Arts & Culture / Mosaic / May 25, 2016

The Brass Elk gives live-music a new home

Imagine walking down the busy Main Street of Galesburg on a Friday night. The neon in the local bar windows illuminates the streets and brings the town to life. On your left, a punk show is jamming at Budde’s Pizza. On your right, a smooth set of jazz is playing at the Beanhive. The area is alive with music, but it may be the same sets that have been playing for months now. The local acts of the area have been thriving with the opportunity to perform, but the recurrence of shows may be becoming stale to the audiences. Without a central venue to entertain, you are limited to attending one of the many small shows throughout town. This is where Neal Minella comes in.

Through research of the area and a tip from a friend, Minella found the spot in Galesburg and decided the old Elk Lodge would be a perfect spot to house a new medium-sized venue for all bands. Minella sees the spot as a great in-between location for traveling bands. Not only would it diversify the acts that could play in town, but also diversify the audience.

“The whole idea behind this spot is to advance the music scene and to get more acts in here,” said Minella. “We want to give kids coming to the show a source of inspiration. Maybe someone who doesn’t play right now will come to see a band and it will inspire them. That’s all it takes; one band, one guitar solo. We are going to be able to close off the bar area in order to open up to all age shows. It’s really important to us to give that option to the younger audience in town. Also, people who are coming out to the show and making a trip will stay at the hotels in town or eat at a local restaurant, which is great for the town.”

Local acts around the area see the potential upgrade in venue size and the availability to a younger crowd as something that is either hit or miss. Some seem to see the idea as having great potential, while others dismiss it as an unnecessary commodity.

“A lot of what I’ve noticed is that there aren’t many cover charges anymore,” said Greiner. “A lot of shows are funded by the bar, so that’s where the necessity of 21 and up comes from. I don’t know if an all ages show would really benefit things. Kids might go out to see shows more, but when I was younger, I would go out anyway and get into shows regardless. I don’t think the age restriction is holding kids back. These older bars aren’t looking to put new music in. It’ll be cover bands, and you won’t see a junior in high school going out to that. An all-ages venue might help, but probably not as much as people think.”

The small scale, bar and restaurant music scene has kept the arts alive thus far in Galesburg. Though the words of Greiner might be true, Jesse Allen of the Fierce Amateurs sees the move as one that would be quite beneficial.

“My band The Fierce Amateurs plays songs that might be considered NC 17 rating, you know? When I was young, I would have loved my band,” said Allen. “There used to be a place in town that had all ages shows called Billiards on Main. Sure enough, the kids that showed up there would be center stage going nuts. Their parents might be horrified to hear the music they’re listening to, but that’s the great thing about all ages shows. Your parents leave you the hell alone and can come back later to pick you up after curfew.”

Whether or not the choice of having an all ages show is the right move or not, local musician David Wynes sees one main goal: making sure the venue is multifaceted. A venue can’t keep a straight shot at one type of audience, but should rather cater to as many as possible in order to keep the selection broad. Having been in the local music scene for years, Wynes had a strong feeling on what the Brass Elk needs to accomplish.

“When you have a venue that has a bar but still wants to do all ages, there’s a few ways it can be done,” stated Wynes. “You can keep the bar and venue space separate to bring in both crowds and maintain the legality, but it keeps the venue feeling a bit separated. If you make it 21 and over, you’re alienating the whole youth. I’ve always been a strong believer that all ages kids will come to watch a show. I’m not saying the ones at the bar aren’t going to watch, but the majority are there for the bar. There are plenty of people over 21 that are just as passionate about the music, but as a broad painting, that’s the deal.”

Coming from a number of smaller bands around the area, junior Kyle Hall sees the potential in a bigger venue for all ages as a great launching point for new bands to find their footing. Though the bars and coffee shops around town are great for certain genres and scenes, a new venue for all types of music may help promote a mixture of sounds.

“A new venue would help to unify the local scene,” said Hall. “I think musicians from Knox and local musicians would get on board. Knox musicians want to break out of the Knox bubble and their sort of party scene, and I feel like Galesburg musicians would like a new space as well. The common interest is music. People just want a place to play.”

