ANCHR Magazine

Holding you down with the best new music

Top Three for Free

If you're a music fan in Chicago with an appetite for live shows, but you've got no budget for concert tickets, never fear; ANCHR is here.  As a massive music fan myself, I've learned all the best ways to catch free shows in the city. While there's a bunch of different ways to get your music fix for free, here are my three personal favorite spots.


JBTV has been around for over 30 years, featuring interviews and performances with some of the biggest names in music.  And guess what? Every performance is taped in front of a live studio audience, and anyone can attend the tapings for free with an RSVP.  The catch? A lot of the times (not always, though) shows are filmed in the early afternoon before the band plays their full gig in the evening and usually it's an up and coming act that you might not have even heard of yet.  However, if you can use your lunch hour to swing by the studio, it's totally worth it, and it's almost guaranteed to be an "I saw ____ before they were big" moment.  Popular artists like Twenty One Pilots, Bastille, The 1975, Hozier, BANKS, Borns, and Catfish and The Bottlemen all got their starts on the JBTV stage. Sometimes, bigger artists swing by the studio, though, so always keep you eyes on JBTV's website for all the information on shows. Just yesterday, they had Arkells back in the studio, and they've had bands like Walk The Moon and The Wombats make return appearances after having major international success. There's also plenty of evening and weekend shows if you can't make the more frequent lunchtime performances. 

The Wombats at JBTV

The Wombats at JBTV

WXRT Blue Cross Blue Shield Performance Stage/ Studio X

Plenty of radio stations offer free in-studio performances from artists on their playlist rosters, but few do it as well as XRT.  Although they'll sometimes have long breaks between BCBS Performance Stage sets or Studio X sessions, this week the station is hosting three contests for free performances.  The best part is that they're all great artists, including The Lemon Twigs and Bear's Den. Like JBTV, the BCBS stage performances tend to be in the early afternoon, but in the past year or so, I've managed to win slots to see artists like Jack Garratt, Shura, Warpaint, Allen Stone, and Twin Peaks.  Then, XRT even has a separate segment called Studio X, which entails a secret, larger show at different venues around town. For New Years Eve, XRT got Houndmouth to play a free set to a packed Reggies Rock Club, and they've also had Band of Horses, James Bay, George Ezra, and Phoenix.  Stay in the loop by signing up for these performance slots on XRT's website. You do need to win a space at these performances, but all you need to do is fill out an online form (no crazy call-in contests) and they seem to do a fair job of rotating winners.

Catfish and The Bottlemen at the BCBS Stage

Catfish and The Bottlemen at the BCBS Stage

The Virgin Hotel

In general, The Virgin Hotel is one of the best places in the city...on earth, even.  I've had the luxury of actually staying at the Virgin Hotel once, but I've been there more than a couple dozen times for events over the past two years.  Besides hosting killer DJ sets from artists like Questlove, Haim,and Wild Belle, they've had plenty of live shows by the likes of The Orwells, Parquet Courts, Grizfolk, Coasts, HAELOS and Seinabo Sey...just to name a few. The shows are for the most part free with an RSVP, and most of the DJ sets happen on the rooftop, free views included.  The best part is, the hotel has all the amenities of a luxury hotel without an added snooty factor... Employees are friendly and welcoming, and they're always up for hosting non-hotel guests at their events. Next month, they're hosting a free gig on February 11th with American Grizzly, Lucille Furs, and Joe Bordenaro & The Late Bloomers.  Head to their Twitter page for all the latest details. 

Broods at Virgin Hotels Chicago

Broods at Virgin Hotels Chicago

For even more free live music in Chicago, follow local record stores, like Reckless Records and Shuga, on social media for any in-store performance opportunities, sign up for Sofar Sounds' mailing list, and text "LOUNGE" to 312-101 for updates on Sound Lounge performances at WKQX's studio (they tend to be harder to get into than the XRT ones, but good luck!) You can even sign up for street team positions at local venues to score free tickets to gigs. As always, keep your eyes on ANCHR's Twitter, as we also give away free gig tickets from time to time. 

And there you have it... your guide to seeing more live music this year!

P.S. If you're not in Chicago, you should still look into local record stores and radio stations, Sofar Sounds, and street teaming for free gig opportunities.

Words and Photos by Rachel Zyzda