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Small Venues with Big Impact

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There is nothing quite like live music at a small venue. The feeling of the sticky floor flexing beneath your feet struggling to cradle your jump. The surreal connection you form with the artist. The swaying fans channeling one collective emotion. The emerging concert couples navigating a new layer of love with each verse. The moment when our screams meld with the musician’s soul breathing harmony into the venue. I even love the post-concert ring bouncing between my ears reminding me that tonight—I lived.

A cozy dose of live music evokes an emotion that lives in the oxymoronic state of united intimacy. But since the initial restrictions in response to COVID-19, our craving for this rare experience cannot be answered. What started with increased sanitation measures quickly became the postponement of all live music events, closing box offices at the signature Chicago venues we love. The bathroom walls of Empty Bottle need a new tattoo, nobody has been stargazing in the Aragon Ballroom, and Schlitz is waiting in the tap at Schubas Tavern.

A performance at Subterranean (photo by James Currie)

These smaller venues fuel the heartbeat of Chicago. They not only act as a springboard for rising stars, but they employ thousands of people throughout the city who are now seeking unemployment. “While one venue in the grand scheme might not seem like much to an outsider, there are hundreds of people who make a show happen,” said Shannon Nico Shreibak, Associate Marketing Director at Empty Bottle, Empty Bottle Presents, and Thalia Hall, “it’s important to band together as independent venues  and remind not only the general public but the government that we are vital to the cultural landscape of not only our city but the country and the world.”

Postponements within larger event corporations like Live Nation are taking over headlines, muffling the smaller venues’ cry for help and leaving them to struggle without government aid. “They do have that name recognition and visibility, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any more important than an independent venue that has been thriving in the city long before this pandemic happened,” Shreibak said.

It’s a sad irony when the very venues that give artists a platform to raise their voices are now voiceless. However, Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) is trying to change that. They are a coalition that advocates on behalf of Chicago’s independent performance venues and right now they’re needed more than ever. “These venues were one of the first to shut down and we’re going to be the last to reopen,” said Cassie Dickson, a project manager at Schubas and CIVL. They recently reported that 16 venues in the coalition have canceled over 1,200 events, lost about 300,000 audience members, and lost over $7 million in revenue.

From Chicago Independent Venue League

To further amplify their message, they’re joining forces with National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to fight for assistance and show the cultural and financial impact of independent music venues throughout the country. “It’s really scary because you know some of the really small guys might not be able to make it through all of this,” Dickson said, “right now it’s brutal but it’s been eye-opening and really cool to see CIVL-type groups being formed all over the country now.”

Your voice matters! Take action to save our stages and support local venues here: https://www.nivassoc.org/take-action

While their collective voice pushes venues through the uncertainty, individual fans are also making a difference. People are showing their support for their favorite venues and musicians so everyone can keep making art in these harrowing times. “Through tough times we really need that art. It brings us comfort and to think that these artists are suffering through this in ways that prevent them from being able to share their art or cause them to have to worry about their basic survival is scary,” said Dan Conroe who is the Marketing Director at City Winery Chicago.

Sleeping Village sleeps

You can support Chicago venues by buying gift cards, merch, food or drinks if available and purchasing tickets to future shows knowing that your ticket will be honored if postponed or refunded if canceled. Many venues also have a GoFundMe where you can donate directly. This is also a great time to purchase albums and merch from artists whose livelihood has been stripped away with the venue closings

With a national voice and support from fans, hopefully smaller venues will pump blood into Chicago’s music scene once again. “I think people are going to enter live music with a newfound appreciation. I know that I will,” Shreibak said, “everyone is craving human connection of any sort and I think that live music is one of the more potent avenues for connection. So, I think once we’re allowed to enjoy it in any capacity, it’s going to be a completely different emotional experience.”

Julia Colasanti
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