Find Your Beat at One of These 10 Stellar Midwest Music Venues

The Midwest’s music history cuts deep. See your favorite band—or discover a new one—at these rockin' spots, both storied and new.

Salt Shed Chicago
The Salt Shed. Photo: Catalina Flores

Margo Price steps up to the microphone at HI-FI in Indianapolis. Touring for her first album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, Price's reputation as an absolute tour de force on stage has carried north from Nashville. The crowd presses closer; I'm front row, eager to finally see her in person.

The Fountain Square venue, which had just doubled its capacity to 400 people before this show, has a reputation for putting the best acts from around the country in front of some of the most fervent music fans. So when the Illinois native and her band, the Price Tags, take the stage in front of HI-FI's geometric acoustical tile backdrop, we can feel that magic is about to happen.

Margo Price
Margo Price at HI-FI. James Brosher

For the next two hours, Price belts and bellows, wriggles and wiggles, strums an acoustic guitar, and hammers a tambourine. The crowd drinks it in, demands even more. She has absolute control over the room. When she wraps the microphone cord around her hand and leans off the stage, there's an intimacy that can only be experienced between a live performer and their audience. When we funnel out of the club after the show, we know we were part of something truly great. Today, a hand-painted portrait of Price resides in the back hall of HI-FI, commemorating that night.

Music has always been the lifeblood of the Midwest: Cleveland claims to be the birthplace of rock and roll. Detroit gave us Motown. Chicago was arguably the country music capital of the world before Nashville shoved it off the throne. Bill Monroe, the widely acknowledged Father of Bluegrass Music, called Indiana home for most of his life and started Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, still going strong in Morgantown today. And we can't forget St. Louis, a gateway for the blues. On almost every night in any major city in Middle America, you'll find both world-famous artists and hard-touring bands plying their sounds to packed rooms.

You don't need much when you've got great music, but at the right venue—an upcycled church, a reclaimed movie theater, a beachy ballroom with lore to spare—it's even better. So throw on your vintage Johnny Cougar T-shirt and go see your favorite band (or discover a new one) at one of these 10 rockin' spots.

Listen Now: Hear Tunes from the Artists in This Story on Our Spotify Playlist

The Salt Shed, Chicago
Sandra Steinbrecher

The Salt Shed, Chicago

The Salt Shed may be the newest venue on this list—it opened in 2022—but it's seasoned with history. Built on the site of a 94-year-old Morton Salt facility, the indoor-outdoor concert spot retained the giant, iconic umbrella logo and tagline painted on the roof. Fans thirsty for live music can grab food and drinks before the show and browse music and vintage retail shops at seasonal outdoor markets within the locale. The Windy City skyline provides the perfect backdrop for hot artists like Elle King, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, and Japanese Breakfast.

"The beautiful thing about the venue vibe is that it can adapt to any show," says The Salt Shed's Kris English. "We're a very welcoming space with diverse programming, and that's what we will always strive to be."

Duke's Honky Tonk, Indianapolis
Robert Annis

Duke's Honky Tonk, Indianapolis

Cheap Lone Star bottles and the love of live music bring loyal patrons to Duke's Honky Tonk every week. A pink neon sign above the stage reminds newcomers to "Please Shut the F*$% Up" as artists like Justin Wells and Summer Dean perform. Cowboy hats line the top of the stage, and a vinyl turntable spins classic country albums during breaks between sets.

The passion project of the late, great Dustin Boyer—a former Sun King brewer with a contagious love for live country music—Duke's brings the best old-school and country-adjacent artists to Indy. Sold-out shows see up to 150 folks in their finest pearl-snap shirts and cowgirl boots dancing shoulder to shoulder, and looking good doing it. Duke's "offers nothing but love and respect for artists," says Mary Beth Richardson, the powerhouse lead vocalist of Banditos and a frequent performer here. "That can be hard to find. We appreciate how much care they give to everyone who comes through here. It's a very kind, loving place."

Schubas Tavern, Chicago

A 1903 Schlitz Brewery building-turned-cozy neighborhood bar, Schubas is one of the best low-key spots to see a show in Chicago. For many bands like The National and Band of Horses, playing at the Lakeview landmark is a rite of passage, a sign they're moving up, both in the Windy City and in the music world.

Separated from the main bar, the wood-paneled concert hall gives off a 1970s basement vibe, but the sounds created inside those walls are modern. Walking into the room for the first time, you might ask yourself, "What's so special about this place?" But there's an electricity that crackles through it, one not caused by a faulty amplifier: a perfect synergy of legendary venue, dedicated fan base and sheer talent.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, Wisconsin
Courtesy of Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, Wisconsin

It's not unusual to see tents pitched near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, but this massive big top perched outside Bayfield will likely stop you in your tracks … until the beats inside get you moving again. "When you look around and realize where you are—at the edge of nowhere, surrounded by woods, overlooking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, under a spectacular night sky with the occasional Northern Lights show— it's pretty special," says Big Top's Seth Meierotto.

Featured artists, such as Brandi Carlile and Steve Earle, draw a mix of local families and vacationers to the venue. When the 1,000 seats sell out inside the tent—a regular occurrence—hundreds more fans set up outside with camp chairs. Very apropos.

