Chicago Music Scene
Lauren Wells | May 21, 2014
The city of Chicago is known for its longstanding music history, having churned out entire genres such as variations of the blues genre, Chicago-style jazz, house music, and electronic dance music. A musical hub rich with creative history, Chicago has housed an array of talent from jazz singer-songwriters such as Patricia Barber to rappers like Jeremih. In the 1920s, swing musician Benny Goodman got his nickname “King of Swing” while big band drummer Gene Krupa energized the Chicago jazz scene. Known for his work with The Dukays, The Impressions, and Curtis Mayfield, Grammy Hall of Fame inductee Gene Chandler earned his nicknamed “The Duke” in the 1950s after creating successful R&B/Soul songs such as “Duke of Earl” and “Groovy Situation.” Also during this time, Grammy Award winner Ramsey Lewis perfected his jazz funk compositions while soul funk singer-songwriter Curtis Mayfield gained a strong following. During the 1960s, blues rock singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield and jazz bandleader and saxophonist Steve Coleman soothed Chicago’s music lovers with their melodies. Nils Lofgren also called Chicago home, as he gained popularity working as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Crazy Horse, and Grin. Adult Contemporary singer-songwriter Peter Cetera and Terry Kath, along with the other founding members, formed the rock group Chicago during the 1960s, going on to achieve many collective and individual successes. The influential jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette began working with artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, and John Scofield. Dennis DeYoung began his 38-year career with Styx as their vocalist, primary songwriter, and keyboardist. Country music duo The Hager Twins, jazz musician Herbie Hancock, and The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek all began their music careers in Chicago during the 1960s. Folk country singer-songwriter Steve Goodman penned the Grammy Award winning hit “City of New Orleans” and country-rock musician Warren Zevon crafted “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” The 1970s brought in the “Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan, a ten-time Grammy Award winner. The edgy Patti Smith honed her punk rock roots primarily in New York City but hailed from Chicago, later going on to record her debut album Horses and write a poetic must-read memoir Just Kids. During the 1980s, alternative rock musician Marty Casey began his career in music, but his later appearance on the show Rock Star: INXS really put him on the music map. Smashing Pumpkins hail from Chicago, led by alternative rocker Billy Corgan. Hip hop rapper Twista, pop rock singer-songwriter Richard Marx, house DJ Kaskade, and heavy metal guitarist Zim Zum call Chicago their hometown. Soul Musician R. Kelly got his start with Public Announcement before pursuing a solo career, creating hits such as “I Believe I Can Fly,” Bump n’ Grind,” and “Your Body’s Callin’.” The 1990s introduced acts such as indie rock musician Andrew Bird, Grammy Award winning rapper Common, saxophonist and jazz bandleader Steve Coleman, and IDM techno musician Benn Jordan (AKA The Flashbulb). Buddy Guy’s daughter Shawnna started her rap career during this time, working with rappers like Ludacris. R&B soul singer-songwriter Donell Jones penned “U Know What’s Up” and “Where I Wanna Be” while artists like alt rockers OK Go, rapper Kanye West, and indie rockers Wilco kicked off their careers. Also during the 1990s, Syleena Johnson began her work as a soul singer-songwriter, eventually going on to receive a Grammy Award nomination. Hip hop rapper Lupe Fiasco, Brendan Kelly (vocalist/bassist for the punk rock band The Lawrence Arms), and hardcore singer/guitarist Tim McIlrath (of the punk rock band Rise Against) all emerged from Chicago’s 1990s music scene. The millenium brought the talents of rappers like Chief Keef, Yung Berg, Soulja Boy, and Cashis. EDM masterminds, and Chicago natives, Krewella transformed the house music scene with their unique tech-savvy sounds.
The Chicago House of Blues hosts bands like Presidents of the United States of America, The Pretty Reckless, Seether, and Elbow, among others. Their infamous gospel brunch takes place every Sunday, where you can enjoy chicken and waffles with your gospel. Keeping in line with the House of Blues aesthetic Americans have grown to know and love over the years, HOB Chicago is no different: they offer quality entertainment, good food, plenty of folk art, and a box of Mississippi Delta mud safely stored under each stage (this is to “ensure that every artist has the roots and the spirit of the South planted beneath their feet”).
Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater opened in 1960, its name inspired by the American industrialist and philanthropist Henry Crown’s father. With a seating capacity of 4,250, the Arie Crown Theater hosts musicals as well as classical and rock music. Located near McCormick Place, the venue has hosted talent such as Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Chicago, Jimmy Buffett, Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, and the Eagles, among many others. You can expect high class entertainment from the Arie Crown Theater!
Located on the north side of Chicago, the Riviera Theatre is a 2,500-capacity music venue. Built in 1917 by Rapp and Rapp, the French Renaissance Revival style theatre has seen the talented Tin Machine, Haim, Foster the People, Die Antwoord, Lindsey Stirling, and Lily Allen come through its doors.
