Traditional World Music at Martyrs

Beyond the incredible World Music Festival Chicago and year-round music programming and the Chicago Cultural Center and at local universities, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate diversity through music in Chicago. To help point you in the right direction, no matter what taste you have or would like to explore, we've rounded up a list of some of the top venues, festivals, and industry players in town.

Abbey Pub

The Abbey Pub

The Abbey Pub is is one of Chicago's most beloved Irish pubs. The music venue and restaurant opened on the city's northwest side in 1974 and has been family owned and operated by the Looney family since the mid-80s. Live music is presented in two rooms; a spacious two-story music venue that serves up everything rock, rap, and more, and the "Green Room Pub," which boasts free events several nights of the week often featuring traditional Irish musicians.

African Festival of the Arts, Chicago

Hosted by the Africa International House, The African Festival of the Arts (AFA) is the city's premiere event celebrating the culture of the African Diaspora, and of the largest festivals of its kind in the US. Along with fine arts and cultural exhibits and workshops, AFA features tons of music (past headliners have included James Brown and George Clinton), including a dedicated World Music Stage. The 2014 edition is scheduled for Labor Day Weekend in the AFA's familiar stomping grounds, Washington Park.

Arte y Vida

Arte y Vida Chicago is powerful voice in Hispanic art and culture in Chicago and nearby suburbs with website hub of event previews and cultural critique, with plenty of music coverage. Along with the website, Arte y Vida engages the community through its varied events, classes and workshop.

Copernicus Center

Copernicus Center Foundation

Located in Jefferson Park, the Copernicus Center is named for Polish scientist / astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and is housed in Chicago's first movie theater dedicated to "talkies." Chicago's largest Polish cultural center provides year round music and dance programming, including Polish music and classical concerts in its nearly 2,000-seat Mitchell P Kobelinski Theater. If you're in town over Labor Day weekend, make sure to stop by the annual "Taste of Polonia" festival, which draws upwards of 35,000 visitors, making it the largest Polish cultural festival in the county.

International Music Foundation

For over three decades, the International Music Foundation has sought to educate Chicagoans and visitors to international music. The IMF presents the annual Do-It-Yourself Messiah concert during the holidays, the weekly Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series at 12:15 on Wednesdays at the Cultural Center, children's programming and more.


This cozy Lincoln Square venue could stake a claim for having one of the most diverse concert calendars in town, mixing things up with rock, roots, country, hip hop, jazz, and soul, while also embracing a plethora of international sounds. If you're interested in anything from Irish folk to African jazz, to Balkan fusion, check out their monthly concert listings.

Mayne Stage

Located in Rogers Park and housed the historic building of vaudeville hall, Morse Theater (established 1912), the Mayne Stage has emerged as one of the North Side's hottest music destinations. The 230-seat entertainment venue typically programs events geared towards adult audiences (read: 30+) with a mix of jazz, rock, avant-garde, and comedy events along with world music concerts of all varieties.

Old Town School of Folk Music

Old Town School of Folk

The much loved Old Town School of Folk Music does not only schedule regular performances from international artists at its Lincoln Square Venue, it also teaches internationally-rooted styles of music and dance to local residents of all ages.

Square Roots Festival

Square Roots fest

While Lincoln Square's Maifest and German Fest celebrate the neighborhood's German-American heritage, the eclectic Square Roots Festival  has grown to rival these longtime festivals in popularity. Square Roots takes place along Lincoln Avenue near Montrose, spilling into Welles Park and the Old Town School of Folk Music. The multi-day event treats festivalgoers to an incredibly diverse array of sounds. 2013's globe-spanning lineup, for example, featured Quebecoise cajun/jazz band La Vent Du Nord, Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, and Rajasthani collective Rajasthan Josh along with American primitive guitarists, African drum circles, and plenty of dancing.


Daley Plaza, Federal Plaza, and Pioneer Court are among downtown's open-air spots that host to a number of international festivals throughout the year, from the famed Christkindlmarket, to the increasingly popular Chicago Turkish Festival, and Thai Festival. Visitors are able to not only sample traditional music from other parts of the world, but food, art, and retail shopping as well. Each festival is arranged a little differently, and programming may take place during the workday (with special noontime performances of traditional music and dance), early evening, and weekends.



From the end of June through Mid-September, Chicagoans of all ages and walks of life gather in Spirit of Life Garden in Grant Park for free dance parties held on an outdoor, permanently installed dance floor. Each event features a live band, and styles of music cover everything from Zydeco to traditional Greek folk music, to music styles of the West African Diaspora.

Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Ground

Dedicated to high-quality With one on Clark Street near Wrigley Field and the other on Devon Avenue in Edgewater, Uncommon Ground is a favorite meeting place for high-quality "green" cuisine, great drinks and coffee, and live music with an emphasis on acoustic pop, folk, and world traditions (the Devon location recently hosted Iranian guitarist Mehran Jalili as part of the multi-venue Flamenco Festival).

Wild Hare

At its previous location in Wrigleyville, Wild Hare developed a reputation for having some of the best live reggae on the north side. While it is still in the process of acquiring its live music license in its new home near the DePaul University campus in Lincoln Park, guests can come and enjoy Caribbean cuisine and dancing.

By: Jamie Ludwig