Hall took a moment to recollect on the current state of concert opportunities in Galesburg and discussed a few of the downsides to the current way things are organized.

“Glory Days is taking a hiatus on booking shows, and there were a lot of shows happening there,” continued Hall. “Not only shows, but band practice and hang outs were centralized there. With them taking a break and the record store shutting down business, it’s a setback. Right now, if a venue were to open in town, there would need to be more people involved in planning.”

Minella sees the work ahead for re-opening the old Oak Lodge as challenging, but the organization of the process is not being pushed aside. With friends across the state ready to get to work, he thinks the renovations to the building will be completed smoothly. At this point, he stressed that it is critical to get the project started.

“We have guys in place ready to come in and get to work,” said Minella. “Work on the inside of the building will be starting as soon as we can. We want to strip the walls down to bare brick and bring back the original ceiling. We would love to have the place open toward the end of the year and be ready to go as soon as all of the work is complete.”

Glory Days owner Kyle Rohweder knows the struggles of running an all ages venue. Though the barbershop itself sits as a currently non-active venue space, Rohweder also ran an all ages spot in high school. Anything DIY fit in and all were welcome. Because of this, he sees the opportunity of a space in town, but understands the current difficulties of getting it up and running.

“We have a lot of great places in town for all types of art. We have the Civic Art building that is great for studio art at a medium scale, but no place that size for music. I’ve spent years playing in a band and one of my favorite places over in Baltimore used to house us downstairs and have an art exhibit upstairs. Galesburg could have something like that, but we need to be able to do it all.”

With these ideas kept in mind, Rohweder sees that direction and planning for the Brass Elk as the perfect way to direct the business. Coming from a business standpoint, he sees the Brass Elk as a self-sustaining establishment if Minella can find other ways to keep the doors open to maintain a safe, neutral place for all ages shows.

Minella agrees with this position. Seeing the current lineup in town, he talked about the problems with having such a wide gap in size and availability. Going from a space like Budde’s Pizza to the Orpheum is a jump, and he hopes to bridge this and bring forth some middle ground.

“There’s a huge gap between business size here,” said Minella. “There isn’t a lot of middle ground for the bands that come through. We also want to open the space up for special events. Like, around Halloween, we’ll have people come in and recreate the prom scene from Carrie. We want to open it up to the Prairie Players to perform as well. It’s something you learn early on in business school, to diversify. If people want to use the space, I’m all for it.”

Another location in town that strives to diversify is The Beanhive, known locally as a great place to see small, live performances from open mics to jazz sets. The Beanhive owner Mary Christianson and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Ben Farrer, both music organizers for the coffee shop, see the Brass Elk as a spot that will be fully supported by the community, but aren’t sure whether a larger scale venue is necessary in town. They see the music as being what should come first, rather than the size of the show.

“They would be bringing larger acts, and that’s cool,” said Farrer. “There are lots of people who feel the same way and are hoping to support that effort. There are a lot of people that come through and support music, and that’s key.”

“Our mission here isn’t to bring in big acts, but rather to promote music and spread music,” added Christianson. “It’s a lot of fun to see a big show, but there needs to be a community around music. I would rather see a show and be able to talk to the performers afterwards. We need to be getting people excited about music. If there isn’t any interest in music, there won’t be any need for big or small scale. ”

There are plenty of opinions on what the future should look like for Galesburg, but the collective mindset is concerned about one thing only: music. Whether it be at the next great venue in the state, at an all ages show, or jamming in a local bar, people want live music to stay alive. With the Brass Elk planning on opening its doors within the year to a new crowd of music lovers and a goal to bring in bigger acts, the future of music in Galesburg is in a new state of being that is sure to evolve and grow.

Mitch Prentice
Mitch Prentice graduated in 2017, majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. He volunteered for TKS his sophomore and junior year, and worked as Mosaic Editor his senior year. He has interned alongside Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune and runs his own website.

Tags:  Brass Elk live music music renovation

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