The Chicago Symphony Center, built in 1904, is an official national historic landmark. The music complex houses the 2,522-seat Orchestra Hall, a rehearsal and performance spaced named Buntrock Hall, and the Grainger Ballroom, an event space that overlooks Michigan Avenue. Home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and the Chicago Sinfonietta, the venue even hosted iconic speakers such as Harry Houdini, Richard E. Byrds, Amelia Earhart, Bertrand Russell, and Orson Welles.
In uptown Chicago, the Moorish design of the Aragon Ballroom welcomes music lovers into its 4,500-capacity entertainment space. Once a roller skating rink, boxing venue, and a discotheque (not simultaneously, of course), the Aragon has hosted everyone from Green Day to The White Stripes.
An 18,500-capacity multi-purpose venue, the Allstate Arena is home to the IHL/AHL’s Chicago Wolves as well as the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. The former home to many sports teams, the Allstate Arena is located in Rosemont and also hosts major music events with acts such as Enrique Iglesias, Avicii, and Pitbull.
The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University is located in the historic Auditorium Building of 1889. The first home to the Chicago Civic Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Auditorium Theatre is the current home of the Joffrey Ballet. Used as a servicemen’s center during World War II, the theatre now hosts performances by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Jack White, the American Ballet Theatre, and The Royal Ballet, among others.
Booking acts like Paul Oakenfold, Pop Evil, Escape the Fate, Headhunterz, and Elefante, the Concord Music Hall is located in Chicago’s Logan Square. Whether you’re on the venue’s balcony checking out the show or you’re in the fun, sweaty mix of the crowd, you’ll never want for entertainment at the Concord Music Hall.
The 1,400-capacity Vic Theatre was designed by John E.O. Pridmore in 1912, when it was originally known as the Victoria Theatre. Hosting a variety of live music shows, the venue is also home to the Brew & View, where locals can check out movie screenings. Papa Roach, Bill Hicks, Jim Gaffigan, Wilco, and Hannibal Buress have all performed here.
Located in Chicago’s West Loop, the City Winery hosts private events, winemaking classes, and live music. A string of City Winery venues are also located in New York City, Napa, and Nashville. The foodie/music lover in all of us gets the best of both worlds at City Winery. Prepare yourself to see lineups that include Jackopierce, Steep Canyon Rangers, Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, Michael McDermott, Phil Jacobson, and the Westies.
The 700-capacity Bottom Lounge is a concert hall located in West Loop. With acts such as Sohn, Maximo Park, The Flatliners, Skinny Lister, and Yann Tiersen being booked by Live Nation, Bottom Lounge also features the 300-capacity Volcano Room, a multi-purpose space that features a full restaurant.
Hosting acts like Metronomy, the Faint, Talib Kweli, Kishi Bashi, and Upsin Hounds, Metro and Smartbar have been going strong since 1982. Booking local, regional, and national acts is no new feat for the venue’s management, as owner Joe Shanahan has poured his love and expertise into these impressively hip clubs.
Chicago’s United Center is a 23,500-capacity sports and entertainment arena. Currently home to the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, the United Center also hosts the biggest names in entertainment (like Lady Gaga).
For an outdoor concert experience, the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre is the place to go. Opened in 1990, the Tinley Park venue can accommodate 28,000 music lovers. In the past, festivals such as Farm Aid, Mayhem Festival, Ozzfest, Projekt Revolution, Sounds of the Underground, Area Festival, and Vans Warped Tour have all taken place here. Cher, Phish, Rush, and Disturbed have performed at the amphitheatre over the years.
Another outdoor amphitheatre, the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island offers up views of Lake Michigan, Burnham harbor, Soldier Field, and the Chicago skyline. Operated by Live Nation, the venue has hosted Earth, Wind, and Fire, Jimmy Buffett, Incubus, O.A.R., and Jason Mraz.
A bar and music venue, the Empty Bottle is located in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood, where it has hosted multi-genre acts since 1992. A humble corner venue, the Empty Bottle has come a long way since its cat-infested beginnings and has blossomed into a local favorite for new music.
Since its opening in 1920, Park West is owned by Jam Productions. Originally a vaudeville and movie theater, Park West is a Lincoln Park based music venue that has hosted the Derek Trucks Band, Ethan Bortnick, Everyone Orchestra, and Band of Skulls.
The 9,500-capacity UIC Pavilion is home to the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames basketball team. Having hosted a variety of sporting events, the venue has also booked bands like Green Day and Phish, so keep an eye out for the next A-lister coming to town!
