Mainstream pop, indie rock, hip hop, punk, blues or jazz – no matter your musical taste, you'll find it live in Chicago any night of the week. With more than 250 incredible venues ranging from intimate neighborhood clubs to historic music halls, Chicago is a prime tour stop and home to incredible local talents. Whether you are looking to catch emerging artists, are following a favorite band or want to try some gospel music with your brunch, the diverse scene is a music lover's paradise.
Here are 20 top spots to check out, from cozy small to behemoth.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
- The Hideout: To say it's a packed house here is no exaggeration. This beloved shack of a venue is essentially a frame house with a bar in the front and stage in the back "living room." Seek out the obscure industrial side street it's hidden on and you'll join a welcoming crowd there for the eclectic music sets or weekly bingo, comedy and dance nights.
- Green Mill Jazz Club: Carrying on the traditions set forth by the legends that used to take the stage, this former speakeasy in Uptown dates back to 1907. Slip into one of the glamorous curved booths at this cultural gem for a stellar lineup of live jazz every night, from sultry singers to big band to bebop.
- Schubas: What was formerly a public house for Schlitz Brewery is now a charming historic landmark in the Lakeview neighborhood. The intimate music hall inside is known for its relaxed atmosphere, great acoustics and quality lineups of indie rock, honky-tonk, folk and country.
- Reggies Chicago: Here a kickin' rock club combines with a laid-back live stage alongside a bar and grill, plus a roof deck and record store – all in one South Loop space. It's plastered in memorabilia and performances are a mixed bag of genres as diverse as the crowds: rock, metal, punk, jazz, blues, folk, hip hop.
- Chicago Cultural Center: A stunning showcase for the arts, this massive landmark building in the heart of downtown houses exhibits year round in its galleries and its halls come alive with the sounds of music each week. Incredible performances – often classical, jazz and blues – are free and open to the public in the casual first floor Randolph Café, on the stage of Claudia Cassidy Theater, and beneath the world's largest Tiffany dome in Preston Bradley Hall.
- Empty Bottle: This unassuming storefront on busy Western Avenue is one of the city's premier indie rock clubs. Cheap shows – many are free – make for a fun gamble on some of the lesser known acts, while cheap drinks and solid programming bring a faithful following of regulars.
- Buddy Guy's Legends: Owned by the iconic guitarist himself, this nightclub keeps the blues tradition alive on Chicago's South Side. Local, national and international acts play nightly, with Buddy playing sold out shows each January.
- Old Town School of Folk Music: From Brazilian tropicalia to Balkan dance to kid-friendly sing-alongs, you can discover it all at critically-acclaimed concerts presented in the superb acoustic spaces.
ROOM TO ROCK OUT
- Lincoln Hall: The owners of Schubas Tavern opened up this rock and pop venue in a Lincoln Park building that had seen many transformations, most notably as a movie theater. The wrap-around mezzanine balcony is a standout spot for catching the next buzzed about band.
- Double Door: Just-under-the-radar alternative bands rock out here, but the place has some major cachet: groups like The Rolling Stones and Smashing Pumpkins have grabbed the mic here too. Located at the six-corner intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee, the 21 and over, standing room only venue is in the heart of the nightlife action in Wicker Park.
- The Shrine: DJ events and club nights dominate the scene at this South Loop dance spot, with concert lineups heavy on soul, R&B and hip hop.
- Park West: National headliners like Aimee Mann, Raphael Saadiq and Pete Yorn are on the roster at this former movie house, which boasts an intimate lounge setting with five tiers of seating.
- The Metro: With a reputation for bringing in acts on the verge of breaking it big, this Chicago institution is a platform for many genres. From mainstream rock and metal, to indie pop and electronica, dig into the new music scene at the 30-year-old independent venue.
- House of Blues: An entertainment emporium in downtown River North, the Chicago version of this chain has the glorious colors and rich adornments of the Mississippi Delta as a backdrop to the national touring acts (not only blues) and Gospel brunch served up in the various levels.
- The Vic Theatre: This five-story vaudeville house was built as the Victoria Theatre in 1912. Catch favorite artists in rock, pop and indie music here, while on off nights see the space double as a movie theater known as the Brew & View.
- Riviera Theatre: In Chicago's historic Uptown theater district, the past and the present collide. The timeworn venue hosts big names of today, with its glitzy red marquee sporting such rock and pop headliners as The Fray, Wilco, Adele, Crystal Castles and Andrew W.K.
- Chicago Theatre: A gloriously-restored auditorium with seating for 3,600, this downtown icon lines up superstar entertainers for shows that appeal to all ages such as David Byrne, The Monkees, Fleet Foxes and Nicki Minaj.
- Aragon Ballroom: Walking through this massive space is like stepping back into a Spanish palace courtyard, complete with crystal chandeliers, terra cotta ceilings, ornate balconies and beautiful archways. Larger than its neighboring Uptown theaters, it maxes out at 4,500 for big name concert tours such as Jane's Addiction, The Black Keys and Gotye, and Spanish-language performances.
- Millennium Park:
An outdoor concert here is a truly Chicago experience. Whether you pack a picnic for the Great Lawn or take a seat in front of the stage, the eye-catching Jay Pritzker Pavilion and its state-of-the-art sound system fill the park with amazing visuals and music. Views of the downtown skyline compete with the smart and sophisticated lineup – free series throughout the summer bring classical, jazz, electronica, indie rock and more to the masses.
- United Center:
It can host Chicago Bulls basketball, Chicago Blackhawks hockey, even the circus – but nothing beats the dazzling production value of live concerts here. The star power of stage names like Prince, Madonna, Rihanna and Lady Gaga draw tens of thousands to this West Side stadium.