hen you think of the city of Chicago, there are certain things that, for the vast majority of people, quickly come to mind: Sears Tower, the Cubs, the Bears, and deep dish pizza, to name a few. Chicago is not as well known for its music venues, at least not in the way that other big cities, like Nashville, New York, and LA are known for theirs. But there are at least five Chicago music venues that make it a city worthy of being on that list! And many of the biggest names in music, both past and present, can claim Chicago as an important stop on the road to fame.
While the Dave Matthews Band, Tori Amos, and Norah Jones didn’t get their official starts in the windy city, they did make their Chicago debuts at Schubas. A small venue (it holds roughly 200 fans), Schubas is best known for its intimate atmosphere. Schubas, as well as the owners’ second venue Lincoln Hall, has even earned a coveted spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the best clubs in America.
The Double Door
The Double Door, situated in the Wicker Park area of Chicago, has been around since 1994. Many local and national bands have played on this stage to packed shows of around 550 fans. A few of the most well-known shows include a Lollapalooza after-party featuring Sonic Youth in 2006, a last minute cancellation fill-in show by hometown heroes Rise Against, and a super secret Rolling Stones concert back in 1997.
The Aragon Ballroom Chicago, constructed in 1926 for an unbelievable sum of two million dollars, has earned its reputation as one of the most famous dance halls in the United States. Some of the amazing talent that has graced the stage of the Aragon include crooner Frank Sinatra, big band-leaders Lawrence Welk and Glenn Miller, and the “King of Swing” himself, Benny Goodman. After brief incarnations as the Cheetah Club in the 1960s, the Aragon has been under the same ownership now since 1973. It remains one of the longest-standing Chicago music venues to grace this list.
True to its name, the Hideout has been a haven for rebels since it legally opened its doors in 1934. Built in only two days, its first existence was as a well-kept secret for those who didn’t play by Prohibition’s rules. And it has remained steadfast in its dedication to those who find themselves on the fringes of society. Musicians who have appeared onstage here include Jack White and sister Meg of the White Stripes, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, then-unknown Neko Case, Wilco, and the Flaming Lips.
The first performance on the Metro‘s stage in August of 1982 was by a small band from Georgia that no one had really heard of before – R.E.M.! In the Metro’s first year alone, it featured early shows from Depeche Mode and Billy Idol. And if the 1980s were good to the Metro, the alternative edge of the 1990s rocked it even harder. Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Jane’s Addiction all traveled from the West Coast to bring grunge to Chicago on the Metro’s stage. But perhaps the Metro’s biggest claim to fame is being the venue where some truly phenomenal Chicago natives got their starts – Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, and the Smashing Pumpkins. In more recent years, this mainstay of Chicago music venues has booked early performances by the Plain White T’s, Fall Out Boy, Kings of Leon, and many more.
Many musicians got their starts or played some of their first shows in Chicago music venues. And it’s safe to assume that many of the bands booking their first gigs there now will be the big names of the future! Remember: all of those dreams had to start somewhere. So to all of you aspiring musicians out there, stick with it, hone your craft, and perhaps it will be your music that fills these Chicago music venues in the future!