Music of Chicago - Live Music Venues, Music Festivals and Genres

The midwestern state of Illinois is known quite well for the various music genres born here, with Chicago being a prominent musical centre. Owing to the “Great Migration” of the 20th century, many poor black workers from the southern part of the country came to the city and brought traditional jazz, blues, soul music and much more. The music of Chicago is quite diverse, and the city is also home to many famous artists including Junior Wells, Bud Freeman and Gene Ammons.

Here is all that you need to know about the music of Chicago:

Different Genres of Music in Chicago

1. Blues

A blues performance

The blues are a key part of Chicago’s music, and the Chicago Blues came into being as a result of the “Great Migration” between 1916 and 1970. What is special about it is that the genre makes use of more notes than the standard six-note blues scale, with major scale notes and dominant 9th chords being added. This is what gives the Chicago Blues its jazz-like feels. Some of the most common musical instruments used include drums, piano, bass guitar, saxophone and harmonica. The city is also where the boogie-woogie was born.
Artists: Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Junior Wells etc.

2. Jazz

A jazz performance

The “Chicago-style” jazz is essentially a mix of the Mississippi Delta and the New Orleans “Dixieland.” It focuses on solo choruses instead of on little solo breaks, as was characteristic of the New Orleans jazz. What differentiates the two styles emphasises faster tempos, saxophones, string bass, and guitars, which replaced the tubas and the banjos. When musicians from the city began playing four-beat measures, the swing era was born. The Chicago Jazz Festival is very popular.
Artists: Lovie Auston, Eddie Condon, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Gene Krupa, Von Freeman etc.

3. House

A house music performance

It was in a Chicago nightclub called The Warehouse that House music originated and it is believed that DJ Frankie Knuckles, who worked there, is to be credited with the name. One of the earliest forms of House music, Chicago house was popular in “underground” clubs, garages and houses and wasn’t meant for commercial purposes. Analogue synthesisers and sequencers were used for creating and arranging electronic elements and samples. This music genre combines live traditional instruments, as well as percussion and soulful vocals with beat-boxes and pre-programmed electronic synthesisers. 
Artists: Curtis Jones, Ron Hardy, Paul Johnson, Adonis, Keith Farley, Jesse Saunders etc.

4. Hardcore

Tim Armstrong performing hardcore

In the 1980s, Chicago saw the emergence of what is known as hardcore punk, a genre of rock music. Some of the most noticeable features of this genre include fast punk beats, melodic singing, and angry protest lyrics. Over the years, several hardcore bands were formed, and many toured all around the country, spreading the music, and often mixing it with other genres like heavy metal. Today, Chicago Hardcore is known for its fast, hardcore punk rock music comprising sounds similar to the Boston, Lost Angeles and New York styles. This music has been credited with the emergence of the post-hardcore genre.
Artists: Big Black, Naked Raygun, The Killing Tree, Rise Against, Effigies, Project Rocket etc.

5. Soul

A performance of soul music

Often known as “soft soul,” this genre originated between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s in Chicago and is quite similar to southern soul owing to the massive influence of black gospel music. However, what separates Chicago soul from the southern soul is the gospel sound which is lighter and more delicate. On the one hand, many groups featured laid-back, sweet harmonies while solo performers liked a melodic and pop approach. This genre is often characterised by the preference for orchestrated arrangements with horns and strings.
Artists: Sam Cooke, Rufus, Chaka Khan, Dave Hollister, Carl Thomas, Lou Rawls etc.

6. Gospel

A gospel music concert

Chicago has played a key role in the development of gospel music and Thomas A. Dorsey is known as its pioneer since he composed religious music to the rhythm of jazz and blues and gave it the name “Gospel”. Chicago is home to many artists specialising in this genre, and over the years, it has come to be influenced by rap, rhythm, blues, and hip hop. The GospelFest is an event that takes place every year, featuring performances from contemporary and traditional gospel choirs.
Artists: Albertina Walker, Mahalia Jackson, The Caravans, James Cleveland, Edwin Hawkins etc.

7. Hip-hop/ Rap

A hip-hop artist

Hip-hop, or rap music is a genre characteristic of stylised rhythmic music and rapping, which is essentially rhyming speech that is chanted, sampling beats, bass lines from records, rhythmic beatboxing and more. Chicago, which is often referred to as Chi-town in the rap industry, has a massive fan following hip-hop and this industry is quite well established. Instead of conforming to a particular style, artists have been influenced by the jazz and the conscious lyricism of the East Coast.
Artists: Chance the Rapper, Twista, Lupe Fiasco, Shawnna, Yung Berg etc.

5 Popular Music Venues in Chicago

Besides having a massive music scene influenced by the South, Chicago has many music venues dedicated to showcasing and preserving various music genres. Here are 5 of them:

1. Civic Opera House

The popular Civic Opera House

The Civic Opera House is also known as the Lyric Opera House and is part of the Civic Opera Building. Built to house the Chicago Civic Opera, it focuses not only on spreading the magic of storytelling through the opera but also on educating the masses about this art form. Furthermore, it encourages musicians from the city, both established and the ones in training, to showcase their talents. Today, it organises several concerts, live performances, and activities both in the theatre and online.
Established: 1929
Address: 20 N Upper Wacker Dr STE 400, Chicago, IL 60606, United States
Shows: Pasión Latina, Sole E Amore, Roll Call etc. 

