It’s no secret that over the last couple of years, Downtown Champaign has lost most of the venues that we’ve come to rely on for live music. Currently though, we’re seeing many local bars and restaurants starting to fill the gap left behind by places like Mike n' Molly’s, The High Dive/The Accord/51 Main, and Cowboy Monkey. These days, you can regularly catch shows at Watson’s Shack and Rail, Seven Saints, The Brass Rail, and of course Pour Bros. Taproom. I caught up with Robbie Mathisen at Pour Bros. to chat about the Artist Alley Concert Series that the bar began hosting this summer. Read on to learn more about how the series came to be, and what’s on the horizon.
Smile Politely: How did you decide to start the Artist Alley Concert Series?
Robbie Mathisen: Music has always been a big part of our culture at Pour Bros. Back in 2016 we launched the Courtyard Concert Series at our first location in Peoria Heights. To date we have done over 120 free shows. We love what music does to create synergy for people and businesses of the community. Since we don’t offer our own food we needed something other than beer and spirits. We felt like music was just that...something good for people.
SP: Had you wanted to start a music series for awhile? Has it always been part of the plan?
Mathisen: We knew we wanted to bring a free live music series to Champaign. One of the biggest reasons we chose our location was the potential to do outdoor events. This can be difficult to find in an urban area. We also listened to people...we kept hearing the stories of a vibrant music culture in Downtown Champaign that wasn’t what it once was. So we seen an opportunity to help provide this again.
SP: Is the series going to stretch on past summer?
Mathisen: The Artist Alley Concert Series runs from May-October. 23 free shows mainly on Saturdays with a few Fridays after Friday Night Live. Champaign is such a really cool place, we came here due to the history, walkability, unique vibe. Things like Friday Night Live with open container now is really progressive. We thank the leaders one organizers of the community for their continued vision.
SP: How have you gone about picking the artists? Is there a particular vibe you're going for, or something specific you want to promote?
Mathisen: We believe it’s like a recipe. You need to have a diverse list of music styles. This keeps the vibe fresh. It also brings a different experience each week. So we change our music genre weekly just like our beer! We work with local, regional and a few national acts. So local favorites like Mank & Sass or the New Souls, all the way to The Commonheart from Philadelphia. It’s really awesome to offer shows with bands that are in the cusp of National acclaim. It also feels good to help the musicians showcase their talents in a great vibrant environment.
SP: What can a show-goer expect if they come to an Artist Alley show?
Mathisen: A casual, fun, safe, and unique experience. A free show and Pour your own beer adds to your experience.
SP: What other music projects are on the horizon, if any?
Mathisen: We are pretty busy right now running the two music series and businesses in Peoria Heights and Champaign. But we may have an indoor music concept at some point.
SP: Your favorite beer to pour while you're watching an Artist Alley artist?
Mathisen: The best part about Pour Bros is you can pour any of our beer, cider, mead, or wine one ounce at a time. So you can pour as little as you’d like, take a sample and repeat if you like it! Pour... sample... repeat.
SP: What do you most want to tell SP readers about what y'all are doing there?
Mathisen: Our goal is to see people smile, reconnect with friends and family. And enjoy the community they live in! Life can be tough... come enjoy yourself a little. It’s our way of giving back. Also we want the series to help all the restaurants around us. Grab a bite to eat before the show or bring the food to Pour Bros. We have an open door food policy. Don’t be shy! A bar is more than beer! We feel responsible for being a hub for all things people.
We are not a franchise. We are a family owned and operated business that hopes to grow into vibrant communities. We buy local, we live in the communities we do business in.
We also work with tons of local charities, this is a big part of our culture. Partnering on events is a win/win. We hope to continue to develop these relationships in C-U.
On (musical) tap this week at Pour Bros. is The Commonheart. The band is currently poised to take off in a big way:
The eight-person ensemble, who’ve shared the stage with the likes of Gary Clark Jr., recently signed with Joshua Knight at Paradigm and announced their new album Pressure, slated to release on August 16. Along with their album announcement, they’ve also shared lead single “Do Right.” – Americansongwriter.com