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The Whistler, Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few
Photograph: Victoria Sanders

Where to see free concerts in Chicago

Want to see live music on the cheap? Catch a free concert at these venues, bars and restaurants.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
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With so many amazing music venues in Chicago, it's never difficult to find a great show to attend. While the options for free concerts in Chicago are a bit more limited, it's possible to find gigs that don't cost a dime. Most of the city's free music can be found during the warm summer months, when Millennium Park hosts gratis shows and street festivals pop up in neighborhoods. But some of the best bars in Chicago (and a few venues) keep free concerts going year-round, showcasing local bands and DJs. Not sure where to go? We've rounded up the best spots to catch free concerts in Chicago. And if you like what you see, donations are always welcome!

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

In addition to host some of the best chefs in the city and no less than three bars, Time Out Market Chicago regularly acts as a venue for live music. During the summer, you can catch live performance's on the food hall's sidewalk patio. And during the rest of the year, there's jazz every Sunday during the Feed Your Soul Jazz Brunch and DJs spinning tunes on Friday and Saturday nights. Keep an eye on Time Out Chicago to learn about even more free concerts and events!

Where to see free concerts in Chicago

  • Music
  • Rock and indie
  • Ukrainian Village
  • price 1 of 4

One of Chicago's most hallowed rock clubs is fairly generous when it comes to free concerts. On some Mondays, you'll find local acts (and occassionally a touring band) taking the Empty Bottle's stage for a free gig—use some of that extra dough to tip your bartender. Plus, on Friday afternoons around 5:30, you'll often find legendary local honky tonk group the Hoyle Brothers playing a free set to kick off the weekend. Plus, keep an eye out for gratis shows outside of the Bottle, including the venue's annual Music Frozen Dancing festival that takes place in the dead of winter.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Millennium Park

In the summer, there's no better place for free live music than Millennium Park—specifically the Prtizker Pavilion, which hosts a deluge of outdoor shows once the weather warms up. The park is the site of annual festivals (with free admission) like the Chicago Blues Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Grant Park Music Festival. Plus, it's the host of the Millennium Park Summer Music Series, which brings local a touring bands to the Pavilion for a series of free concerts. And you can also catch the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus rehersing if you swing by during the afternoon on weekdays during June, July and August.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

Snag a seat in the front room at Pilsen institution Honky Tonk Barbecue in the evening, and there's a decent chance that a band will take the stage while you're digging into a plate of brisket or ribs. True to its name, the restaurant hosts free gigs featuring honky tonk, country and blues acts—just check the Honky Tonk Barbecue Facebook page for the latest schedule. And if you don't feel like listening to the music while you eat, you can (mostly) escape it by grabbing a table in the back room.

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Logan Square
  • price 1 of 4

A longtime gathering place for Logan Square musicians, artists and other creative types, it's no surprise that you can often find someone on stage in the back room at Cole's. Shows are always free (though donations are welcome) and typically feature local rock, punk and hip-hop acts. More of a comedy fan? On Wednesdays, Cole's hosts a weekly open mic night where you'll find novices and more experienced stand-ups turning in four-minutes sets.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

Tucked inside the entertainment epicenter that is Thalia Hall, Tack Room is a hidden piano saloon that's decked out in equestrian-themed decor and wax-dripping candelabras. It's only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but you'll nearly always find a local singer-songwriter, jazz combo or piano player performing for the cocktail-sipping crowd. If it's the latter, expect sing-alongs to familiar tunes—you might even be able to request one of your favorites.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Logan Square
  • price 2 of 4

The Whistler may be best known for its creative window displays and solid cocktail menu, but it's also one of the best places in town to see local jazz musicians and DJs that spin deep cuts while exploring niche genres of music—and there's rarely a cover fee. Swing by for the longrunning Relax Attack Jazz Series on Wednesday nights or show up to hear city pop, techno and house music from the collections of local selectors.

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