Known for its blues bars, baseball teams, deep dish pizza and all that jazz, Chicago’s music scene includes legendary performance halls where local bands cut their teeth before amassing legions of fans. Chicago remains a focal point for most major tours and a city that draws music lovers from across the country. With dozens of bars, concert halls and clubs to choose from, picking the best places for live music in Chicago can be like deciding whether you’d admit you’re a Cubs fan. We’ve checked out Chicago’s music venues to discover the places you don’t want to miss. Here are our picks for the best live music venues in Chicago.
Since R.E.M. kicked things off in 1982, Metro has remained in tune with upcoming artists, emerging musical genres and sound entrepreneurs. A mix of music legends and undiscovered talent continue to take the stage at what has become one of Chicago’s best music venues. It’s located near Wrigley Field. Local band Smashing Pumpkins played some of their first big shows at Metro. It’s hosted the likes of Nirvana, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, Depeche Mode, Billy Idol and Oasis before they reached mainstream audiences. Owner Joe Shanahan, a Chicago native, continues to give local bands a chance to get on stage. All he asks is that they send in a demo.
Some see Empty Bottle as a true dive bar, while others call it an “intimate setting.” However you view it, this venue has a track record of hosting some of Chicago’s best alternative artists. Modest Mouse, The Strokes and Animal Collective are just some of the acts to take the stage at Empty Bottle before attracting large audiences that might require the pool tables and pinball machines to be moved out. Located in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village area, Empty Bottle is open seven days a week, and there’s always show at night.
More experienced concert goers may find Lincoln Hall as a sterile environment. Owned by the brothers who manage Schubas, a smaller music club, Lincoln Hall is easily one of the cleanest and brightly lit concert halls in Chicago. Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, it’s also in a less sketchy area of town. Let’s face it, there are some places where you’d think twice about where you park your car. At Lincoln Hall, you may find yourself wondering if you dressed too casual.
FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island
Many locals still call this outdoor amphitheater Lakefront Pavilion, refusing to acknowledge the naming rights companies have paid millions for. After a massive expansion that made this a 30,000-seat venue, it’s been renamed FirstMerit Bank Pavilion. In addition to hosting the Windy City LakeShake Festival, a three-day celebration of country music, the pavilion is frequented by big-name acts that may have past their prime. Fans craving a bit of nostalgia from outdoor concerts and music festivals will find it on Northerly Island, which offers fantastic views of Lake Michigan, Soldier Field and the Chicago skyline.
Typically $10 will get you in to see an excellent show at The Hideout, which isn’t too difficult to find, despite the name. Located on West Wabansia Ave., just south of DePaul University, The Hideout could be mistaken for a house if it weren’t for the strings of lights and sign alerting you to its presence. If you’re going to a show, get there early because this venue only holds about 200 people. That makes for an especially unique experience when some acts like the White Stripes, Wilco or Neko Case stop by. While it may be intimidating to step foot in a place that can feel like a private club, locals are quick to share that the staff at The Hideout is very friendly, and the clientele doesn't rush to judgement.
The Riviera Theatre
When it comes to historic settings and fantastic acoustics, it’s hard to beat Riviera Theatre. Located in Chicago’s historic Uptown theater district, the Riviera first opened in 1917. With room for about 2,500 people, the Riviera draws many well-known acts, but also a mix of independent and emerging artists.
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Step into Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, and you’re stepping into one of Chicago’s most historic clubs. It’s a place where Al Capone and Frank Sinatra hung out. Whenever Capone entered the lounge, the band leader would quickly direct his musicians to play Rhapsody in Blue, the gangster’s favorite song. The Mill features live music every night, with acts ranging from jazz and blues to swing bands and full orchestras. The Mill also hosts the Uptown Poetry Slam every Sunday night.
The Wild Hare & Singing Armadillo Frog Sanctuary
It may come as a shock to hear tropical rhythms echoing down a Chicago street, but stepping into The Wild Hare is like spending an evening in Jamaica. Cover charges range from free to about $10 to catch great Reggae and World Music acts. The music jives with the Caribbean food and cocktails being sold at the bar.