered a good sign and the first step toward Chicago returning to normal.

Although the traditional slate of summer activities has been approved, according to the Chicago Tribune, it doesn’t mean everyone one of them will be held. While the authorization by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is needed to put on these activities, it just makes them possible but is not a guarantee they will all go ahead.

In fact, the likelihood is that many will still not be able to be put on due to budgetary limitations. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the city or Chicago to cut the budget for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) by almost half due to drastic decrease in hotel tax revenue which the agency relies on.

While no final decisions have been made regarding which events will be included in the budget and which will not, it appears unlikely that Taste of Chicago and the Air & Water Show won’t make the cut. Although two of the most popular Chicago summer events, they are also two of the most expensive.

Normal crowds in past years for Taste of Chicago

Which of the traditional Chicago summer events will be funded will depend on whether any of the federal relief funds from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan approved by Congress can be used to pay for festivals or cultural events. Chicago city officials are hopeful that these funds can be freed up to be used for such summer activities but until they know for certain they can’t say exactly which events will be held.

Despite the decision, the Chicago, IL summer festival season will look different than it has in the past. Vendors are considering whether early events should include food and beverages since taking off masks to eat or drink could increase the risk. Similarly, there is some concern about concerts since singers could spread the virus more quickly through droplets in the air.

The days of shoulder-to-shoulder attendees even for the outdoor events currently under consideration in Chicago are over. Now there will be timed entry to events with social distancing markers indicating where people can stand. For festivals there will be a limit to how many customers can be in a single booth at a time.

See the Chicago, Illinois Festival COVID-19 Update below:

Here is a list of all special event permit applications submitted through February 26, obtained by CBS Chicago through The Freedom of Information Act

  • Bike the Drive 2021
  • The Second City Triathlon
  • Chicago Spring Half Marathon
  • Stars and Stripes 5K Run
  • Turkey Trot Chicago 5K/8K
  • Chicago Triathlon
  • Hope Walk
  • Chicago Bike Week Rally 2021
  • Taste of River North
  • SerbFest Chicago
  • Fall Fest
  • Printers Row Lit Fest
  • Old Town Art Fair
  • Millennium Art Festival
  • Good Company concert series
  • Chicago Auto Show outdoor ride
  • Printer’s Row Art Festival
  • Artfest Michigan Avenue

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