A new year means a fresh start, a chance to be the best version of you possible. Unless your New Year’s resolution is to stay in more, we’ve got a calendar full of ways to get out there and kick 2017’s ass from the get-go. Hit up the best cocktail bars in Chicago, hunker down with some delicious comfort food, go see some world-class comedy— Chicago certainly doesn’t shut down in the winter. So throw off those blankets and let our January 2017 events calendar guide yout winter in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Events calendar for Chicago in 2017
Featured events in January 2017
Plunging temps don’t mean you have to hide away, especially when you have easy access to so many of the city’s excellent indoor and outdoor skating rinks. Between your many merry Christmas events, time reserved rooting for the Blackhawks and nights out sipping steamy hot cocktails, find time to hit the ice with your family and friends this winter.
If you need a few extra weeks before digging into your New Years Resolutions, you're in luck: You've got another chance to begin anew on Chinese New Year. The Year of the Rooster falls on January 28 this year. Whether you're more in the mood for a dragon dance or a great Chinese restaurant, we've rounded up some of the best Chinese New Year celebrations in Chicago.
Chicago has long hosted one of the most robust lineups of summer music festivals in the nation, but the city doesn't rest on its laurels when cold weather settles in. Tomorrow Never Knows is a festival that every January brings a lineup of musicians and comedians to some of Chicago's best music venues. You'll be able to see hip-hop (Open Mike Eagle, BadBadNotGood), psych rock (Wand, Jeff the Brotherhood), a tribute to David Bowie (Sons of the Silent Age) and some hilarious comedians (Beth Stelling, Phoebe Robinson).
Most guided tours take a break for the winter, but not the adventurous pedway-ers in Chicago Elevated. They've got three themed tours for the snow-covered months. Beginning in December, the Holiday Pedway Tour Extravaganza shows off the city's wondrous winter decorations; the Winter Tour, which sees attractions like Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park; and the original Pedway tour, which never takes a break. Milwaukee Tool Company provides battery-operated heated coats, so Chicago Elevated literally has you covered.
Concerts in Chicago in January
Kick off 2017 at a three-day music festival devoted to showcasing local bands of all stripes. Ian's Party spreads the celebration between Wicker Park venues Double Door and Subterranean, with tickets available for individuals shows or the entire weekend. Throughout the festival, you'll be able to catch sets from prominent Chicago bands like Negative Scanner, Meat Wave and Paper Mice. Best of all, you'll be able to find out what bands with names like Underground Railroad to Candyland and Nnamdi's Sooper-Dooper Secret Side Project actually sound like.
Bouncing between jazz-fusion, krautrock and electronica, long-running instrumental outfit Tortoise has become even more unpredictable with age. Members of the Chicago-based group have departed the city in recent years, but the band reconvened to complete its 2016 release, The Catastrophist, its first album in nearly six years. For longtime fans, the twisting guitar riffs, complex rhythms and crisscrossing synth melodies won't come as a surprise, but for anyone unfamiliar with Tortoise, the group's music is likely to be a revelation. Local jazz-inflected instrumental rockers Monobody open the show. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Folk rock quartet Big Thief hail from Brooklyn, but a few decades ago, the band's more subdued ballads wouldn't have sounded out of place in the in the cafés and bars of Greenwich Village. The group's Saddle Creek debut, Masterpiece, balances out its quieter moments with some bursts of noisy energy, providing contrasting backdrops for singer Adrianne Lenker's narrative lyricism. Genre-hopping singer-songwriter Sam Evian and local rock duo Campdogzz open the show. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Prolific prog-rockers Wand dig into their bag of tricks, conjuring up an array of tunes influenced by heavy metal warriors and analog synth wizards of old (a.k.a, the ‘70s). The rest of the bill is equally heady, including Brooklyn psych punks Acid Dad, motorik indie pop quartet Flaural and Illinois rocker Joe Bordenaro. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Ezra Furman is a youthful anachronism: A verbose lyricist marooned in an indie scene that favors headphone-friendly noisemakers. On his third solo release, Perpetual Motion People, the Evanston native conveys what it feels like to be young and adrift in an uncertain world. Local elementary school teachers and indie rockers Dream Version open the show. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