At the Copernicus Center, patrons can attend plays, concerts, seminars, dance recitals, athletic competitions, and choir competitions. Opened in 1930, the venue was designed by Mason Rapp of Rapp and Rapp originally as a movie theatre. After the decline of silent films, the venue adapted to the times by screening the films of Astaire, Rogers, Hepburn, Tracy, and Bacall, among countless others. Once home to the Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra, the Copernicus Center now churns outs entertainment on average of 48 weeks per year.
Soldier Field Stadium is a 61,500-capacity football stadium in Chicago’s Near South Side area. The oldest NFL stadium (it opened in 1924), Soldier Field is home to the NFL’s Chicago Bears. A memorial to American soldiers, the field also hosts concerts. In the past, Johnny Cash, Barbra Streisand, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton, The Rolling Stones, Journey, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, and U2 have all performed here.
Hosting bands like Busy Living, Swollen Members, Owls, and Nothing, Subterranean is an indie rock paradise. With a satisfying bar menu and a thirst-quenching beer list, Subterranean is the ultimate relaxed vibes type of venue.
Located in Chicago’s meatpacking district, the MID is a live music/nightclub hybrid that hosts 801 dancing concertgoers. With three full service bars, plenty of room for dancing, booths, table seating, and a VIP room (complete with DJ booth), the MID is built to impress (and it does). On a given night, you can check out acts like Sick Individuals, Sidney Samson, J Worra, Kastle, and Lindsay Lowend.
The Harris Theater is a 1,525-seat theater located at Millenium Park in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood. Primarily a venue for jazz musicians, the Harris Theater hosts a variety of local performers and visiting performers.
Founded in 1890, Thalia Hall is a historic Chicago landmark located in the Pilsen neighborhood. Founded by John Dusek, Thalia Hall has hosted acts like Martin Van Ruin, Panda Bear, Shawn Colvin, Steve Earle, The Mavericks, and Goat.
Opened in 2009, Lincoln Hall is a 507-capacity concert hall that has seen performances by artists such as Dave Matthews, Modest Mouse, Feist, and My Morning Jacket. With balcony seating and a full menu, Lincoln Hall is housed in a building that was erected in 1912, and it’s here to stay.
Big names like Blake Shelton, The Band Perry, Neal McCoy, Pearl Jam, Jake Owen, Thomas Rhett, and Kelly Clarkson have performed at Wrigley Field, a venue most popular for its variety of sporting events. Home to the MLB’s Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field opened in 1914 and has been a cultural icon ever since.
Located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is an 11,000-capacity bandshell. Opened in 2004, the venue’s impressive structure, crisp acoustics, and stunning views of the city are the icing on the entertainment cake. Tori Amos, Andrew Bird, Band of Horses, and plenty of classical musicians have performed at the pavilion over the years. It’s the perfect venue for a warm summer evening overlooking the city.
If you like a side of animals with your music, look no further than Jammin’ at the Zoo, a summer concert series held at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Acts like Kristian Bush of Sugarland, Better Than Ezra, Tony Lucca, and Jana Kramer perform at the Zoo grounds. Located in Chillicothe, Summer Camp Music Festival features headliners like moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Zac Brown Band, Trey Anastasio Band, Bassnectar, Primus, Girl Talk, Slightly Stoopid, Lotus, Gramatik, Blues Traveler, and Yonder Mountain String Band. The Spring Awakening Music Festival is held in June, hosting over 100,000 people eager to see acts like Tiesto, Pretty Lights, Kaskade, Knife Party, Diplo, Big Gigantic, Eric Prydz, Benny Benassi, and Steve Aoki. In July, the Pitchfork Music Festival books performers such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Kendrick Lamar, Beck, Cloud Nothings, Giorgio Moroder, St. Vincent, and Sza, among others. Going strong since 2006, the festival hosts over 50,000 attendees over the course of two days at Chicago’s Union Park. With a lineup that includes Arctic Monkeys, Frank Ocean, Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Lorde, The Avett Brothers, Foster the People, Zedd, Sebastian Ingrosso, Kewella, Broken Bells, Childish Gambino, and Nas, Lollapalooza is held in Chicago’s Grant Park. In August, the North Coast Music Festival takes place in Union Park and hosts acts such as Bassnectar, Kid Cudi, Snoop Dogg, Alesso, Dada Life, Slightly Stoopid, Dr. Dog, Little Dragon, Showtek, Action Bronson, and Riff Raff. In September, the Phases of the Moon Festival is held in Kennekuk County Park, with performances by Widespread Panic, Bob Weir & Ratdog, Lunar Landing Conspiracy, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Gov’t Mule. Also held in September, Riot Fest is a multi-city music festival that brings in bands like Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, The National, Rise Against, Weezer, Wu-Tang Clan, Slayer, The Flaming Lips, Tegan and Sara, Metric, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith, and Taking Back Sunday, among many others. Chicago’s Humboldt Park plays host to the two-day festival and carnival.