Skip to main content

Home Life Life Travel

Year of Chicago Music: Your guide to the city’s music scene

2020 is officially the 'Year of Chicago Music' - so what's there to enjoy in the urban jewel in Illinois' crown?

By Will Stroude

From a cozy bar soaked in the rich tones of famous blues musicians to crowded venues jammed with people digging into the newest emerging hip hop artist, Chicago is home to a deep musical tradition that spans generations.

And after wonderful year-long celebrations of Chicago theater, public art, and creative youth, 2020 has been finally designated as the ‘Year of Chicago Music’.

In this celebration, the city will come alive with events that represent the cornerstones of Chicago music. The banner event is the new, 17-day music festival tentatively called the June Festival.

This citywide fest will connect the annual Chicago House Music Festival, Chicago Gospel Music Festival, and Chicago Blues Festival into a multi-week celebration of Chicago music from the end of May through to mid-June.

Of course, you don’t need to wait for one of the festivals to celebrate Chicago’s storied musical heritage. Neighborhoods all over the city have venues, smaller events, and museums dedicated to raising the profile of the city’s prolific music scene. 

Let’s start with Kingston Mines. This North Side staple has been programming two stages of live blues music for over 50 years and is currently the longest running blues club in Chicago today. At Buddy Guy’s Legends, famous guitarist Buddy Guy has been representing the blues in his South Side club for years. Buddy himself plays shows in January, but all year round you can find some of the best blues acts playing each night.

Kingston Mines, Chicago

Close to the Loop and the Magnificent Mile, Andy’s Jazz Club has been a prime scene for jazz and a favorite of Chicago visitors. However, this place fills up fast so make sure to get there early. In the South Loop, the Jazz Showcase has been a mainstay of the jazz scene in Chicago since 1947 and is currently one of the oldest jazz clubs today.

In the far north Uptown neighborhood, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge owns the distinction of being the longest continuously running jazz club in the country today. Since it opened as a speakeasy in 1907, this cultural icon is home to live jazz and big bands every night.


A former opera house in Pilsen built in 1892, Thalia Hall is one of the well-known musical venues in the city. While this venue does not feature a specific genre of music, you can find many famous and emerging local musicians playing to sold-out crowds.

As the Chicago outpost for a chain of music venues, the House of Blues found in the River North neighborhood still has a distinctly Chicago flair mixed with the venue’s roots in the Mississippi Delta. Swing by on Sundays to join in on Gospel Brunch, to hear rich gospel in the city that helped make that genre a sensation.

You can also celebrate the Year of Chicago Music at many of the events in the city during the year. At the 40th annual Taste of Chicago, a free festival celebrating the diverse range of food in the city, Chicago music will be highlighted specifically in their programming. Stay tuned to the Taste of Chicago’s website for music announcements and headliners as we get closer to the festival, which runs from July 8-12. 

Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago

This year the Millennium Park Summer Music Series is being co-programmed, for the first time ever, with local venues and record companies. Running from June through August, this free weekly event showcases both established and up-and-coming artists at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Don’t miss out on these concerts, as there’s nothing comparable to listening to live music in the center of Chicago.

The heart of so many forms of music beats on in Chicago. Whether you want to enjoy a night of soul rending blues ballads, a crush of people enjoying the latest beats, or a brilliant outdoor festival scored by the sounds of generations past, you can find it here.