Friday, March 24, 2006

Elgin's thriving music scene

"Elgin's developed a strong and thriving independent music scene anchored by numerous live-music venues and recording studios. There are more than a dozen bars and nightclubs booking live music, and several of these venues are actively presenting a balance of both local and national acts. With urban centers to its north and south, its easy for local clubs to grab a spare evening on a touring act's Midwest itinerary, put them onstage in front of an appreciative audience, and actually make a few bucks from the show's receipts. For locally grown talent, opportunities to make career headway are easily accessible, much the same way that local live-music venues have supported thriving music scenes in Art Towns like Oxford, Mississippi, and Lawrence, Kansas. And if the word of mouth about a new band is especially favorable, venues in Chicago are convenient and logical next steps up the music ladder." (Source: John Villani, 100 Best Art Towns in America)
Okay, okay. Instead of "Elgin's" it actually read "Bellingham's" (Washington). Instead of "Midwest," it was "Northwest." Instead of Chicago it was "Vancouver and Seattle." Forgive me, I was just thinking of...possibilities.

Yes, I think it's something we can do--we might even get in the book, as long as the city council gets out of the way. And they will if we ask them to. I predict that in ten years this description of a thriving music scene, "anchored by numerous live-music venues and recording studios," will describe Elgin.

I know this can happen. People like Brian Peterson make it possible. Mr. Peterson is known as the man who brought the Fireside Bowl to national prominence, giving it a ten-year run as the Midwest's preeminent punk rock venue. But the Fireside Bowl was not his first project. He started out in Elgin, organizing the punk music scene here and indeed, bringing it to regional prominence. Without the shows he organized in Elgin, who knows if bands like Slapstick or the Smoking Popes would ever have gotten the level of recognition they did.

It was only when he lost his space on E. Chicago Street in 1994 that the Midwest's punk rock capital moved from Elgin's Third Floor to Chicago's Fireside Bowl. Ten years later, the Fireside Bowl's owner returned the building to its original purpose as a bowling alley, and Brian Peterson returned briefly to Elgin, organizing a couple shows at the Turner's. Though he continues to book shows at various venues in Chicago, none of them have succeeded the Fireside Bowl as a mecca. Perhaps he'll come home and give Elgin another try.

Next week, I'll post a fascinating first-hand account of Elgin's thriving music scene in its early 90's heyday, written by a real insider: THE sound guy at the Third Floor.


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