Best Chicago-Based Bands & Musicians

October 5, 2010 5:28 PM

This is a list of bands & musicians who call Chicago home. All of these bands typically play in the city multiple times per year in various venues depending on the nature of the show. The range of genres alive in Chicago is vast and this list is meant to be a quick scan of the cream of the crop from varied genres. – Jeremy Frazier

Fareed Haque

Simply put, this man is a legend. By day he teaches guitar at Northern Illinois University, by night he amazes music venues of all shapes. He is a jazz guitarist by trade, but one of his most popular projects is with the cult favorite jam band, Garaj Mahal. He plays in the Chicago area numerous times every year at venues in the city and suburbs. He can often be found in jazz clubs with another one his projects, Fareed Haque & the Flat Earth Ensemble, where he glides into his element and will knock your socks off with lightning-fast jazz guitar mastery. Often when the word ‘virtuoso’ is used it is an exaggerated display of overstatement. But once you see Fareed Haque in person, you will agree that there is simply no other way to describe him.

Strange Arrangement

While working their way through the Midwest, Strange Arrangement has managed to gather quite a following in the region. Their feelgood blend of happy funk can’t help but attract fans and make them want to dance all night. A focus on lyrics has led this band to a catalog of staple songs. Jamming, however, is right in their wheelhouse and they love to oblige a hungry crowd. You can find them in Chicago multiple times a year offering up a healthy dose of lighthearted, jam-based dance music. These guys have become a go-to band in the region’s music festival circuit and figure to be a rising name in Chicago very soon.


“They come in for the name. They stay around for the music.” This is the credo that Sexfist lives by. The oft-irreverent foursome of stringed wizardry will show you a side of traditional bluegrass you never knew existed. Their cool demeanor & group approach will pique your interest while their impressive catalog of bluegrass standards mixed in with cheeky original material & surprising covers will get you hooked. After finally securing a stable residency at Kinetic Playground, Sexfist has developed a strong following of loyal fans that show up every Tuesday night to rock out to bluegrass until the a.m.

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Umphrey’s McGee

This once regional Midwestern band is now a national touring force. Armed with a unique blend of progressive rock and an improvisational jam sensibility, Umphrey’s McGee travels all over America selling out large venues and leaving a trail of melted faces in their wake. Elements of dub, metal, dance, and blues find their way into every show and their setlists are constantly rotating to keep every show fresh & unique. They always save their best for New Years Eve and have been rocking massive two & three night runs at Chicago concert halls for the last 10 years. Any discussion of Chicago live music isn’t complete without serious attention to Umphrey’s.

Chicago Farmer

This is not your average ‘man with guitar.’ Cody Diekhoff’s approach to solo folk music is traditional, but his soul & energy are uncommonly powerful. Arriving with his classic acoustic guitar style is a voice smooth but broken-in that sounds wise beyond its years. He will stomp out a beat in leather boots to drive home a point and throw down a handsome harmonica solo to put a song over the top. The songs are about the places he’s been and the people he’s met, so local ideas are abound in this music from the heart.

russian circles Best Chicago Based Bands & Musicians

(credit: MySpace/Russian Circles)

Russian Circles

Like your music heavy? This band has got you covered. Their sound is like audible lead and their energy is unstoppable. The masses often overlook instrumental music but this band paints a harsh, black picture that cannot be brushed away easily. A Russian Circles live show is heavy, loud, and intense, as well as intriguingly complex. These skilled instrumentalists lay out expansive soundscapes that can go on for around 10 minutes and lock you into the story of their music. For a band with no vocals, they sure do have a lot to say.

future rock Best Chicago Based Bands & Musicians

(credit: Future Rock/Chad Smith)

Future Rock

At the crossroads of the jam and electronic genres lies Future Rock. This three-piece force of music creates a sound that feels like way more than three people are creating it. They engineer a highly danceable & spacey groove that is full of energy. A Future Rock concert winds through areas of trance-inducing sounds to high-powered rhythms to a breakneck synthesizer-fueled dance party. Armed with a potent & exciting light rig, this band can be found at festivals and club-type settings all over the Midwest. They make a few stops in Chicago every year and have been steadily moving up the Chicago live music scene.

maps atlases Best Chicago Based Bands & Musicians

(credit: Maps & Atlases/MySpace)

Maps & Atlases

Descriptions of Maps & Atlases’ sound are tough to pin down. Their energy is quirky, whimsical, and generally eccentric and their live shows are filled with life. They have an indie-rock aesthetic with a strong emphasis on complex rhythms & spirited percussion. The one thing that really shines through is their attention to detail, which lends a terrific array of subtleties to the overall sound. They’ve been working on expanding their national audience which has taken them out of Chicago quite a bit lately. Nonetheless, they will make appearances in the city with regularity.

orchard lounge Best Chicago Based Bands & Musicians

(credit: Orchard Lounge/Facebook)

Orchard Lounge

A rotating cast of DJs is a rare find in the solo act-dominated realm of electronic music. This group of three takes turns at the helm and leaves the next DJ a rhythm & tempo to work from. Their approach is unique and creates a show that is constantly refreshing itself. Orchard Lounge makes many appearances in various Chicago venues all year round. A darkened club atmosphere is ideal for this group to create an electrifying dance party, which they do with tremendous force. Orchard Lounge is blazing a strong trail for electronic music in Chicago.

Jeremy Frazier is a writer & amateur photographer based out of Chicago. He specializes in crafting entertaining articles about live music witnessed all over the city on his blog, Chicago Jam Scene.