Smile Politely

Venue Spotlight: The Bird House

I parked my car, got out to double-check that I wasn’t parked in a tow zone, and set off on trying to find the correct house. The Bird House. Tucked away in plain sight, The Bird House is one of the most active venues for house shows in the the Champaign-Urbana DIY scene. Last Sunday I ventured to the address I received from messaging the venue on Facebook to see for myself what makes this such a popular venue. 

I walked up to the steps onto the porch and quickly found a sign decorated with tiny, Bob Ross-style line seagulls directing me to go around to the backdoor. Making my way to the back of the house, I wondered if the neighbors were used to seeing random people walk around to the back of houses in the dark of night. Would this be the night they forgot they live next to an active music venue? I made it inside before I found out. 
As you enter the backdoor, you are quickly directed by signs and sounds to enter into the basement. I walked down the stairs and, briefing forgetting that I stand around 6’5”, very nearly introduced my head to the wooden beams and duct work of the basement ceiling. The atmosphere in the basement was lively: friends standing in circles catching up, people sitting (and one sleeping) on a couch pushed up against a wall. On one of the walls, “Respect this house” posted with painter’s tape. This may be a basement, but it’s The Bird House’s basement and you’d better remember. 
Sensing myself very much out of place — business casual in a room full of flannel, fish nets, and all the looks of the many sub-cultures of underground music — I found a seat on a drum stool next to an old electric organ that looked like the one my grandparents used to have in their front room. It didn’t take long for the basement to fill up with concert-goers. When the bands began to play around 8:00 p.m., the basement held around 35 people ( don’t tell the fire chief). 
The three members of Bottom Bracket play in the basement of the Bird House. The band plays on top of a brown carpet in a small space about 8 by 8 foot. The walls are white and a sheet banner hangs behind the drummer.

Photo by Veronica Mullen
Springfield’s Bottom Bracket opened up the night, followed by Chicago’s Mush, and local group, Fer de Lance. While the bodies packed into the basement absorbed some of the sound, attending a show at The Bird House means that you’re going to feel the music. Like, literally feel, the music smashing and pushing air molecules together against your body as the sound travels through the space seemingly unimpeded by the audience. The venue graciously provided free ear plugs to concert goers, and if you’re considering attending, I highly recommend taking them up on the offer. 
Through a crowd of people, the lead singer of Bottom Bracket sings into a microphone while playing guitar. The drummer can be seen behind him, playing quickly and creating a blur with his hands. Strings of small, white lights hang above their heads. A sheet hangs on the back wall behind them. The phrase is obscured, but the work

Photo by Benjamin Holbrook
What’s most amazing about attending house shows, and this is especially true of shows in The Bird House, is your ability to feel connected to the band that’s playing as well as the audience with whom you’re squished together. As the songs get going, every begins to move, to bounce their heads, to sway together. You’re all in this moment, jamming together, supporting local music together, and there’s something uplifting about that experience. 
Chicago's Mush plays in The Bird House basement. This photo is taken from the back of the crowd. The lead singer, wearing a hat and glasses, holds the microphone against his mouth as he sings. The three players behind him are concentrated on their playing.

Photo by Veronica Mullen
As I walked out of the venue, I noticed all of the stickers from bands that have played the space (either in its current iteration as The Bird House, or under another name). Beyond acting as a space for bands to get out in front of people, The Bird House basement acts like a kind of museum of local music. A space for people to get together, to reminisce and to make new memories. 
If you’re interested in checking out a show at The Bird House, head to their Facebook page and message them for the address for the upcoming show. 
Top photo by Veronica Mullen

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