By Dan Morgridge

All bands have to have their first show somewhere. That venue will probably be a living room, a basement, or a “co-operative event space/art incubator/creativity collective,” which is really just to say some industrial-sized living room. And these venues are fine and dandy and a lot of fun! But should you tire of playing The Spork Fort and Loveship Factory, there are real-life, honest to God licensed venues out there. You’re sure as shinola not going to be playing at Metro right out of the gate, but there are places that are willing to take a chance on the little guy – and after a couple rounds at these holes, you’ll be headed into the lucrative and wildly stable world of professional musicianship in no time!


Red Line Tap

7006 N Glenwood Ave
Chicago, IL 60626
(773) 274-5463

Michael James might be the least likely mafioso of all time, but make no mistake – he’s the don of Rogers Park. In addition to the large space and restaurant that is the Heartland Café, the Red Line Tap is James’ other baby. With shows almost every night of the week, there’s a good chance you can break into the Northside space’s lineup – or just wait until Thursday, when they have an open mic every week.


Cal’s Bar

400 South Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 922-6392

Either the easiest or the hardest venue to get a gig at on the list – who can say? Punk bands have spread through word of mouth that Cal’s is the place to grab a gig while on the road, and bands will come from all over the country to play here before sleeping in their van afterward. Come early and catch the amazing sight of bike messengers and day traders elbow to elbow at the bar, enjoying their tall boys in the loop’s most unlikely punk-and-then-some venue.


Gallery Cabaret

2020 North Oakley Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-5471

Tucked into a side street of Bucktown, Gallery Cabaret is a rough in the diamond. Hand-painted, packed full of odd art for sale, and home to no less than three open mics, you’re certain to find a spot on stage no matter what your cup of tea is. There’s an acoustic open mic early Sundays, and a regular open mic on Sunday nights. And every other Tuesday features a poetry open mic – finally, you can test your lyrics out on neutral parties before your drummer tells you they’re the dumbest words he’s ever heard.

Hip Hop lyricist Young Shade and guest at Cole’s Bar (credit: Mason Johnson)


2338 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 276-5802

If you’ve got a hip concept and you think you can swagger with it, you’ll want to make your way into the indie scene. Cole’s isn’t exactly the Empty Bottle, but you’ll find just the right ratio of PBRs to craft beers in the patron’s hands – the gang here definitely knows what’s up. With opening sets spun by Chicago Independent Radio Project DJs and a secluded back area to keep the pool players from the music fans, Cole’s is a great place to find the discerning musical ear – and one that will be happy to say they heard you before everyone else.

(credit: The Mutiny’s Facebook)

The Mutiny

2428 North Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 486-7774

The Mutiny doesn’t do anything to hide that it’s a dive bar. And usually when you declare that places are a dive bar, they most certainly aren’t – but man does the Mutiny win that argument. With the hand-painted “BANDS WANTED!” sign in the window, Mutiny means it – they’ll take whoever strides in and sets up a mic stand. With bands like “Felony 4” and “Bill Ura Dick” gracing the tiny stage, The Mutiny will ensure that you start your rock career as dirty as possible – and that’s a good thing.

Dan Morgridge will be calling these venues to pitch his new band, “Freelance Armstrong.”