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Millennium Park Pritzker Pavilion
Abel Arciniega :: @tequilagraphics

DNC Chicago Guide: Music

Feel the beat of an iconic music scene

Chicago is proud to welcome visitors from around the world to our great city for the Democratic National Convention 2024. While you’re here, we invite you to come experience what makes Chicago a city like no other — and why we’ve been named the Best Big City in the U.S. for an unprecedented seven years in a row.

Chicago-style jazz. Amplified blues. House music. These are just a few of the genres with deep Chicago roots. Our city has always been the proud home of genre-defining artists, bucket-list music festivals, famed stages, and our own undefinable big-city sound. Maybe that’s why the energy of our live music scene is truly one of a kind. Come hear it all for yourself.

We’ve created these Chicago guides with five specially curated activities to help DNC visitors experience different aspects of our great city. To delve deeper and make the most out of your time in Chicago, keep exploring with our guide at the link below.

Explore our music and nightlife guide to Chicago

1. Visit a legendary jazz club

Band playing at Green Mill club in Uptown Chicago
Hear live music at the historic Green Mill.

Chicago is home to a legendary jazz scene. During the Great Migration, Black musicians flocked to Chicago from the South, bringing age-old jazz and blues traditions with them. The genre became popular in small clubs on the city’s south side — soon Chicago was attracting legendary musicians like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong.

Over time, the city’s musicians developed their own distinct twist on the genre. Chicago-style jazz is a combination of Mississippi Delta and New Orleans “Dixieland” style, but with heavy bass and guitar, longer solos, and fast tempos.

Want to hear it for yourself? One of the city’s most legendary venues, the Green Mill has been a must on the Chicago jazz circuit for more than a century. A speakeasy during Prohibition, it was a favorite haunt of Al Capone and is known today for its excellent schedule of live music. Another top venue, Winter’s Jazz Club features straight-ahead jazz sound six nights a week.

Worth another trip: During Labor Day weekend, fans flock to Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park to hear free performances from top and up-and-coming jazz musicians.

2. Hear Chicago-style blues

No one sings the blues quite like Chicago. Come hear the distinct sounds of electrified, urban blues in the city where it was born.

Following the Great Migration that also inspired Chicago-style jazz, Southern black migrants introduced the city to a new kind of music — one that spoke of trials and tribulations, sorrows and successes. But musicians had to adapt to compete with all that urban noise, giving rise to an amplified version that would become known as Chicago-style blues.

Top Chicago venues include Buddy Guy’s Legends, a bucket list stop for blues fans from all over. Showcasing Chicago’s signature electrified blues and other blues styles, Blue Chicago has hosted greats like Koko Taylor, Willie Kent, Johnny B. Moore, and Magic Slim.

Worth another trip: In June, there’s no better place to be than the free Chicago Blues Festival in Millennium Park. The three-day lineup celebrates the past, present, and future of the genre. 

3. Dance to Chicago-born house music

House Music Festival
Photo courtesy of the City of Chicago

This year marks the 40th anniversary of house music, the genre born in Chicago that has gone on to revolutionize dance music across the globe.

Widely considered the birthplace of house music, The Warehouse in the city’s West Loop is a former factory and venue that has been designated an official Chicago landmark. This was where DJs like Frankie Knuckles played a creative mix of disco, funk, and European synth tunes. The crowd was mostly Black, Latino, and gay and they came to dance in a space free from racism and homophobia.

Today, house music’s legacy is celebrated at venues around the city and events like the Chicago House Music Festival each summer. 

4. See a show at iconic venues

Thalia Hall

Mainstream pop, indie rock, hip hop, punk, blues, or jazz — no matter your musical taste, you’ll find it in Chicago any night of the week. The city’s legendary live music scene includes iconic venues ranging from intimate neighborhood clubs to historic music halls. 

Located on downtown State Street, the Chicago Theatre is a gloriously restored auditorium that hosts some of the city’s most exciting shows. First opened as a grand movie palace in the 1920s, the venue is instantly recognizable for its iconic marquee stretching nearly six stories high. Famous names who have played here include Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, and more.

In Pilsen, Thalia Hall is a breathtaking landmark venue modeled after the opera house. Catch a show by touring or local acts, then head to one of the buzzy in-house dining options like the retro underground cocktail bar. 

The Aragon Ballroom is a one-of-a-kind venue in the historic Uptown neighborhood, a lively entertainment hub. Designed to look like a courtyard in a Spanish palace, the extravagant space is adorned with crystal chandeliers, terra cotta ceilings, and elaborate mosaics. The stage has been graced by Frank Sinatra, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, The Flaming Lips, Nirvana, and more.

Other must-visit Chicago music venues include late-night blues venue Kingston Mines, The Hideout, Jazz Showcase, Schubas Tavern, The Salt Shed, and more.

5. Come back for an iconic music festival

 Lollapalooza
Lollapalooza; photo by Shea Flynn

In the summer, Chicago’s downtown, neighborhood parks, and scenic lakefront are filled with the sounds of live music thanks to our iconic festival season, which brings locals and visitors alike to celebrate the city’s musical past, present, and future. Check out some of the summer festivals worth planning a return trip to experience. 

One of the world’s premier music festivals takes over Chicago’s lakefront Grant Park for four days every summer. Lollapalooza rocks out with the biggest names in music across all genres: hip-hop, electronica, reggae, indie, modern roots, and more, attracting over 100,000 attendees each year. 

The city also hosts free music festivals throughout the summer. World Music Festival has presented more than 650 artists and ensembles from more than 80 countries since it began in 1999. Chicago Gospel Music Festival explores the depth of gospel music, featuring traditional and contemporary groups. 

Other top Chicago music festivals include indie favorite Pitchfork Music Festival, inclusive Pride in the Park, reggaeton dance party Sueños Music Festival, and punk-focused Riot Fest.

Explore all Chicago DNC bucket lists