There's an effervescent, restless quality to the output of Montreal producer and songwriter Marie-Helene Delorme (better known as Foxtrott), who combines self-taught vocal chops with skillful electronic arrangements on her debut, A Taller Us. She's joined by Los Angeles garage pop trio Ian Sweet and local atmospheric rockers In Tall Buildings. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Minnesota singer-songwriter Caroline Smith is comfortable with herself, a sentiment that comes across in the R&B and synth-pop odes that populate her most recent album, Half About Being a Woman. Whether she's decrying unrealistic body imagery or singing about her girl friends, Smith makes music that celebrates her experiences and struggles as a woman. She's joined by soulful New York duo Overcoats. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
German DJ and producer Marco Niemerski draws inspiration from ’80s funk, disco and soul on his 2014 debut, Glow, which includes collaborations with Chic's Nile Rodgers and Jamie Lidell. Tensnake's undulating grooves and dancefloor beats provide the perfect soundtrack for showing off your moves under a gleaming disco ball. Smart Bar resident Savile supports. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Part of the latest wave of emo-influenced bands, Pennsylvania quartet Title Fight has mostly turned away form its hardcore punk roots in favor of My Bloody Valentine-style atmosphere. The group's latest album, Hypernight, wallows in wave of immaculately sculpted shoegaze chords and some gratuitous whammy bar use—MBV frontman Kevin Shields would be proud. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Jeff the Brotherhood enjoy the simple things in life, namely drinking beer, getting stoned and writing writing psychedelic tunes about their preferred pastimes. Zones, the Nashville act's latest LP, is filled with pop rock anthems that are reminiscent of Weezer after a few hits from the "Hash Pipe." If you decide to chill out at this show, prepare to have your face melted. Angsty Canadian garage rockers Chastity open the evening. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
These days, Matador-signed Cali hardcore band Ceremony favors a feel-bad mid-tempo chug, contrasting with the energetic, scream-filled tracks that graced its previous albums. On its latest, The L-Shaped Man, the group wallows in obligatory breakup-album sadness, dabbling with more minimalist post-punk maneuvers that evoke Joy Division and Interpol. Local punks Negative Scanner, Atlanta rockers Muuy Biien and noise-makers Hogg open the show. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Industrial icon Chris Connelly leads his band of Bowie devotees, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the artist's first installment in his seminal Berlin Trilogy, Low. Sons of the Silver Age will be covering the album in full—expect an extremely reverent tribute to the Thin White Duke. A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit cancer research at the Pablove Foundation. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
The Newberry Library’s early music ensemble breaks out harps and fiddles for a program dedicated to the music and poetry of 14th century German nobleman Oswald von Wolkenstein. While the music is classical, the experience of seeing the group is decidedly modern, featuring visuals and supertitles that will enhance your understanding of this historic composer.
Conductor Mei-Ann Chen leads the Chicago Sinfonietta in its annual tribute to the life and enduring message of Dr. Martin Luther King. With the help of a diverse group of young musicians, the orchestra presents a jubilant program that culminates in Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Toronto quartet BadBadNotGood are like a great hip-hop DJ in the form of a band, harnessing jazz-fusion chops (and music school education) to create instrumentals that sound like they were sampled from a dusty crate of records. The group has backed artists like Ghostface Killah and Tyler, the Creator, but the best tracks on its latest record, IV, don't need an emcee—these songs speak for themselves. Identical twin jazz-rock duo the Mattson 2 open the show. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Alternative hip-hop icon Open Mike Eagle grew up on the South Side of Chicago, attending break dancing sessions at Promontory Point and rapping with the city-wide Nacrobats crew. Now, the LA-based emcee chats with comedians on his Secret Skin podcast (he's college pals with Hannibal Buress) and raps about checking his phone too often on his latest album, Hella Personal Film Festival. Mixing poignant observations with esoteric references, OME's music is like a window into a stream of conciousness that refuses to take itself too seriously. This concert is part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Once a guitarist in Kurt Vile's band, Steve Gunn struck out on his own to craft a signature blend of acoustic Americana, bluesy boogie and deep, nomadic jams. He's joined by Sonic Youth co-founder guitarist Lee Ranaldo, who has spent the years since the band's separation continuing to write twisting avant-rock songs. Meg Baird, who fronts Oakland psych rockers Heron Oblivion, supports.
Matt Skiba takes break from his new gig as lead singer of Blink-182 to reunite with Illinois punks Alkaline Trio. Expect to hear some cuts from the group's forthcoming ninth album, as well as plenty of pop-punk classics over the course of three nights at Metro. Heck, they may even bust out their cover of Berlin's 1982 single "The Metro."
