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How Chicago musicians are showing up

Thoughts on the shuttered music venues in the city

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inety percent of independent music venues are in danger of closing in the next few months, according to a new survey by the National Independent Venue Association (aka NIVA). We've already seen two spaces shutter in Chicago: Crown Liquors closed in April and California Clipper called it a day less than two weeks ago. More closures could irreparably damage Chicago's music ecosystem. These venues give local "unknowns" their first breaks, and legitimize the artistic endeavors of countless musicians who may never play outside the city. Having a space where Chicagoans can perform for the people in their community—loved ones, curious strangers, and venue regulars—forms the root of the city's culture.

I've written about NIVA's Save Our Stages campaign before, and will continue to do so for months to come. I've thought about the campaign in a slightly different light since last week, when I noticed local independent musicians mobilize to support Black and Brown communities. 

After Chicago Public Schools briefly suspended its food distribution program last Monday, local musicians were among the many who sprung into action to collect food (and funds for additional supplies) for those on Chicago's west and south sides in need. DJ Cash Era and rappers Ric Wilson and Matt Muse helped distribute food to hundreds of people outside Edmund Burke Elementary School in Washington Park. Members of Pivot Gang were part of the John Walt Foundation's Feed the West Side initiative in Austin's Columbus Park. Today and tomorrow, the crew behind Humboldt Park's Classick Studios will collect food and monetary donations for a food distribution program it launched Monday. I've seen musicians involved in these endeavors perform at Lincoln Hall, Metro, and at least one venue that closed long before this year (Township, which hosted a Saba headliner that also featured Noname, Ravyn Lenae, Smino, and Monte Booker in 2015). I fear what could happen if these spaces close for good before the pandemic ends.

My live-music anxieties took on a different tenor yesterday, after the city of Chicago announced that Lollapalooza would not go on as scheduled. The Tribune reported that Mayor Lightfoot says the Park District will renew its contract with Lollapalooza promoter C3 Presents next year, which concerns me beyond the potential likelihood of my least-favorite festival taking over Grant Park's summertime calendar for the next decade. In 2014, Live Nation, the largest multinational company in live entertainment, acquired a controlling stake in C3 Presents, roughly four years after Live Nation's merger with Ticketmaster. Last year, the Justice Department stated that Live Nation repeatedly violated its merger agreements intended to promote ticketing competition; in 2018, AEG Presents told DOJ officials that six of its venues were told they'd lose big performances if they didn't use Ticketmaster as a service. (Live Nation also manages 500 artists.)

All of this is to say that the Lollapalooza contract renewal comes at a time when independent venues are fighting off extinction, and when Live Nation has already posed a significant threat to spaces in Chicago. In late 2018, a group of local independent venue owners founded the Chicago Independent Venue League (aka CIVL) because of the threat their businesses faced on behalf of Rahm Emanuel fast-tracking Sterling Bay's Lincoln Yards mega development. As Mark Guarino reported for the Reader in January 2019, Live Nation is a partner in Lincoln Yards. The original plan for the "new neighborhood" included between three and five venues that Live Nation would operate—that idea has been scrapped, though a new plan hasn't come to light.

NPR's piece on NIVA's new survey mentions that people who work in independent music fear that the only venues left after the pandemic ends will be controlled by industry monoliths such as AEG and Live Nation. I fear this too when I see Lightfoot confirm the city's intent to sign a new Lollapalooza contract, and I hope the city extends a charitable hand to the independent venues that bolster the city's identity.

NIVA's site has a form letter you can send legislators on behalf of these spaces. And please continue supporting community organizations working on behalf of Black and Brown Chicagoans in need—S. Nicole Lane put together a great guide for how you can help.
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