Bitter Jester warms up for Highland Park music series this week

Highland Park's Bitter Jester Music Festival is counting down to the opening act of its four-week showcase series, starting its 16th season this weekend.

The weekly competition series launches at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 20, with six up-and-coming acts from the Midwest playing live at Madame Zuzu's (1876 First St., Highland Park), the tea house and music venue owned by Smashing Pumpkins vocalist Billy Corgan.

The competition will be hosted by Emmy-winning writer, producer and director and Bitter Jester founder Nicolas DeGrazia. Contestants will perform each week for a new slate of music industry professionals, who will offer feedback and new perspectives to the musicians.

Two invited showcase artists and a guest performer will round out each evening.

The contest continues the subsequent three Fridays at Bitter Jester's usual outdoor home at Port Clinton Square (600 Central Ave., Highland Park), with new acts each week. Performances are free. Judy's Pizza and Sweet Home Gelato will be on hand, so guests can grab dinner and beverages with the shows.

Here's the schedule:

Friday, May 20

Starts at 6:30 p.m. at Madame Zuzu's

• Joey Wilbur

• Kanin Elizabeth

• Keep the Eleven


• New Age Americans

• What We Once Had

Showcase performers: Private School, Sparky

Guest artist: Jordyn Andrea

Friday, May 27

6:30 p.m. at Port Clinton Square

• Chainsaw Boyz

• David's House


• Imperial Orange

• Scorched Waves

• You Got the Message

Showcase performers: Flannel Folk, Vegan Steakhouse

Guest artist: Claire-McKenna

Friday, June 3

6:30 p.m. at Port Clinton Square

• Divisor

• Fightin' Bob

• Fluctuation

• Ian Jake Robleza

• Jagger

• Opening Day

Showcase performers: The Dennies, Sara Pilkati

Guest artist: Madeline O'Dell

Friday, June 10

6:30 p.m. at Port Clinton Square

• Linda Therese

• Nyx

• Rae

• Summer Drive

• Summer League

• Venganza

Showcase performers: This Violet Hour, Jabari Zakee

Guest artist: Kate Larson

The Bitter Jester Music Fest is back for its 16th season in Highland Park, starting with a concert and competition Friday, May 20. Courtesy of Bitter Jester

Select Bitter Jester competitors will be invited to perform at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at Ravinia Festival.

The grand finale concert - starting at 3:45 p.m. Monday, July 4 - will highlight the finalists duking it out for the grand champion title and prizes. The event will be held at Wolters Field, 1080 Park Ave. West, Highland Park, and ends with the City of Highland Park's Independence Day fireworks show.

Visit for details on each week's bands, judges and contest prizes.

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