Musicians and music-lovers alike will feel their pulses climb as they mount the front steps to the Old Town School of Folk Music. Located in a 43,000-square-foot former library, this beehive of musical activity boasts a 400-seat concert hall, music store, classrooms, resource center and rotating art exhibits. It's as much a concert venue as it is a learning center, and it's easy to lose an afternoon ducking in and out of its many quarters.
For the aspiring musician, Old Town offers a staggering number of classes, from standard guitar lessons to chord chemistry, harmonica, bluegrass banjo and ukulele, as well as songwriting, theater, yoga and dance; hip hop and belly-dancing lessons prove this place is about more than folk music alone. For inspiration on what to play, be sure to visit the Different Strummer music shop near the front entrance, which is regularly hailed as the best music store in Chicago for stringed instruments. Packed with sheet music, mandolins, guitars and drums, it's almost impossible to walk through this orderly space without wanting to take an instrument home. For the commitment-phobic, you can also rent an instrument here, and if you later decide to buy the instrument, a portion of your rental fee will go towards the purchase price.
Looking to listen to rather than make music? Old Town's intimate auditorium hosts regular concerts by local musicians and crowd-drawing national acts, such as the Magnetic Fields and Joni Mitchell. To keep you going between concerts, head to the Resource Center, a loungey space where you can kick back and listen to archived concerts and radio shows while flipping through a book or magazine from the impressive on-site library.
In February 2010, the school announced an $18 million expansion, with plans to build additional facilities across the street.
Centerstage Reviewer: Kate Rockwood