Editorials

Does Size Really Matter?

We all go to concerts. The motivation behind each show we attend can differ. Do we go because of the performer, the location, the price, the atmosphere or something else entirely?

While a great performer can make an arena with a 50,000-person capacity feel as intimate as a coffee shop performance, you can’t deny that a venue plays a large part in the concert experience. Whether it’s a low stage, general admission with no seating, high ceilings for great acoustics or whatever else, there are multiple elements in a concert venue that effect the intimacy of a performance.

With that being said, here is a list of 15 venues in Chicago and their potential for an intimate concert.

Small:

The Hideout – located at 1354 West Wabansia

The Hideout is general admission only with a max capacity of 100 people. From the outside, it looks like an old tavern housed in a Chicago style home. With folding chairs and high ceilings decorated with Christmas lights, the seating area almost reminds you of a preschool’s play. Don’t let that deter you though because the small space is extremely intimate and is reminiscent of a high school party… but with a lot more sanity and legal drinking.

Subterranean – 2011 W North Ave

Big Wild at Subterranean, April 24, 2016

This two-floor venue has a capacity of 375 patrons. The stage is three short steps from the ground providing an intimate experience. There’s a balcony and an original tiffany’s chandelier that has withstood the sound of over 390 concerts. Overall this venue has a lowkey, underground feel.

The Empty Bottle – 1035 N Western Ave

The Empty Bottle is anything but empty. Their brick walls offer an old-style feel with a low set stage. Max capacity for this venue caps off at 400. As this venue is also a bar, all shows are 21+. It’s generally standing room, but there are seats by the bar. TEB is known by “Music Friendly Dancing” and nearly every Monday, this venue offers free shows.

Lincoln Hall – 2424 N Lincoln Ave

Split between two levels, Lincoln Hall offers a quality production without losing intimacy. The 25-foot ceilings help acoustic sets carry and the heat rise off the dance floor for EDM artists. Unless otherwise stated, shows here are 21+. This modern-meets-industrial venue holds 500 people. The stage is high off the ground for a traditional concert performance feel which takes away some of the intimacy from the performance.

Mid-size:

The Bottom Lounge – 1375 West Lake Street

Nestled near Union Park, The Bottom Lounge offers general admission to 700 people. It’s great for dancing and straight vibing to the music. Although it’s easy to get lost in the crowd here, that can be seen as a plus, especially if some concert creep won’t stop getting in your space.

Thalia Hall – 1807 South Allport Street

Thalia Hall is split between an open floor and a balcony with seats, this venue holds 800 people with shows being all-ages, unless noted otherwise. The stage is small in width and is about five feet off the ground. With general admission shows, it’s easy to make your way to the front and stare up at your favorite performer. There’s also plenty of room to dance around.

The Metro – 3730 North Clark Street

Located in Wrigleyville, the Metro generally hosts all-ages shows. Although there is a balcony, for certain shows though, it can be closed off. This venue holds a little over 1,000 people and is great for moshing. It has a wide stage for performers to play off of; it allows for a lot of interaction with the crowd if the performer is feeling up to it. Also, if you need a breather from the heat, you can step into the lobby to chill out for a minute…and you might just run into the opening act.

Concord Music Hall – 2047 North Milwaukee Avenue

Jai Wolf at Concord Music Hall, April 26, 2019

With room for 1,400, Concord Music Hall is ready for people to dance around and sing their lungs out on the open floor plan. There’s a high, wide-set stage that helps people in the back of the venue see the performer. Like most venues, the shows tend to be all-ages unless otherwise noted.

The Vic Theatre – 3145 North Sheffield Avenue

Although this theatre has the same capacity as Concord Music Hall, the set-up gives off a different vibe. The room is squarer and has balcony seating. Depending on the performer, and how much they get the crowd moving, it can be an intimate occasion.

The House of Blues – 329 North Dearborn Street

This funky venue reminds you of something you’d see in New Orleans. The tri-level structure spreads the 1,800 attendees out nicely. The open floor is great for dancing. The stage is a bit narrow and draws the attention towards it which helps make the space a tad more personal despite its size.

The Riviera Theatre – 4746 North Racine Avenue

Over 100 years old, this North Side venue can hold 2,500 people. The main floor is split into three seated sections. In addition, there’s a balcony seating area. This venue is the kind where you chill out and enjoy the music instead of breaking out all your dance moves.  

The Chicago Theatre – 175 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

The Chicago Theatre sits in the loop and holds 3,600 people. As this theatre is also used for musicals, the structure of the building is phenomenal for sound, and melodies carry far. A downside is that because this is a seated theatre, it can be hard to dance. As far as intimacy goes, there’s not a whole lot of it here. There is a balcony and mezzanine which helps concert goers see the stage. Overall, this theatre doesn’t prep the atmosphere for a personal performance experience.

Large:

Bylinebank Aragon Ballroom – 1106 West Lawrence Avenue

Zeds Dead at the Aragon Ballroom, December 21, 2019

Near uptown, this venue originally built in 1926 has a gorgeous inside. Cast your eyes to the ceiling and you’ll see a starry sky, and when it’s paired with an epic light show and trance music, you’re transported to another world entirely. Split between two levels, you don’t even realize that this venue holds 5,000. The structure of this venue, modeled after a Spanish village, carries sound well throughout the building.

United Center – 1901 W Madison St

If you’re looking for a light show with the opportunity to belt out your favorite lyrics alongside 23,000 other people, this venue hits the mark. This indoor arena is located near Chicago’s West Side. Usually, its space is used for sporting events, but it also hosts concerts as well. As with most larger venues, an intimate performance can be hard for a performer to maintain in a venue of this size. Playing venues of this size reveals the grit and ability of a performer’s stage talent in addition to their musical skills.

Soldier’s Field –1410 Museum Campus Dr

Considered part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, this outdoor arena is a football stadium that doubles as a concert venue. With a capacity of 61,500, intimacy can easily be lost. With such a large capacity, concert goers have to watch out for nosebleed seats. Depending on the performer, there may be floor seating. This can create an illusion of intimacy as you can see the performer’s facial expressions, but there is such an expansive crowd that a personal connection is lost. On another note, a venue of such size offers a crowd full of excitement; when over 60,000 people sing the same lyric together, it creates a magical moment.

So, does the size of a venue, really matter? No. In the end, it’s not the space that makes a great concert, it’s the performer.

Sarah Roberts

Just a music lover, concert goer, book reader, cookie eater college student on a never-ending pursuit of discovery.

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