Answers from Our Experts (5)
The best places to see live music in Chicago depend on the season, because come summer, much of the city's artistic displays head outside. Grant Park hosts many popular outdoor festivals during the summer, and most feature live music. (Most notable is Lollapalooza Music Festival, which brings big-name acts like Lady Gaga and Kings of Leon to Chicago). If you prefer a smaller (but not too much smaller) festival, Pitchfork Music Festival is held annually in Union Park during July. Some bands are only appreciated in certain crowds (i.e. Boris, Os Mutantes, Yo La Tengo, etc.), but more mainstream acts like Girl Talk, Big Boi and The Flaming Lips have all appeared on the bill.
But you won't have to shell out $200 to go to various clubs and venues in the city that gave birth to jazz, and trust us: there is an abundance to choose from. It all depends on what acts you're looking to see. The Metro, just down the street from Wrigley Field on Clark St., is one of Chicago's smaller venues but most bands that take the stage have big names. Even cozier is The Hideout, which is located in the unassuming Noble Square neighborhood and is adorned with soft Christmas lights. Not unlike The Hideout, the beloved, intimate Empty Bottle books up-and-coming rock groups. Both venues attract a PBR-loving crowd. While venues like The House of Blues, Aragon and Schubas are larger, they still retain a truly Chicago style commitment to great sounding acoustics and friendly staffs.
Chicago is a city that has always loved music, with a special place in its heart for rhythm and blues. Visitors will not have to go far or search long for a venue playing some incredible music. One of the best options close to Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago is the House of Blues. Across the street from the hotel, it has a host of big names that come through, but it often has smaller names playing and you can get tickets the day of the concert. Another great option nearby is the Redhead Piano Bar. This classy and sophisticated piano bar offers a fun environment to listen to music while enjoying its many specialty cocktails.
For an authentic blues experience, head to the South Loop to Buddy Guy’s Legends. In operation for over 20 years, this bar is one of the nation’s premier blues venues operated by Grammy Award winner Buddy Guy. In addition to its nightly shows, it offers exceptional Southern Cajun cuisine sure to delight guests from all over the world. Another wonderful venue for live music is Lonie Walker’s Underground Wonder Bar. The bar’s namesake is also a jazz artist, who routinely plays with her big band, while on other occasions other artists and bands perform. The bar itself creates a throwback, speakeasy feel of jazz and cocktails.
Chicago is a music city and the best places to hear live, local music are Buddy Guy’s Legends, Petrillo Music Shell, The Riviera Theater, The Metro, Double Door, Lincoln Hall, The Vic Theater, the Park West, and Kingston Mines.
Green Mill. If you’re in Chicago, you have to go to one of these places, a historic, Al Capone-type place. Green Mill is a classic for jazz. Another good place is the Pritzker Pavilion in the summer. Most people don’t know that it has free outdoor concerts; you can sit on the lawn and drink a bottle of wine.
As the home of Chess Records, the famous mid-century R&B and blues label that had a partnership with Memphis’ Sun Studio, Chicago has a long history with southern-rooted music. But meanwhile it’s developed an eclectic style all its own, thanks to thriving scenes fostering everything from jazz to metal. As someone who plays in a local band, I’m always impressed with how many active musicians there are in Chicago, and how many places there are to catch live music on any given night of the week.
My go-to is the Empty Bottle in the Ukrainian Village in the West Town neighborhood. Established more than two decades ago, it’s a small rock club with a world-class reputation for debuting up-and-coming artists, and it’s one of the best venues to hear successful local bands, and is especially popular on Free Mondays.
For jazz, the Green Mill is an iconic classic. Anchoring the Uptown neighborhood, this small room plays host to everything from be-bop to poetry slams, and there’s something on nearly every night of the week. Prepare for crowds on weekend nights.
Another great club-sized venue is Schubas, in the Southport Corridor of Lincoln Park. This is one of the best-sounding rooms in town, and hosts an exciting cross-section of talent, from internationally touring indie rock acts to burgeoning local songwriters and DJs. There’s a great pub and restaurant here, too.
Perhaps Chicago’s best known large concert venue is The Metro, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. America’s most famous rock bands have all made stops here, from Nirvana to the Smashing Pumpkins, and the two-story space continues to host must-sees on a nightly basis.
For those who enjoy intimate concerts with room to sit and enjoy a cocktail, check the calendar at the luxe Mayne Stage. A century-old building previously known as the Morse Theatre, the venue was rebranded in 2008 and now features top-of-the-line sound and lighting, sight-lines and amenities such as plush booth cabaret seating.