Death Cab for Cuite frontman Ben Gibbard goes it alone during a speical two-night stand at Thalia Hall. The former king of sensitive, emotional indie rock hasn't put out a solo record since 2012's Former Lives, but he's got plenty of cuts from The O.C. soundtrack and some more recent tracks to fill out his set. Memphis singer-songwriter Julien Baker opens the show.
Ho! Hey! After providing the rollicking folk soundtrack to countless movie trailers and commercials, the Lumineers have returned with the slightly more mature Cleopatra. The Denver-based group's latest batch of tunes are bit more moody and reserved, reflecting upon its rapid rise to fame with spare acoustic instrumentation. Don't worry—you'll still have plenty of opportunities to sing (or shout) along. Violin-plucking singer songwriter Andrew Bird and grungy California folk rocker Margaret Glapsy support.
On its latest record, WALLS, Kings of Leon downplay the group’s Southern twang and embrace big, arena-ready rock in the style of former tour mates U2. They're the kind of songs that, for better or worse, pair perfectly with “Sex on Fire.” Show up early to catch an opening set from experimental indie rockers Deerhunter.
Scottish post-rock stalwarts Mogwai have been creating grandiose instrumental music for more than two decades—the kind of tracks that get included in movie trailers, French zombie TV shows and documentaries about the end of the world. During it's stop at Thalia Hall, the group will perform selections from its soundtrack for the 2015 doc Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, which uses archival footage to explore the benefits and dangers of nuclear science.
Melt your mind at the annual Chicago Psych Fest, which gathers trippy underground musicians of all persuasions. In its eighth year, the two-day festival offers up another solid lineup, beginning on Friday night with sets from psych rockers Post Animals (featuring Steve from Stranger Things), audio-visual duo Spectralina, local shoegazers Diagonal and synth tinkerer TALsounds. On Saturday, guitarists Ryley Walker and Bill MacKay join forces with drummer Michael Zerang, accompanied by sets from Dos Santos: Anti-Beat Orquesta, Magic Carpet and Metal Tongues
Combining reggae, rap-rock and a bit of ukulele balladry, Ohio duo Twenty One Pilots has become one of the hottest new pop acts—no wonder they’re so “Stressed Out.” The group's EMØTIØNAL RØADSHØW Tour rolls through the United Center—you better believe that these unlikely Top 40 juggernauts will sell the place out.
Art in Chicago in January
Egyptian artist Basim Magdy is a painter, photographer and filmmaker who creates surreal imagery that is based on his observations of reality. "The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings" is his first US museum survey, collecting works from throughout his career, including pieces which demonstrate his "pickling" process, in which he applies household chemicals to analog film.
The MCA's latest exhibition in its ongoing DNA series confronts the gender inequality that still haunts the art world. Named after the ‘90s feminist punk movement, "Riot Grrrls" showcases paintings by notable female artists like Mary Heilmann, Charline von Heyl and Judy Ledgerwood. The exhibition also features work by younger artists, including Molly Zuckerman-Hartung and Amy Feldman.
Coming to prominence as a DIY video artist in the early ‘90s, Benning's experimental shorts explored sexuality and gender with brutal honesty. The artist's latest exhibition focuses on recent abstract paintings, which juxtapose materials to create vibrant, cartoonish imagery.
Learn about the history of tattooing, a practice that dates back at least 5,000 years and holds different cultural connotations around the world. Developed by Paris’s musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, "Tattoo" contains 170 objects, including historical artifacts and detailed silicone models that are covered in ink.
The Art Institute puts its collection of 17th to mid-20th century drawing on display in its latest exhibition, which includes several pieces that have never been shown publicly. From a beach landscape sketched by Edgar Degas to a pastel drawing by "American Gothic" creator Grant Wood, "Master Drawings Unveiled" finally allows visitors to take in a quarter-century of significant acquisitions.
Examining the relationship between photographers and their subjects, "Witness" probes the various ways in which the circumstances surrounding the capturing of an image can define its message. Beginning with Walker Evans' vernacular photos from the 1940s and ending in a large-scale installation by Alfredo Jaar, the exhibit explores photography's changing role throughout the history of the medium.
A painter may insist on hanging their canvases on a gallery wall, but some artists prefer to blur the line between their work and the environment in which it is presented. In "Above, Before & After," the MCA assembles a collection of two- and three-dimensional works that exploit the relationship between art and the viewer.
