by Don Macica.
Summer in Chicago always brings plenty of opportunity to enjoy live music outdoors. It’s as though, after months of hibernation, we just can’t stand the thought of being inside. But even by our high standards, this is shaping up to be an exceptional summer for Latin music under the skies.
Here then, is Agúzate’s selective guide to verano en la ciudad.
Mole de Mayo, May 23-24. We’re off to an early start with this modest little Pilsen festival devoted to that most magical of Mexican sauces. They have really stepped up their game on the music stages this year. Besides local faves Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orchestra, ¡Esso! Afrojam Funkbeat and DJs Sound Culture, ((SONORAMA)) and Afroqbano, they are bringing in some out of town talent to help us dance off those calories, including the B-Side Players, Viento Callejero and Chicano Batman from California on Saturday and DJ Ali Guaguis from Mexico City on Sunday. Lots more, too.
Downtown Sound, June 1-July 23. This newly expanded series in Millennium Park has lots of worthy music (Antibalas, King Sunny Ade, Los Cojolites), but they are on this list primarily for one reason: The Chicago debut of the Colombian/British collective Ondatrópica on July 16. Led by British DJ/producer/crate digger Will Holland (AKA Quantic) and Frente Cumbiero leader Mario Galeano, we’ve been waiting for this one for three years. This could be your only chance to see them without moving to Colombia.
Opening Day of the 606, June 6. The 606 is the name of the new urban trail park (formerly known as the Bloomingdale trail) that runs through four Chicago neighborhoods: Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park, so you know there’s got to be a Latino vibe. There’s a big party on Humboldt Boulevard between Wabansia and Cortland that has two music stages where you can catch, among other things, Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orchestra and Angel Melendez. You can also join a comparsa de carnaval (parade procession) along the trail organized by Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center that will feature bomba y plena and masks made under the guidance of Puerto Rican artisan Pedro Adorno Irizarry, bomba & plena Elder & Master Jorge Emmanuelli Náter, Buya, Africaribe and SRBCC instructors Charly Barbera and David Rivera.
Taste of Randolph Street, June 19-21. The summer is always crammed with “Taste of” neighborhood festivals, but few of them have a better selection of outstanding restaurants (we hope Cemitas Puebla is there) than Randolph Street. “So?” you might ask. This one also has the incredible Afro-Peruvian global dance unit Novalima among its music offerings on Saturday June 20. Come for the music, stay for the food.
Museum of Contemporary Art, June 23. The MCA’s free Tuesdays on the Terrace series has long featured some of Chicago’s finest jazz, but we are particularly excited to see Proyecto Libre, an Afro-Latin/free jazz collective that Agúzate presented for the very first time in 2013. Led by Dominican violinist James Sanders, their sound is like nothing else you’ve ever heard.
Square Roots Festival, July 10-12. Squeezing people into the street will never be quite the same as laying out that blanket in the park, but the Old Town School still brings an eclectic lineup to keep you dancing and thirsty. This year’s Latino offerings include Plena Libre, Tiempo Libre and (I’m cheating a little here) from New Orleans, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. It’s that Latin tinge, you know.
Ruido Fest, July 10-12. Where the hell did this come from? In one grand gesture, Chicago is suddenly playing host to the biggest Latin Alternative festival in the entire country, and they had the class to put it in Pilsen. Café Tacuba, Ozomotli, Nortec Collective, Kali Uchis, Cumbia Machin, Los Crema Paraiso, Los Rakas… I’ll run out of pixels before I complete this list, but pound for pound, this is the equal of Pitchfork in scope and ambition.
Chicago Latin Jazz Festival, July 17-18. If you need one more reason to spend a summer evening in Humboldt Park, this is it. No lineup has been announced yet, but Carlos Flores and the Jazz Institute of Chicago consistently spotlight the best in local and national Latin jazz at the beautiful Boat House. Write it down. (UPDATE: Lineup includes Victor Garcia’s Organ Septet with special guest Billy Branch, Papo Vázquez and Orquesta Charangueo.)
Celebrate Clark Street, July 18-19. A Rogers Park tradition, in recent years it has emerged as sort of a second, unofficial World Music Festival thanks to the efforts of Sound Culture’s David Chavez. The full line up hasn’t been announced, but we’ve learned that Colombia’s highly danceable electro-folklorico DJ outfit Systema Solar will be there, complete with live percussion. That plus the $4 Pacifico on tap should make for one perfect, if very sweaty, summer night. (UPDATE: Novalima has been added to the weekend as well.)
El Gran Festival Colombiano, July 18-19. Make sure that Ventra card is fully loaded, because commuting is in order this weekend. In addition to the aforementioned Latin Jazz and Clark Street fests, the northwest side of Chicago plays host to this family friendly event that features legends Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto and the up and coming coastal by way of Bogotá champeta group Tribu Baharú plus salsa, cumbia, vallento and more from DJs all day long.
Festival Cubano, August 14-16. It’ll be hard to top last year’s one-two punch of Miami’s Afro-Cuban funk band PALO! followed by the legendary El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, but this fest has steadily improved over the years. No lineup has been announced yet, but if I were you, I’d keep this weekend open. (UPDATE: This years lineup will include, for the first time ever, two artists direct from Cuba: Pedrito Calvo and Miguelito Cuni, Jr.)
Postscript: You can’t stay outdoors all the time, and this summer also brings a handful of very good reasons to head inside and enjoy some air conditioning.
Los Amigos Invisibles, Portage Theater June 5. The Venezuelan combo brings their hedonistic Latin disco funk to Chicago for the first time since their recent Repeat After Me album. Always a good time, and you don’t have to think too much.
Meridian Brothers, Mayne Stage June 21. Space age science fiction cumbia, vallenato and salsa from Colombia in their Chicago debut, the very definition of future roots music. Bonus: DJs Agúzate and ((SONORAMA)) will get the party started with vintage vinyl grooves.
Miguel Zenón, Jazz Showcase June 25-28. The Puerto Rican saxophonist brings his quartet to Chicago’s best jazz club, showcasing music from Identities are Changeable, his album about the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S.
Bajofondo, Concord Music Hall July 16. The high energy tango-candombe-milonga band from the Rio de la Plata are always first rate, and if you conserve energy and stay hydrated at Ondatrópica, you should just be able to make the trek up Milwaukee Ave in time to catch them. (UPDATE: The Bajofondo show has been cancelled.)
Bomba Estéreo, Concord Music Hall July 26. With the release of their brand new Amanecer album, Li Saumet and Simón Mejía are poised to conquer the world with their Colombian brand of tropical electronica.