Chicago is a big city with a thriving music scene. So providing a brief but comprehensive introduction to what it has to offer for music lovers is a near-impossible feat. Any given night, hundreds of bands from every genre are playing at the numerous musical venues throughout the city. For some of Chicago’s best live music, try one of these notable venues.
For a classic concert experience, you can’t go wrong with the Chicago Theatre. The venue hosts relatively well-known acts (recent headliners include Hall & Oates and the Black Crowes), and with its flashy, iconic facade and large classical interior, you can’t beat it for overall effect.
If outrageously priced tickets, full-blown spectacle, and really, really big names are what you want, head over to Soldier Field or Allstate Arena in Rosemont. These places seat tens of thousands of concertgoers, and both have hosted the likes of Bon Jovi and the Black Eyed Peas this summer.
If your tastes stray more to the obscure side, check out the events calendar for the historic Aragon Ballroom. Built in 1926, Aragon’s inner spaces resemble an old Spanish villa, and the ceiling over the main performance area is painted to look like the night sky. The venue has hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to AC/DC, but nowadays it primarily features alternative rock acts and, oddly enough, the occasional boxing match.
“The acoustics aren’t the best, but the size of the crowd makes for magnificent energy and makes up for it,” said third-year Rene Dillard, who saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Aragon last year.
Other indie-tastic venues include Metro, where local acts like Big Black and Naked Raygun made their name, and the smaller Double Door, which might look familiar if you’ve seen High Fidelity. Or try Reckless Records for free in-store performances as you flip through CDs.
While Chicago may host bands from all sorts of genres, what it does best are jazz and blues. The House of Blues may sound like the most obvious place to go, but you’re likely to find more authentic clubs throughout the city—for example, “the Green Mill Jazz Club on Broadway Avenue is the Chicago club—it’s been featured in GQ and…as far as I know it’s awesome,” says fourth-year Ruben Montiel. And as for blues, “My dad’s 50-year-old friend [told] me that if I wanted the best blues in Chicago, go to Kingston Mines.”
But you don’t even have to leave Hyde Park to get your jazz and blues fix. The Checkerboard Lounge here in Hyde Park is well-known for revitalizing jazz on the South Side and is famous for its many contributions to the Chicago jazz scene. There is also the Hyde Park Jazz Society, which hosts a Sunday jazz night at Room 43 and sells student tickets for only $5.
If classical music is more your style, you can’t do much better than the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Student tickets begin selling in October and run as low as $10. Because seating is based on availability a few hours before the concert, you could sit anywhere from front and center to up in the nosebleed section. And rush tickets, which are sold under face value but aren’t as cheap as student tickets, are available just before the show begins. As with student tickets, rush tickets aren’t available for all performances.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Opera Theater are also reliable options for showing your sophistication and putting your Music Civ knowledge to good use. By signing up for a free membership with the Lyric’s NExT, you get e-mail alerts when $20 student tickets are available for select performances. A word of advice from fourth-year Jesse Shelton: “Those who go should definitely wear black tie, or as close as possible.”
The Chicago Opera Theater does not offer student discounts, but their tickets are generally cheaper than the Lyric’s. Keep in mind that both venues also host smaller events and productions that typically cost less than their signature productions. Just be sure to check their newsletters or web sites.
While these may be some of the best places in town for live music, they certainly are hardly the only ones. To truly experience what Chicago offers, you have to do some personalized research, and keep an eye out for venues exclusively for the 21-and-up set. Check your favorite bands’ web sites for local tour dates, check different clubs’ event calendars, visit the Chicago Reader’s web site for one of the city’s most complete event calendars, or even take a walk around different neighborhoods and listen for something you like.