Playing a different tune
Cultural spots add music to their summer shows.
In summer, it’s hard to compete with street fairs: good food, excited crowds, and—best of all—live, outdoor music. But a few of the city’s cultural attractions aren’t letting summer go to the fairs without putting up a fight. We rounded up three museums and one zoo that open their doors past regular closing time and transform into after-work hangouts. A different musical act plays at each weekly or monthly installment. Some of these soirees focus on the performers, and some are all about the singles scene. But each eschews those classic festival hazards—fly-filled garbage cans, half-naked hillbillies—and adds a cultural twist to outdoor imbibing.
Tuesdays on the Terrace at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Those who immediately guess that this is a jazz-themed First Fridays (the museum’s flirting-fueled exhibition openings) are more than a little off; instead think Velvet Lounge—the South Loop jazz venue—without walls, and you’d be on the right track. At Tuesdays on the Terrace, the live jazz attracts die-hard band groupies and newcomers who also are invested in the music. The evening we were there, local avant-garde saxophonist (and Velvet Lounge owner) Fred Anderson was the featured act, and a good mix of folks intently checked him out. However, if you feel the need to mill around, the sounds carry out into the MCA’s sculpture garden just beyond the terrace. You can stroll the grounds, and maybe strike up a convo or two. Inspirational words from the MCA itself: “If it rains, we move inside. Jazz stops for nothing.” 220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660). Tuesdays 5:30–8pm, through Sept 25. See listings.
Jazzin’ at the Shedd
At this concert series sponsored by smooth-jazz station WNUA-FM, the Shedd Aquarium boasts two bands, but we’ll give you the real breakdown: The outdoor patio is where adult singles get together and mix. The indoor lobby is where kids roam around freely with their parents, osmosing jazz while pondering the sea horses, sea dragons and snapping turtles that reside in king-size fish tanks. The two setups are in different, unconnected areas of the building and the sound doesn’t reach through all the winding halls. That’s probably why the offerings seem more popular than the music: There’s an eccentric menu (including jambalaya) to tide you over whenever you aren’t checking for lottery numbers on the patio (yes, there are prize giveaways), pocketing phone numbers or gazing at fish. But even though the jazz was primarily background music when we were there, the band did have its followers; one fan in the chowline asked us, “Are they jammin’ out there? ’Cause I wish they’d pipe the music indoors so we can hear ’em!” 1200 S Lake Shore Dr (312-939-2438). Thursdays 5:30–10pm, through Aug 30.
Chicago History Museum’s Play Chicago
Ever since this museum’s digs got a chic rehab in 2006, we’ve been to one beautiful, well-catered event after another. This monthly concert series is no exception: If it’s nice outside, the show takes place on the museum’s well-manicured lawn and plaza. If it’s cold, the museum erects a swanky, heated tent, big enough to hold the average 200- to 400-strong crowd. Either space makes for an intimate concert featuring bands curated by Chicago’s beloved alt-rock station WXRT. (Previous acts have run the gamut from Buddy Guy to local jam band Cornmeal.) However, if you don’t love the featured musical act, the series can get dull: The museum is closed during the last hour of the show, and the loud music squelches chatter. A bar (admission includes one drink) loosens the lips of the many singles who attend, so we’d advise you to get that hottie’s digits before the second act hits the stage, and drowns out your pickup lines. 1601 N Clark St (312-642-4600). The Changes play Jul 12, 5:30–9pm. $20, $15 advance.
Jammin’ at the Zoo
This monthly concert series kicked off its first installment on a rainy night in June, but damp weather didn’t deter a few thousand alt-rock fans. Folks ranging from suburban teens to fortysomething singles and their tots—gripping drinks and king-size soft pretzels—overflowed the lawn near the zoo’s café to hear ’90s rockers Everclear. Although some of the zoo was closed—and tchotchkes doled out by car cell-phone companies nearly stifled the cultural vibe—we took a break during the show and enjoyed watching some active leopards in the Kovler Lion House, which stays open all night. Lincoln Park Zoo (2200 N Cannon Dr, 312-742-2000). Toad the Wet Sprocket plays Jul 27, 6–10pm. $20.