Chicago’s Windy City Smokeout Sets the Bar for Country Music, BBQ & Beer in 2021

by Jim Casey

Chicago’s Windy City Smokeout (July 8-11) marked a return to normalcy I hadn’t experienced since the COVID-19 pandemic shut the country down in March 2020. The four-day event—with thousands of people—was a one-two-three combination of my favorite things: BBQ, beer, and country music. Come for the food and brew, stay for the music. Or vice versa.

On the country music front, Brett Eldredge, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, and Jon Pardi headlined one night, respectively. Additional acts included Randy Rogers Band, Cody Canada & the Departed, Riley Green, Hailey Whitters, Ryan Hurd, and more.

And if you came for the BBQ, you were in luck. The Smokeout featured some of the nation’s best pitmasters. Restaurants like Rodney Scott’s BBQ (Birmingham), Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis), and LeRoy & Lewis BBQ (Austin), among others, were doling out specialty dishes.

Of course, there was also plenty of brew being consumed, including Shiner, Bud, and local favorite Goose Island.

I thought I’d hit some highlights during my two-day trek (July 10 and 11) over the 18-acre festival outside the United Center.

Play Something Country

Sit-down interviews with both Cody Canada (July 10) and Randy Rogers (July 11) before they performed left me confident the trip from Nashville was worthwhile. Both Cody and Randy will be releasing new music this year. Randy’s unannounced project is already in the can, while Cody plans to rerecord a new version of a past Cross Canadian Ragweed album. More on Randy and Cody in the coming days, as Outsider packages the video interviews.

Top 5 Takeaways

  • Newcomer Kolby Cooper has a bright future. Looking forward to hearing more from him.
  • Riley Green picked up right where he left off before the pandemic. A star on the rise.
  • Jon Pardi is a certified A-list headliner, now. There are only 20 or so of those in the game.
  • Randy Rogers is the archetype for what a Texas band should sound like. He’s been a must-hear mainstay for 20 years.
  • Cody Canada sounds like a re-energized frontman, mixing an electric combination of songs from both CCR and Departed’s catalogs.

BBQ Glory

I ate and ate and ate. Until I could eat no more. The BBQ makes the Windy City Smokeout one of the nation’s premier music festivals. You can find great country music at a lot of destinations, but the Smokeout’s combination of BBQ and music is unparalleled.

Top 5 Tastes

Outsider‘s Wes Blankenship put together tasty profile of LeRoy and Lewis BBQ, among others.

The Beer Flows

The beer flowed like wine. Give me a Shiner any day. Watch me smile. That’s all I need. But, of course, I also enjoyed beers from Chicago brewery Goose Island, which served up a mean 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Shandy. Both were delicious. But, you know, it’s hard to beat a Shiner, especially when you’re eating BBQ.