Are you a musician or in a band and looking for places to play in Chicago?  With so many options to see live music on any given night, it’s hard to figure out just where to go to perform.  We’ve compiled a short list of some of our favorite places to check out.  Our list can help give you a jump on venues to look into if you are ready to gig or see upcoming and established acts.      

First and foremost it’s never easy landing a gig somewhere.  There always seems to be a “catch 22” no matter where you play when you are getting a few shows under your belt.  You can’t play anywhere until you have a following or people to show up for your shows, yet how can you get a following if you aren’t allowed to play places and build fans.  Tough situation right? Rest easy.  Our list of venues is a good place to start.  

1. Empty Bottle
1035 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

The Empty Bottle is an intimate Ukrainian Village venue with a wide range of acts going through monthly.  Around since 1992, the venue is a local favorite and hidden gem amongst Chicagoans.  The variety of music performed is across the board.  Many acts are well established, but the smaller scale of the venue still allows opportunity for bands to play that don’t have thousands of followers.  Don’t expect booths or lounge chairs, the old school venue is made for intimate performances.  Forget big stages, lights, and back rooms, the lack of bells and whistles only adds to the character of the place.

2. Subterranean
2011 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Located in the heart of BuckTown and Wicker Parks “Six Corners” lies Subterranean.  Although it’s a nice sized venue, you might walk by it without even realizing, given all of the activity in the area. The venue spans three levels.  The first is a small bar, while the second level contains the stage/performing area with an additional third level that holds a balcony looking down on the stage and crowd below.  It’s unique and ideal setup that makes everyone feel like part of the show no matter where you stand.  The dark interior only adds to the ambience.  A good amount of local and regional bands play this space.  Put it at the top of your list to play or visit. The layout and originality of Subterranean’s interior space as well as it’s prime location cannot be beat. 

3. Elbo Room
2871 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

A smaller venue with a big sound, the Elbo Room is appropriately named. Upon first entering you will see a comfortable bar in the Lincoln Park spot.  The main attraction is down a set of back stairs to a basement with high ceilings.  Not the biggest of the venues listed, but bigger isn’t always better.  The larger a venue is, the harder it will be to play.  That’s one of the advantages of the Elbo Room.  Because of it’s smaller scale you have the opportunity to see a wider variety of acts defining new sounds.  Playing there does’t require you to bring in 400 people.  

4. Beat Kitchen
2100 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Take a trip to the North Side Beat Kitchen and you will find yourself in a casual environment with a friendly staff and good food.  This staple has been at it for a long time and offers a great area to play or watch a band.  The acts range from local bands spanning any genre of music to national acts looking to connect more with fans.  The space feels friendly and if you need to take a break from the show, the front bar and food area is serperated from the performance stage.  Giving lots of local acts the opportunity to play shows, you can check their schedule to easily get connected in Chicago’s local scene. Beat Kitchen is a melting pot of music.  

Now that we’ve given you an idea of what’s around (in case you didn’t already know) remember a few things…..  Venues don’t want to book bands that don’t have fans or friends showing up.  The more people you can bring to shows the more opportunities you’ll have to play places.  Lots of venues will be eager to book you for a second show if you bring in good numbers on your first one.  Venues have to cover their rent, pay their staff, pay their bills, and deal with a multitude of other expenses.  If you don’t have the ability to bring in people to watch a performance, it will be difficult to make things happen.  Network with other bands as well, as many times you have a better chance of playing if you can fill more than one slots on a given evening.  Having an album release party is something that venue’s look for well.  They want acts to come in that have momentum and are in the minds of people and there followers. Above all and most importantly…… good luck!