Getting the band back together: how local musicians are saving Chicago venues
Story | Kendall Polidori
With time being of the essence, 25 Chicago artists and a handful of venue owners, producers and artists came together to release an album to help the Chicago music scene.
“The idea of the project is, we’re in this very bizarre place together and that is how everyone’s mind feels right now,” said Trey Elder, the mastermind behind “situationchicago.”
In the thick of the first month of Chicago’s mandated stay-at-home order, Elder, who is the founder and president of the nonprofit Quiet Pterodactyl, dedicated to supporting Chicago art and music communities, found himself not knowing what to do.
“I realized one, this is not going to be over soon, and two, why did I start a nonprofit for music and the arts if I am going to sit on my hands?” Elder said.
In order to make an impact in the music community, Elder needed a broad outreach—which local music venues across the city had. Elder contacted every music venue in Chicago, ending up with a total of 25 independently-owned venues represented on the project.
The venues are the heart and purpose of the album, as all proceeds will be split up and given directly to them.
Tim Tuten, president and co-owner of the Hideout and co-founder of the Chicago Independent Venue League, said he is thankful to be part of the project because it is reflective of Chicago’s spirit and history.
The Hideout, an independent live music and entertainment venue, has been closed since March and Tuten said it is not likely its doors will reopen until summer next year. His staff of 34 meets weekly over Zoom to check in and despite not working they are still hustling by doing odd jobs, volunteering or calling on elected officials to get legislation passed for concrete financial support for music venues.
“What we do here is all about community,” Tuten said.
Tuten said Chicago’s music scene is heavily influenced in helping others and that the album is not necessarily about the sound, but is about sensibility because everyone in the music community “needs each other now more than ever.”
When reaching out to artists, Elder said it was important the album covered as many parts of Chicago music as possible, without following a specific theme. His only requirements for artists who were on board were to provide a song that is not accessible on any other platform and to not make it a “sad ass pandemic bum of a record.”
“I wanted them to send me bangers,” Elder said.
Which is why he initially contacted Bryan Doherty, bassist for Hood Smoke—after hearing the band’s song “Seneca Lake,” he knew it had to be featured.
Doherty said “situationchicago” is crucial in reminding people how important it is to support those in the music community right now.
“This should be important to everyone. Music is part of [everyone’s] identity,” Doherty said.
Alex White of Chicago garage-rock duo White Mystery grew up in Chicago and has performed at a number of local venues since 2003. She said supporting them is “the least we can do” and the large scope of the album was integral in connecting her with people in the community.
“There is a human need for [people] to be among their community,” White said.
Just like the diverse set of artists featured, each vinyl is pressed in its own unique color. Andy Weber, owner of Chicago’s only record pressing company Smashed Plastic, said because the project was pushed through quickly, the company used entirely recycled vinyl to be as cost effective and “organically fun” as possible.
Though Weber has worked with countless artists in pressing records, he said this project is different because he is directly involved in all aspects—it is important for him to promote and sell the records, and he maintains constant communication with Elder to develop new ideas for raising money.
One of the latest ideas includes a sister project, “Save Chicago Music,” where people can order food online from featured restaurants and $10 from that order will be donated to Chicago independent music venues.
On its own, the compilation album is being sold as an online download for $25 and a double vinyl record for $45. Elder said sales will last through Dec. 31 of this year and the goal is to raise $150,000.
As of Monday, Sept. 14, the project raised nearly $35,000 from downloads and 400 physical vinyls.
Participating artists do not receive compensation for being featured but guitarist for Ovef Ow Nick Barnett said the focus should be on the venues because the community needs them.
“These are not your normal local venues. These venues are fire starters. They are real melting pots constantly dishing out incredible shows,” Barnett said. “Their roots are so deep in our city landscape selling out ridiculously engaging shows is what you come to expect.”
In the music industry, the saying “first to close, last to open” has been echoed since the start of the pandemic. Elder said local venues like the ones supported through this project are the “lifeline of the music industry” and without them young artists cannot develop and the whole industry would “collapse.”
“At whatever level you listen to music, it starts with these small venues,” Elder said. “And if those go away, literally the whole [industry] goes away.”