A peculiar and ominous message has recently appeared on Cowboy Monkey’s Web site under the contact information: “Please note — Cowboy Monkey is no longer taking any band booking submissions. Live entertainment will move up the street to our sister bar, the Highdive starting 01/01/08.”
This note on the Web site represents much more than its tiny font lets on.
Cowboy Monkey is a favorite venue of local bands and music lovers. The venue stands out by featuring weekly live DJs, Salsa Sundays, live local shows and open mic night on Mondays. Some locals involved in CU music are predicting the first pitfall in the music scene since the late ’90s when Cowboy Monkey shuts its doors on weekly music.
Larry Gates of Curb Service moved to Champaign in 2000 to start a band, however, the success of that dream seemed grim at the time. Whether it was a lack of work ethic in local bands or low interest from the area, most people agree it was a slump in the music scene.
“The whole scene was dormant. I don’t think I’m much to brag about now, but in 2000 I really didn’t have anything to brag about. I moved here specifically to start a band and to dive into this music scene,” Gates said. “And I honestly kind of looked around and said to myself ,‘Well, I think all it’s going to take is for you to work hard and you can do this.’ This didn’t seem to be a very popular mindset.”
After a five-year absence of any stand-out talent, things started to look up. Lorenzo Goetz formed in 2000, but it took almost two and a half years to gain popularity among local venues and fans. In 2002 the group finally got a reputation for being a must-see live band in Champaign-Urbana.
“It seems that over the past few years CU has had a reawakening from its heyday in the mid to late ‘90s,” Polyvinyl Records’ Seth Hubbard explained.
“There are a lot of bands coming out of the area lately that are starting to be recognized on a national level which is amazing to see from such a small place.”
The scene has been steadily climbing since 2002, but with Cowboy Monkey focusing on food instead of live music another pitfall could be on the horizon. It has been one of the local music hot spots since its opening in 2003 and was recently featured in the November issue of Nylon magazine in an article entitled “Rock America.” On the pessimistic side of the argument it would be a major setback for the music scene to lose a key venue in 2008.
The other side of the argument is CU has grown enough in the past five years through venues and new bands that one bump isn’t going to cause the entire scene to shatter. As Cowboy Monkey’s Web site explained, the Highdive will pick up some of the pieces it leaves behind.
“Even with Cowboy Monkey not having regular live music starting in 2008 I think the scene has a solid set of venues for bands of all sizes to play. Canopy, Highdive, the Iron Post, Mike ‘n Molly’s, Illini Media Center and Arôma Café all host live music,” entertainment manager Ward Gollings explained. “There may not be as many bands that can draw 150 to 300 people as in past eras, but there are still a great number of exceptionally talented groups like Headlights, elsinore, the Living Blue, Shipwreck, the Beauty Shop, Chemicals, JigGsaw, Casados, Krukid, Darling Disarm, the Tractor Kings, and Terminus Victor, to name a handful.”
Only time can tell if the CU music scene can recover from the loss of Cowboy Monkey. There’s currently plenty of support from the community, hundreds of bands and a core group of venues available. And, if a popular magazine recently proclaimed we have potential, it’s up to CU to show we live up to the hype.

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