2. Auditorium Theatre

The outside of the Auditorium Theatre

Situated within Roosevelt University, Auditorium Theatre is dedicated to different performing arts, including music and dance. The Richardsonian Romanesque style building hosts various tours and 200 programs (music, dance, theatre, educational) each year. These feature musicians from Chicago, the rest of the country, and other parts of the world. In fact, the Theatre was home to the infamous Chicago Symphony Orchestra still 1904. 
Established: 1889Address: 50 East Ida B. Wells Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, United States
Shows: Edouard Strauss Orchestra, Apollo
Musical Club: The Messiah, Butterflies Ball, Golden Boy etc.

3. House of Blues

A concert at the House of Blues

The House of Blues in Chicago is located within Marina City and hosts various live music performances. It was established by Isaac Tigrett who loved the blues, gospel, jazz, rock & roll, and rhythm and blues. The interiors represent the history of the genre. They include stage curtains called “Crazy Quilt,” a metal box under the stage with Delta Mississippi mud to remind the artists of their roots and artwork known as the “Visual Blues.” The decoration comprises eclectic posters, artwork, murals, furniture and more.
Established: 1996
Address: 329 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60654, United States

4. The Empty Bottle

The outside of The Empty Bottle

Located to the west of the Ukrainian Village neighbourhood, The Empty Bottle is a bar and live music venue. It hosts many events featuring local, regional and visiting groups that perform different genres like punk, indie-rock, metal, electronic, jazz, hip-hop, rock & roll, experimental etc. Shows are open all 7 days of the week in the evening and are only meant for people above 21. For anyone that wants to grab a bite to eat, there is a restaurant connected to and owned by the bar called the Bite Cafe.
Opened: 1992
Address: 1035 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60622, United States
Shows: Rookie, Video Age, Wood Brothers, Puce Mary etc.

5. The Hideout Inn

A show at The Hideout Inn

Often known as Hideout Chicago, the Hideout Inn is located between Bucktown and Lincoln Park’s neighbourhoods. It is best known for the many music performances it organises but they also occasionally host non-music events which are quite popular. The weekend-long festival known as Hideout Black Party is a very well-known event organised each year. In fact, the Inn is one of the most frequently visited spots visited in the city and is a favourite among locals and tourists owing to its tavern and a back room with music. 
Established: 1933
Address: 1354 W Wabansia Ave, Chicago, IL 60642, United States
Shows: First Tuesdays, Devil in a Woodpile, Write Club, Robbie Fulks etc.

5 Popular Music Events in Chicago

Given that Chicago’s music occupies such an important place in its residents’ hearts, it is no surprise that the city witnesses several music festivals and events each year. These events include performers from Chicago or the United States and other countries, all specialising in different genres. The following are 5 such festivals and events:

1. Lollapalooza

A crowd at the Lollapalooza

Held at Grant Park, Lollapalooza is an annual music festival in Chicago which lasts four days. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this festival each year to watch the performances, including heavy metal, hip-hop, alternative rock, punk rock, electronic music and more. Many popular artists like Kanye West, Outkast and Chance The Rapper have performed here with several guests. Tickets for the event can cost over USD 340.
Started: 1991Address: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601, United StatesMonths: July to August

2. Chicago Jazz Festival

A band performing at the Chicago Jazz Festival

The Chicago Jazz Festival is an annual festival that runs for 4 days, organised at the Millenium Park and the Jazz Institute of Chicago. There is no admission fee for the event, and it is held during Labour Day weekend, with local and world-renowned jazz musicians performing. Artists like Benny Goodman, Von Freeman, Art Hodes, and Mel Torne have performed here, and others like Keefe Jackson and Fred Anderson have been known to host the post-concert jam sessions late in the night.
Started: 1974
Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602, United States
Month: May

3. Square Roots

The concert area at the Square Roots festival

Square Roots, formerly known as the Folk & Roots Festival, is organised during the summer months every year and emphasizes folk and world music, showcasing music and dance performances. Besides these genres, it has hosted performances about others like country, afrobeat, blues, and jazz. Groups and artists like the Super Rail Band, The Flatlanders, Patti Smith, Femi Kuti and Kong Fuzi etc. have performed here. Besides the concerts or shows, it also organises dance workshops and activities for children.
Started: 1998
Address: Lincoln Square neighbourhood, Chicago, IL 60625/60640, United States
Month: August

4. Chicago Blues Festival

A performance at the Chicago Blues Festival

When it comes to Chicago’s music, the Chicago Blues Festival is a must-visit three-day annual music festival. It was moved from Grant Park to Millenium Park and given the city’s long affiliation with the blues genre; the festival features performances by upcoming and old artists. Besides promoting musicians to advance their careers, the festival is based on a theme seeking to honour recently departed blues musicians every year. Albert King, Eddie Vinson, Johnny Winter, and Sugar Blue and others have performed here.
Started: 1984
Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602, United States
Month: June

5. Riot Fest

A concert in progress at the Riot Fest

Initially a multi-venue music festival, Riot Fest became an outdoor one in 2012. Here, people see performances by local bands, guest artists, and first album artists or groups. Genres like rock, hip-hop, emo, alternative rock and metalcore are quite popular at the three-day festival, organised every year at Douglas Park. Over the years, bands like The Lawrence Arms, Alkaline Trio, Flatfoot 56, and The Tossers have put on a show here.
Started: 2005
Address: 1401 S Sacramento Dr, Chicago, IL 60623, United States
Month: September
Chicago is known for its many tourist destinations and its diverse musical scenario, which comprises different music genres, music festivals, and several venues scattered around the city dedicated to preserving this unique culture. If you wish to know more about the city’s rich heritage, make sure to take out some time to experience Chicago's music.

This post was published by Arushi Bhowmick

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