Despite what some city folk may believe, Chicago does not have a monopoly on local live music options. In addition to several large arenas and amphitheaters, with newer small venues and higher-profile talent booking, suburbanites are finding it easier to see live music closer to home. City dwellers are also increasingly compelled to explore the outer territories in pursuit of a great live show. As music fans are generally familiar with the larger venues around Chicagoland, here’s a selection of notable smaller stages beyond the city limits.
115 Bourbon Street
3359 W. 115th St.
Merrionette Park, IL
Big Easy-themed 115 Bourbon Street wears quite a few hats under one roof: beer garden, restaurant, sports bar, nightclub, performance hall, caterer and bean bag competition spot. Live music is featured Thursday-Saturday, and usually consists of one of the many cover bands that make the Chicagoland street festival rounds each year, with country bands taking the stage on the first Saturday of the month. Upcoming shows include Suburban Cowboys on September 3, Dot Dot Dot on September 15, and Poi Dog Pondering on September 23.
96 W. Main St.
West Dundee, IL
Live music can be found in quaint downtown West Dundee at the Clearwater Theater, a former Vaudeville house that dates back to 1911. The space is mostly standing room only, with some table seating and an area for private parties. Music programming spans a variety of genres, and all-ages shows are featured every weekend. Upcoming events include “Bass Sessions” DJs on August 19 and Motown-style vocal group The Moods on August 27.
180 N. Smith St.
Durty Nellie’s has been in operation since 1972 in Palatine, and features a restaurant/pub/event space with a regular lineup of live music Thursday-Sunday. The talent roster leans toward familiar Chicago street festival bands, with more notable acts appearing on occasion. South side Irish trad-punks The Tossers appear on September 23, and longtime Chicago favorites Poi Dog Pondering perform on October 1.
6615 Roosevelt Rd.
Local fans of American roots music are likely familiar with FitzGerald’s, and many who’ve never been there will recognize it from such films as The Color of Money, Blink, and A League of Their Own, as well as from Bon Jovi’s 2007 video for “Lost Highway.” While it’s situated just past the city limits, visiting FitzGerald’s is like an instant trip south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The venue dates back to the 1920s, not unlike some of the music performed there today. The annual American Music Festival at FitzGerald’s always promises major talent, but a music legend might appear on any given night. Upcoming shows include Jimmie Vaughn on August 26, NRBQ on August 27 and Blind Boys of Alabama on November 5.
Frankie’s Blue Room
16 W. Chicago Ave.
Frankie’s Blue Room is one of three bars conveniently located in one building in downtown Naperville. The speakeasy vibe of this upstairs lounge is well suited for the retro sounds coming from the stage. It’s a good spot for west suburbanites to see jazz and blues performances without having to head into the city, and Thursday night salsa dancing lessons bring an energetic crowd.
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre
111 W. Campbell St.
Arlington Heights, IL
The northwest suburbs have an impressive live entertainment facility in the form of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. While the Centre is primarily a destination for live musical and comedy theatre, as well as a school of performing arts, it occasionally features higher-profile live music. The Bacon Brothers (as in Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael) perform September 1 & 2, Grammy-winner Shawn Mullins plays on November 11, and Los Lobos will appear on February 24 & 25, 2012.
The Montrose Room
5300 N. River Rd.
The Hotel InterContinental in Rosemont is making strides in differentiating itself from the rather indistinguishable array of hotels surrounding O’Hare. As part of that effort, the hotel has added a new music venue to the landscape with the relatively recent opening of The Montrose Room. Booking has been consistently solid, and there are usually at least a couple of notable upcoming shows on the calendar to make it a destination. Jim Peterik celebrates his record release on September 24, former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould appears for two nights, September 30 and October 1, and Michael McDermott performs on November 5.
1245 Chicago Ave.
FitzGerald’s, the Old Town School of Folk Music and Evanston’s SPACE form something of a triangle of top-notch folk/roots music venues. SPACE is a relative newcomer and gives city dwellers a good reason to ride the Purple Line more often. The venue’s name is an acronym for Society for the Preservation of Arts and Culture in Evanston, and the impressive booking certainly lives up to it. Upcoming performances include New Orleans legend Dr. John on September 4, virtuoso folk singer-songwriter Richard Thompson on September 11 & 12, and blues great Lonnie Brooks on October 14.
Greg Wahl is a Chicagoan, a freelancer, a grad student, and a seeker of all things awesome & interesting throughout the city and beyond.