So, you're trying to save money; you're certainly not the only one. But just because you're worried about your future, it doesn't mean you can't still have fun. Take live music, for example. There are concert options across the city that cost less than a premium beer. Here are a few to check out.
Go global at Old Town School of Folk Music's World Music Series
Wednesdays; free ticketed event, $5 suggested donation
Year after year, this esteemed music school teaches aspiring artists how to entertain themselves - and they do it on the cheap. But sometimes, you want to be entertained, not instructed, and that's where this seasonal series comes in. These globe-spanning shows cover everything from classical Greek music to Flamenco fusion, but you've got to reserve a seat - so contact the school's box office a few days beforehand if you're excited about a show (note: some events cost a bit more, especially those with big names).
Try something new at the Empty Bottle
Chances are, if you're a rock fan, you've discovered at least one new band to love at this Ukrainian Village hipster haven. So put some faith in the booker's taste by heading over on select Mondays, when little-known bands (even to music nerds) perform for free - it's a cheap way to enjoy one of the city's most legendary clubs, and you might even find a new favorite not even you're biggest music-nerd friends know about. If you prefer a known quantity, drop by after work on Fridays (5:30 p.m.), when the Hoyle Brothers unleash their hard-country honky-tonk for nothin'.
Discover the Double Door's unplugged side at the Dirtroom
Most nights, a decent rock or hip-hop show is sure to be playing at the Double Door. But if too many of those $15 covers are burning a hole in your wallet, head to the Double Door downstairs bar, the Dirtroom, for an acoustic alternative. On selected nights (usually Sundays or Mondays) you can catch local musicians performing everything from folk and alt-country to lo-fi indie rock.
Immerse yourself in late-night jazz at Green Mill
No cover on Friday after 1:30 a.m. and Saturday after 2 a.m.
Uptown's historic Green Mill Lounge is a prime spot to see local jazz greats in their element. But on weekends, the venue reveals its reputation as one of the best places in the city for free live music. On Saturday nights, groove with Sabertooth, the local group that's been holding court at the Green Mill After-Hours Jazz Party for over 15 years. Be warned; though the Green Mill heats up well after midnight, the place is often packed by 9 p.m. If you dare to show up late, don't expect to get a seat.
Take a chance at Phyllis' Musical Inn
Cover is usually between $3-$5
Remember those grab bags you used to get at birthday parties when you were a kid? Think of this unpretentious dive bar as the grab bag of the Chicago music scene, with a rotating selection of live bands—jazz, hard rock, hip-hop—featured at least five nights a week. Many new bands from Chicago and across the Midwest score their first live gigs here. While that can sometimes lead to an evening of crappy music, you will occasionally stumble upon a undiscovered gem of a band or performer. Phyllis' is really more about atmosphere than music, but broad-minded music fans can still come away with an economical night to remember.
Go back to basics at Hideout
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.; donations accepted
When you don't have much money to spend, you learn to appreciate the simpler things in life - like an acoustic blues band playing in the corner of a bar (even when there's a perfectly good stage in back). Devil in a Woodpile's shows seem to come from a time before amplifiers, with their reliance on washboards, harmonicas and even kazoos. But the band (and the crowd, for that matter) offers more energy than you'll see at most large-scale rock shows. Grab a PBR, tap your feet and put a few dollars in the tip jar when it comes your way. You'll be glad you did.
Looking to see a big-name DJ? Many clubs (Enclave, Lumen) offer lower admission fees if you RSVP beforehand.