Smile Politely

Five things in Music: February 2024

On stage, a man 3 people are immersed in a musical performance, each playing a guitar and singing into a microphone. The stage is adorned with string lights and a neon sign, creating a vibrant atmosphere. The audience, dressed in casual attire, is seated at tables and chairs, while some stand to enjoy the performance. The backdrop consists of a brick wall, decorated with various posters and signs, adding to the ambiance of the venue.
Bonnie Newberry

For February, I’m going to switch up my five things format a bit and talk about parts of the music scene here in Champaign-Urbana I’d like to see change or improve a bit. I’ve been in this role for a year now, and my focus has been to promote the performers, the venues and the events as much as I possibly could in Smile Politely. I have a deep love for music as an art, and I believe that all art at least deserves attention and respect for the artist. That said, I think we have room for improvement in our music scene, and given the strong base of amazing people who drive the scene, I feel like the sky is the limit.

More variety of acts getting booked

I don’t want to imply that our scene completely lacks in this area. Far from it. By some definitions we’re probably supporting more varied types of acts than any other local scene that I’m aware of, especially being a mid-sized town in the Midwest. But I don’t feel like it’s enough yet. We have some fearless bookers in C-U, and I want to see them get a little braver. Undoubtedly, the wheelhouse for music in C-U is Americana and Country, and we have some artists in those genres who are truly some of the best songwriters and performers around. I am a fan of Americana, and it’s comforting to know when I feel like seeing that music being performed, almost on any given day I can hit a venue that will be featuring a worthy artist.

But there is so much more music being created here that needs to be exposed to a larger audience. If you’ve talked to me out on the town, you’ve undoubtedly heard me rave about how much talent there is in the hip-hop scene. It drives me crazy that outside of Cypher Saturdays at The Canopy Club (usually once a month), there are only occasional opportunities for hip-hop artists to get stage time. The musical tastes in our town are fairly broad, especially considering the university students. There is an audience here for hip-hop, and judging by the talent I’ve seen, they will come out to see hip-hop if it’s available more regularly. 

A concert stage with musicians on it and a large crowd in front. On the stage are at least four band members, each playing their own instruments. The lighting is very colorful, with purples and reds on the sides of the stage and green, blue, and yellow coming from the middle in a starburst pattern.
Canopy Club on Facebook

More rock music, please!

We have some great local rock bands who’ve been grinding their guitars in the scene for some time. I’ve had a blast the past two weekends seeing Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five as well as Terminus Victor and Rory Book and the Volumes, and their support acts at Rose Bowl Tavern. Everyone speaks about Sweetmelk with reverence, as they rock as hard as any band in the area. These are the stalwarts (amongst a few others), but it’s time to get some newer and fresher acts in here alongside them. I’d like to see the campus bands play out more in the area (4 x 4 Animal Style, Bum Rush, Josh Spinner, Manifest West, just to name a few). I’ve noticed a few of our local acts that are established branch out to the college crowd, playing house shows on campus, which is great. Now I want to see the local venues reach out and do the same for the young bands. One of the best bands I’ve seen in a while, Kangaroo Court, often got booked at “townie” venues, and that enabled them to cut their teeth before they moved onto bigger and better things up in Chicago. They’ll even tell you the support they received while they were based here was integral to their evolution. Let’s find the next Kangaroo Court and support these young musicians as they spend their band’s formative years in our hometown. 

Oh, and pretty, pretty, please book more national touring rock bands. I’m tired of driving all the way to Bloomington-Normal to see bigger rock bands!

More venues

Okay, I know that opening new music venues is not the easiest thing in the world, but I do know of a couple of new and exciting places that expect to have live music and plan to open in the next year. That’s great, but it’s not enough. In our year-end WORST 2023 article, I mentioned that there are a plethora of places around town that could be featuring live music in some form, but inexplicably aren’t. We have a bevy of coffee houses, microbreweries, and even certain restaurants that would be ideal to showcase local singer-songwriters. The stage can be small, and the setup could be affordable to allow this talent to shine here. Take a two hour break from the bartender’s Spotify playlist or Touchtunes jukebox and let someone come in and bare their soul to your customers with their art. A small investment in talent like this can create an ambiance recorded music never could, establish your place as an artist-friendly establishment, and add to the vibrant musical fabric of our community. 

Two individuals are standing in front of a red curtain. The individual on the left is attired in a gray polo shirt and has a camera draped around their neck. The individual on the right is dressed in a black hoodie and is positioned in front of a laptop adorned with stickers. The material of the curtain and the attire of the individuals contrast, providing a visually appealing composition.
Christian Jones

More collaboration among artists

I’ve interviewed a bunch of artists over the last year who play in multiple bands, and many artists will fill in for just about any other band on a moment’s notice. This isn’t exactly what I mean by collaboration. The talent in this town is awe-inspiring, truly, but people are staying in their lanes more than I’d like. I want to see new collaborations here. I want to see artists break new ground and reach across the penciled-in genre lines and create music that’s truly unique and compelling. I’ve been peppering my thoughts about this into individual conversations I’ve had with many artists in this town for at least the last six months. I want to see artists leave their comfort zones by reaching out to folks in our scene who create different music styles and forge new ground, but most of all, knock down any existing lines or barriers and not be afraid to see what comes of it. I would love to hear music that has a soulful melody with a backbeat created by Mousepad or Whiptrip6 of Half House Studios. I want to hear someone like ZENTheRapper collaborate with progressive percussionist James Mauck and give birth to something beautiful and unique. The possibilities here are endless, and I want to see it happen. If you are an artist and this is something that interests you in the least, please contact me and I’ll be happy to make an introduction to someone who loves creating music as much as you do and who would love to create something new and exciting. Producers, I’m talking to you as well.

A man in a green t-shirt and a bucket hat holding a beer with a coozie on it, sitting on a 4 wheeler. You can see cars parked in the background.
Ian Goldberg on Facebook

Form a musical cabal

This isn’t my idea, but rather something Ian Goldberg of Jay Goldberg Productions mentioned to me when I interviewed him last year. His idea was to bring together all of the venue owners, bookers, festival directors, and tastemakers in C-U on a semi-regular basis to discuss how everyone can work together to improve the scene and grow their audiences. Many heads are better than one, and I believe that a group like this would produce a myriad of ways to improve our scene and provide great musical experiences to our community. Let’s make it happen!

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