Uptown Theater Kansas City
Courtesy of Uptown Theater

Uptown Theater, Kansas City, Missouri

Abandoned and on the brink of demolition, the Uptown Theater was saved by a $15 million renovation in 1996, making it one of Kansas City's premier music venues. The interior may be the most beautiful setting you'll find at a rock concert. Resembling a Mediterranean courtyard, intricate arches and balconies line the sides, while a night-sky motif with twinkling stars and clouds glitters above. Buddy Guy, Maddie and Tae,Orville Peck, and Grand Funk Railroad have all entertained crowds of up to 2,400 people here.

The Southgate House Revival
Jonathan Stout

The Southgate House Revival, Newport, Kentucky

An amazing concert can feel like a religious experience, and at The Southgate House Revival, a refurbished 1866 church, it might just be one. The venue, just across the river from Cincinnati, has three separate stages—The Sanctuary, The Lounge and The Revival. The Sanctuary often hosts nationally touring acts like the Old 97's or Jon Spencer, while the smaller stages allow for varied sounds from up-and-comers. It's not unusual fora metal band to play one room while a country or hip-hop artist graces another on the same night.

Surf Ballroom Clear Lake Iowa
Courtesy of Surf Ballroom

Surf Ballroom and Museum, Clear Lake, Iowa

Palm trees flank the stage at this historic music hall, and surf-influenced murals on the walls and ceiling evoke a 1950s beach feel at the Surf Ballroom in rural Iowa. But it's history that seeps up from the maple dance floor. Before their tragic plane crash, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson performed their last show at the Surf in 1959. The venue has since been designated a historic landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the National Park Service.

If this sounds like the perfect spot for Brian Wilson to croon some of his Beach Boys chart toppers, you're right— he's sold out the venue in the past. Despite the beach-blanket motif and shows from vintage artists like Wilson and The Guess Who, the Surf isn't stuck in the past. Current artists routinely play here too.

"The acoustics in the building surround and embrace you," says Executive Director Laurie Lietz. "There's no better place to experience live music." If you're passing through on an off-night, the Surf offers both guided and self-guided tours.

HI-FI, Indianapolis

Music comes together in three ways inside (and outside) the historic Murphy Arts Center building in Fountain Square. Up-and-coming artists typically play the second-floor LO-FI Lounge, while the Black Pumas and other popular bands play the 400-person capacity room below. Repurposed cymbals and snare drums hang above the bar as light fixtures. Posters from previous concerts at HI-FI and other classic venues line the walls. In warmer months, the HI-FI Annex takes over the building's parking lot, where an eclectic mix of artists like Matt Nathanson, Sevendust, Beach Bunny, and Band of Horses have entertained capacity crowds.

Last year, HI-FI's owners also opened Easy Rider Diner next door for noshes before the noise. Hand-drawn portraits of famous musicians hang in several of the booths.

Local artist Connor McLaren has played all three HI-FI stages. "To paraphrase Bob Dylan, it always feels like something is happening there," he says, "even if you don't know exactly what it is."

Blueberry Hill St. Louis
Ryan Donnell

Blueberry Hill, St. Louis

Pop-culture memorabilia—think huge jukeboxes, tiny PEZ dispensers, and all bric-a-brac in between—fills the walls at Blueberry Hill. A larger-than-life Pac-Man mural provides a backdrop for diners; a giant stuffed marlin swims above the bar.

This kitschy venue has dished out heaping helpings of food and beer for more than 50 years, but the tasty jams came a bit later. Rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry (a big fan of Blueberry Hill's chicken wings) played the first-ever show in the 340-person capacity Duck Room back in 1997. A good friend of proprietor Joe Edwards, Berry would continue to play monthly for more than 17 years. (Edwards is a bit of aSt. Louis legend himself, co-owning several businesses down the street in the famous Delmar Loop, including another music venue, The Pageant.)

"Blueberry Hill is beloved by both tourists and locals," says local fan Jo Duncan. "You never know who you will run into at the bar or in the restaurant—it could be your neighbor or the touring band playing down the street. From the minute you walk in the door, you know you are going to have fun!"

Majestic Theatre Detroit
Jennifer Arnett— Starloft Photography

The Majestic Theatre, Detroit

The Majestic's colorful Art Deco facade and motifs hint at its roots as a playhouse and movie theater. Once boasting 1,650 seats, The Majestic was considered one of the world's largest movie theaters; with the rise of the shopping-mall multiplex during the 1980s, it pivoted to live music. The building's exterior—one of the largest enameled metal-paneled Art Deco facades in the Midwest—contributed to the venue's status on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, a booming sound system fills the cavernous hall, creating a unique sonic landscape. If you want to be close to the stage, bring your ear plugs. A virtual who's who of music history has played the Midtown musical monument over the decades, including The Black Keys, George Clinton, Wilco, Sheryl Crow, and Fela Kuti. The same facility is also home to The Magic Stick, a smaller venue that doubles as a pool hall-dance club, and the rooftop Alley Deck for drinks before or after a concert.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles