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June 2, 2009

Top 5 Chicago Summer Festivals

When you’re not boozing it up in Hyde Park or being bogged down by summer courses, explore the great city of Chicago with some of the many festivals the city has to offer. Most are free or ask for small donations in exchange for hours of music, food, and dancing that showcase the city’s rich diversity and history. Here are some of my picks for summer festival entertainment:

Chicago Arabesque

The third annual Chicago Arabesque festival is a nonpolitical, nonreligious festival that promotes cultural understanding and celebrates the heritage of the Arab world. For Arabesque, the best way to achieve this objective is to offer passersby free hookah and other cultural activities in Daley Plaza. The plaza will be transformed into a bazaar of sorts, complete with Arab food, henna tattoos, and traditional Arab line dances. (Daley Plaza, June 24-27, free)

Taste of Chicago

Billed as “America’s City Picnic,” the Taste of Chicago food festival is hands down the largest and most popular summer event. The annual festival features more than 200 menu items from over 50 restaurants, musical entertainment, and amusement rides. While Food Network superstar Emeril Lagasse will start the festival with a “BAM!” on June 26, the real highlight will be its fireworks display on July 3. The pre-Independence Day spectacle often rivals the actual Fourth of July fireworks, but be warned: Space in Grant Park often gets overcrowded. For maximum food enjoyment, be sure to bring a blanket, a cooler and some friends to camp out during the afternoon in preparation for the fireworks. Entrance to the festival is free, but in order to sample Chicago’s cuisine at its finest, you must purchase food tickets, which are $10 for a set of 12. (Grant Park, June 26-July 5, free)

Bughouse Square Debates

Relive the glory days of Chicago and celebrate your First Amendment right to free speech at the historic Bughouse Square Debates. The annual festival put on every year by the Newberry Library celebrates the rich history of Washington Square Park as a center for free speech and activism in the early 20th century. Today, festival participants discuss and debate current issues on soapboxes. As always, hecklers are welcome to voice their opinions or to simply climb up to the debate podium. Also featured are reenactments of famous speeches of Washington Square past, as well as poetry and music. (Washington Square Park, July 25, free)

Fiesta Del Sol

For some old-fashioned family fun, go to the Fiesta Del Sol festival organized by Pilsen Neighbors Community Council. The tobacco- and alcohol-free festival celebrates Hispanic-American culture with music and dance performances. Traditional Mexican food will be served, so don’t expect to find chimichangas or gorditos among the culinary delights. For those of you wanting to hearken back to your childhood, there will be a petting zoo, carnival rides, and an arts-and-crafts pavilion. All proceeds from the festival will be donated to a scholarship fund for Latino students. (1400 West Cermak Road, July 30-August 2, free)

Chicago Ribs ‘N’ Soul Festival

Where the Taste of Chicago offers a variety of dainty gourmet foods, even the hungriest carnivore is sure to be satisfied at the inaugural Chicago Ribs ‘N’ Soul Festival. The festival will feature dancing, blues, and jazz, and, of course, the best ribs in the Midwest. “Ribbers” from local restaurants will compete in barbeque cook-offs to determine the festival’s best ribs, chicken, and ’que classics. Even the staunchest vegetarian may break down and try the numerous incarnations of barbeque sauce that are so commonly a subject of debate. (Union Park, August 14-16, free)