Windy City Smokeout 2023: All you need to know about the bands and barbecue as the fest marks 10 years (2024)

“Come hungry and thirsty.”

That’s the advice Ed Warm, one of the partners presenting Windy City Smokeout, offers anyone attending the country music-themed festival taking place July 13-16 at United Center Parking Lot C. It’s wise counsel.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Windy City Smokeout pairs nearly 30 renowned barbecue joints, more than a dozen breweries and 21 artists for a four-day bonanza that provides a taste of the South up north. Its fan-friendly logistics (every musician on the bill plays on one main stage), family-first policies (children under 10 are admitted free) and reasonable cost (single-day tickets start at $69.95 plus fees) help account for why it was named the Academy of Country Music Awards Festival of the Year in 2021. Daily capacity is capped at 20,000 concert-goers.

Then there are the mouth-watering smells and culinary delights, which make most of the options at a certain four-day festival at Grant Park in August seem like an afterthought. “Try as much BBQ and beer as you possibly can and if you get the chance, have a conversation with a BBQ pit master or head brewer,” says Warm. “They are truly the heroes of the event and have such interesting, insightful stories to tell.”

Of course, there’s music, too. The diverse lineup showcases household names, respected veterans and fresh-faced upstarts whose range offers something for everyone fond of cowboy boots, down-home twang and relatable storytelling.

Music

Thursday: On the undercard last year, Zach Bryan returns as a headliner. The red dirt singer-songwriter plays acoustic-based introspective fare true to both country traditions and contemporary times. His major-label debut — the triple-LP “American Heartbreak” — points to his scope and ambition. A live set, cheekily named “All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster,” underlines his outspokenness. Americana sextet American Aquarium and Illinois native Bailey Zimmerman — whose recently released “Religiously” became the most-streamed country debut in history — open.

Friday: For headliner Darius Rucker, Hootie & the Blowfish is in the cracked rear view (mirror). The band’s former leader switched styles more than two decades ago and remains one of the few minority performers flying the country flag. Rucker might champion Nashville, but his songs still slant toward mainstream pop and adult contemporary. Late ’90s sensation Jo Dee Messina promises more twang, giddy-up and attitude. She and young outlaw rambler Jackson Dean — whose flinty, stomping “Don’t Come Lookin'” punctuates a “Yellowstone” episode — help get the afternoon started.

Saturday: Luke Bryan, the festival’s biggest name, specializes in anthemic bro-country. A survey of some of the three-time ACM Entertainer of the Year’s songs — “But I Got a Beer in My Hand,” “Drink a Beer,” “Drinkin’ Beer and Wastin’ Bullets,” “Beer in the Headlights,” “Drink a Little Whiskey,” “Take My Drunk Ass Home” — sums up the “American Idol” judge’s approach and appeal. Crash his party, indeed. Two newcomers — three-chords-and-the-truth disciple Kameron Marlowe and Megan Moroney, whose neon country shuffles and witty lyrics suggest future star power, are reasons to go early.

Sunday: Zac Brown Band functions as the equivalent of country music’s Costco: It deals in bulk, attempts to satisfy all desires and occasionally has a surprise waiting around the corner. Bluegrass, pop, dance, electronic, Southern rock, folk: No kind of fusion or jamming is off-limits to the fest-closing headliner. You’ll hear old-school purity from Tennessee troubadour Larry Fleet, whose sound contains a “little Bakersfield and Memphis / And a whole lot of Muscle Shoals.” Fellow Volunteer State native Lauren Watkins supplies the spunk and sass ideal for shaking off a Saturday night hangover.

Food

Nearly 30 barbecue joints from around the country will serve everything from barbacoa elotes, cole slaw, smokehouse beans and cheese grits to pork belly char siu, bacon burnt ends and all manner of brisket, pork and ribs. Chicago will be represented by Bub City, 3 Little Pigs, Green Street Smoked Meats, Lexington Betty Smokehouse, Lillie’s Q, Smoque BBQ and Soul & Smoke. Regional barbecue from Texas, Kansas, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Arizona and several East Coast locales invite everyone to indulge. Wash it down with beer from local and national breweries. Vegetarian? A sampling of options — shrimp po’boys, mac n’ cheese, fries, slaw, potato salad, beans — can be found at various vendors. Non-barbecue options include Tallboy Taco and Bub City Burgers.

What else to know

Basics: Windy City Smokeout runs 2-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 1-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The entrance and box office are located at the intersection of Madison and Wood Streets. First aid is near the main entrance on the south side of Madison. Restrooms are in the United Center and on the north side of Warren Boulevard. Wristbands include in-and-out privileges. The Festival proceeds rain or shine. In the event of severe weather, concertgoers will be evacuated.

Allowed items: Small clutches; purses; medical bags; diaper bags; totes; empty reusable water bottles and hydration packs; empty plastic or aluminum water bottles; baby strollers; basic cameras without stands, detachable lenses, selfie sticks and other accessories; non-aerosol sunscreen in sizes less than 3.4 oz.; empty water bottles. Bags will be searched before entry and must be no larger than 10 x 6 x 2 inches.

Prohibited items: Coolers; outside food and drink; glass containers; large bags; umbrellas; lawn and folding chairs; aerosol containers; drones; professional cameras or recording equipment; laser pointers; pets (except service animals); tents, canopies or shade structures of any kind; weapons of any kind, such as firearms or knives; airhorns and noisemakers; skateboards, scooters, bicycles, wagons, carts and personal motorized vehicles; flag poles, staffs or sticks; bike chains and bike locks; wallet chains more than a foot in length; costumes and masks (safety face masks, such as surgical and N95s are acceptable); offensive clothing or signage; anything larger than 10 x 6 x 2 inches (save breast pumps and medical bags). For a full list of allowed and prohibited items, visit windycitysmokeout.com/faq.

Parking: At United Center in Lots H (includes ADA) for $42, K for $31 and other lots for $26. Rideshare pickup and drop-off is located in Lot E (east of Wood, on the north side of Madison).

Tickets: General admission daily passes start at $69.95 plus fees. Several VIP packages featuring elevated seating areas, air-conditioned bathrooms and other amenities are available. Tickets cover admission; all food and drink are extra. Vendors sell main items for around $9-$20 and side items for around $7.

At press time, four-day general admission tickets and daily tickets are sold out except for Friday. Resale tickets for sold-out days can be purchased at windycitysmokeout.com.

Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.

Windy City Smokeout 2023: All you need to know about the bands and barbecue as the fest marks 10 years (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Mr. See Jast

Last Updated:

Views: 5809

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Mr. See Jast

Birthday: 1999-07-30

Address: 8409 Megan Mountain, New Mathew, MT 44997-8193

Phone: +5023589614038

Job: Chief Executive

Hobby: Leather crafting, Flag Football, Candle making, Flying, Poi, Gunsmithing, Swimming

Introduction: My name is Mr. See Jast, I am a open, jolly, gorgeous, courageous, inexpensive, friendly, homely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.