Is Chicago’s Music Scene Under Attack?
Corporate Interests Challenge Chicago Indie Culture:
If you follow the Chicago music scene, you may have read about development group Sterling Bay and their proposed, “Lincoln Yards” project.
Sterling Bay wants to transform over 70 acres of defunct industrial land along the Chicago River between the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods into “commercial and residential buildings, a soccer stadium, and entertainment venues,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Sterling Bay would also install a shiny new transportation hub, green space, and river access points.
Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel supports the plan, as he believes the tax revenue it would generate would benefit the city. Many Chicagoans, however, are concerned about the changes the project would bring. Many North and South side residents alike agree the project would slow down commuters with unwanted traffic congestion.
Another group standing firmly against the plan are Chicago’s independent music venues.
So What’s The Problem?
Music venues like, Thalia Hall, Schuba’s Tavern, Subterranean, and more have banded together in protest of the proposal. These venues have become ingrained in Chicago’s unique indie music scene and culture. Club owners feel that a large corporate development like the Lincoln Yards plan would threaten their businesses by raising prices and taking away patrons.
Sterling Bay plans to make entertainment company Live Nation the de-facto captain of the Lincoln Yards music scene. Established local venues worry that the mainstream appeal of Live Nation concerts will hurt the indie scene and take away business from venues that cater to the alternative crowd.
Several key venues have joined forces in opposition of Lincoln Yards, forming the Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL).
An article from Crain’s Chicago Business expresses the concerns of CIVL members:
“‘Conglomerate corporate music giants should look elsewhere,’ said Katie Tuten, co-owner of the Hideout, a North Side music club a few blocks from where Sterling Bay has proposed a 20,000-seat soccer stadium that would also host concerts. ‘We’re not inclined to tolerate soaring admissions and other costs that move entertainment beyond the means of local residents.’”
Should We Be Worried?
While an undertaking like Lincoln Yards will surely reshape the city and the music scene, some argue that this would not be disastrous, but a natural part of a competitive marketplace.
William Choslovsky, a writer for Crain’s Chicago Business, says, “If the new venues suck, guess what: patrons won’t go there. Sterling Bay—not the existing venues—will lose. And if the new venues are better—offering better artists at better prices in a better setting—then sorry, yes, other venues will suffer.”
Choslovsky might be right. Music is a democracy (for the most part) and fans can decide where they want to spend their dollar. I think that people will still have a say over which venues thrive and which ones remain empty.
Independent venues will continue to book acts that Live Nation would never host. Bands like Post Animal and Twin Peaks, two artists born and bred in the Chicago scene, won’t be playing at the Lincoln Yards U.S Cellular-Guaranteed-Rate-Miller-Lite-Stadium, or whatever terrible name the highest-bidding corporation slaps onto it.
Plus, the local venues can keep the affordable ticket prices that college-kids and budget concert fans love, because that will separate them from the new, bigger venues.
I’m no economist, but I have faith that despite new developments, the DIY, independent scene in Chicago will never die.
Hundreds of Chicagoans expressed their concerns about the project during a contentious and emotional November 29 meeting. There will be more meetings and surveys held as Sterling Bay looks to gain enough approval to go ahead with the project.