Theater and Comedy in Chicago in January
Theo Ubique stages a jukebox musical by Always…Patsy Cline author Ted Swindley about a country girl group trying to make it in Nashville, with a song list that includes such chestnuts as “Stand By Your Man,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Harper Valley PTA.” Colette Todd, Jacquelyne Jones and Leryn Turlington star, with direction by Courtney Crouse.
This new fairy-tale meta narrative, about a pair of traveling storytellers scrambling to save their mysteriously dying subjects, is written and directed by Lookingglass ensemble member Doug Hara. The production features shadow puppetry by Manual Cinema and 3-D puppetry by Blair Thomas.
Cleese, a member of the legendary comedy troupe Monty Python (in addition to iconic roles in the likes of Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda) will appear at the Chicago Theatre for a conversation about Python and the creation of their film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The movie will screen in full, followed by Cleese’s talk and an audience Q&A.
Playwright Lucas Hnath is not one for conventional theatrics. His play Isaac’s Eye (seen here at Writers Theatre), is part historical lecture, part whole-cloth fiction about Isaac Newton. Hillary and Clinton, which premiered last spring at Victory Gardens, peeks in on an alternate-universe version of the presidential candidate during the 2008 race. Hnath’s upcoming Broadway debut is an unauthorized Ibsen sequel titled A Doll’s House, Part 2. The Christians, receiving a thoughtful Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf, is no exception. The 80-minute play takes the form of a service at an evangelical megachurch, complete with praise music (it’s well worth arriving early for the choir’s preshow warmup) and a central sermon from the church’s leader, Pastor Paul (an appreciably direct Tom Irwin, acing the cadence and character of contemporary preaching). Paul’s sermon presents his congregation with a theological conundrum: The pastor has ceased to believe in a literal Hell, and unilaterally declares this church he founded no longer believes in Hell, either. But Paul chose not to consult with anyone else before making this proclamation from the pulpit, and not everyone who hears it is ready for such a radical change. Contemporary American culture, whether theater, film, television or literature, sometimes treats characters and concerns like these with low esteem, or betrays a clear sense of which side the author considers right. Not so here; every character—including a dissenting asso
Irish Theatre of Chicago revisits Conor McPherson's supernatural-tinged depiction of pub dwellers trading local tales, which the company first staged in 2010 when it was known as Seanachaí Theatre Company. Previous cast members Brad Armacost, Sarah Wellington, Jeff Christian and Brad Smith returned, joined by Dan Waller.
Back in August, Second City Theatricals launched a touring show in collaboration with the online magazine Slate. Explicitly political but “completely unbiased,” Unelectable You attempted a journalism-esque false balance, suggesting that candidates Trump and Clinton, insurgent-turned-surrogate Sanders, the vast field of failed Republican candidates and the whole presidential process were equally worthy of send-up. The stab at objectivity made much of the material feel timid. Second City’s new mainstage cast makes no such claim to impartiality. The Winner…of Our Discontent, debuting just over a month after the election, delivers on its title: Its writer-performers are reeling, hurt, afraid and angry. Their reactions to the results of November 8, and the cognitive dissonance of its continuing repercussions, are understandably, admirably raw. But is Second City raw actually Second City at its most effective? You could argue that the institution’s proficiency with polish and spin have historically served it best in terms of explicitly political material. While I wouldn’t suggest that it’s these performers’ job to try to understand “the other side” any more than it’s their job to mend the republic, the political rhetoric in the new revue—which can feel like a good three-quarters of the show—is both as righteous and as lopsided as the average Facebook feed. Then again, perhaps any Trump voter coming to a comedy show in Chicago at this moment and expecting not to be chall
Theater Oobleck playwright Mickle Maher, who used PBS newsman Jim Lehrer as a character in 2007’s The Strangerer, doubles down in this new work that features Colm O’Reilly and Brian Shaw as dual versions of Lehrer in a gothic scenario with hints of Poe and Artaud.
Ron OJ Parson first directed this drama by Eugene Lee, about the denizens of a black-owned bar in 1950s Jim Crow Texas, as the inaugural production of the now-defunct Onyx Theatre Ensemble in 1995. Parson returns to the play at Writers with a cast that includes A.C. Smith, Namir Smallwood and Tyla Abercrumbie.