Music has long been part of Chicago’s colorful and diverse identity. For years, the city has been home to artists of all genres, particularly in the blues community, though it’s also the birthplace of house music. Today, with such a range of musical talent, the city’s bars and stages are consistently crowded by musicians and fans who want to pay homage to the old and seek out the new. When visiting The Windy City be sure to check out some of the endless live music venues, some of which we’ve highlighted below!
Small stages, a gritty atmosphere, and cheap daily drink specials help make the Empty Bottle a go-to for indie music fans. This hole-in-the-wall venue has been open since 1992 and offers an experience true to Chicago’s underground music scene. No matter what day you happen to travel through the city, chances are Empty Bottle will be hosting some kind of alternative act, their names poetically unknown to most, featuring sounds that range from punk rock clapper to oozing electronic dreaminess. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Located in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, aliveOne is a tastefully decorated bar (golden lighting, comfy bar stools, polished bottles) with a jukebox and pool table in its front room and a complementing small-stage space in the back. Thursdays are this spot’s busiest night (though there’s live music on Wednesdays, too), as Low Spark — a local quartet — pack the venue with their original tracks featuring groovy hooks and funky melodies. While enjoying the weekly set, delve into the ever-changing cocktail list and impressive microbrew selection.
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Though each bar likely has a story behind it, some are just more interesting than others. The tale of how Green Mill Cocktail Lounge stood its ground over the years is definitely on the more compelling side of things. Although the establishment’s name has changed over time, the location has not, and the locale dates back to the early 20th century, once serving as a hangout for Al Capone and company. Further proving it’s resilience, Green Mill has withstood the city’s modern facelift, remaining unchanged as the surrounding neighborhoods update their facades. With such an emphasis on staying true to its roots, the lounge pulls in a hard-to-beat lineup of artists, who perform everything from jazz and swing to slam poetry.
Buddy Guy’s Legends
Named after the legendary blues artist, Buddy Guy’s continues to feature a mix of both up-and-coming and established acts from around Chicago and beyond. Buddy, at age 81, is known for his unprecedented contribution to the blues music scene after a long and illustrious career. Each night, the stylish, mid-sized venue fills with eager ears, the sounds of spontaneous solos, and the smells of New Orleans-inspired food (Buddy originally hails from Louisiana) swimming through the air. Once inside the doors (which are just a few blocks from Grant Park), you’ll quickly understand why this spot is one the world’s best in the blues community.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
With a capacity of 11,000, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion has the ability to host all sorts of shows — and it’s done just that since its construction? in 2004. Since opening, the outdoor amphitheater has featured everyone from the Grant Park Orchestra and Robert Plant to small-name groups like Whitney and Bahamas. Utilized heavily during the city’s warmer months, the pavilion is also home to the Millenium Park Summer Music Series — a free, weekly performance throughout July and August — making it the ideal spot to settle in for an evening with a blanket and some snacks.
When proprietor Joe Shanahan founded Metro Chicago, his vision was simple: “act local, think global.” Building off of that philosophy, countless acts — both local and international — have graced the Metro’s stage, adding to the venue’s large-yet-intimate, eclectic, and welcoming feel. Located just two blocks from Wrigley Field, the Metro is a busy spot amid Chicago’s music scene, so booking tickets through their website ahead of time never hurts, especially if you’re interested in popular performances such as Sylvan Esso and Animal Collective, who stopped by in recent years!
With riverfront views and slow-moving tunes, there’s a lot to like at River Roast. Known for their weekend Brews and Blues Brunch from noon to 3 p.m., the restaurant also entices visitors with its award-winning chef, Tony Mantuano, who has carefully created a menu of smoked and savory goodness. This is the perfect place to take in some of Chicago’s famous blues music in a relaxing setting with no worries of the loud and rowdy crowds that tend to fill other late-night bars in the city. Sit back, sip slowly, and enjoy the music!
Lincoln Hall is everything you’d want when seeking a theatre performance. The space — not too big and not too small — boasts captivating acoustics, traditional decor, and upper-deck seating, creating an intimate setting for acts of all sorts. Here you can see everything from country artists to electronic performances, with rock bands and singer-songwriters falling somewhere in between. This is one of those places at which — no matter who you go to see — the atmosphere might just be the most memorable part!