This column originally appeared as a post on Openingbands.com. As suggested by Todd Hunter, buzz is running it in place of Soundground this week.
Soundground #116 will return next issue.
I have been trying to go to at least one show a week, as long as I’m in town, for the past several years that I’ve lived here. I’ve gone by myself several times; I’ve brought friends several times; I’ve called up several people beforehand if I knew it would be a great show; I’ve literally brought in strangers off the street. Two months from now I’ll be moving out of here and I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in CU, trying to put my finger on exactly why I feel like I am the only person enjoying shows in this town. For example, I went to two shows this past weekend.
I ran to the bus straight after work and made it to see Mexican Cheerleader at the IMC, one of my favorite bands from back in Chicago (I used to see these guys regularly several years ago).
I was one of maybe fifteen people remaining for this last band at 10:00 p.m.
Sunday evening I worked my butt off to make it to the Iron Post to catch the much anticipated Gogogo Airhearts and Jai-Alai Savant show. The music I heard was, hands down, the best, most revolutionary, most poetic and beautiful music I have heard in my five years here. Best show. I was one of two people at this show. Literally.
So, what’s the deal?
I love seeing local bands. But, after seeing the same acts over and over, I start itching to see other live acts coming through town. Unfortunately, when I do go to these fantastic shows (thanks to good booking agents), I am consistently finding a lack of “the regulars”.
A scene is not built on a few local bands.
A scene is built by a community. There must be a passion for the music that is whole-hearted and drama-free. It’s more than just seeing local bands. It’s watching the opening acts and buying their records when you get moved. It’s anticipating an act coming for weeks and then getting to see them in a small, smoky club. It’s about moving everyone else to hear your music – like a local band last week playing on an MTD bus to promote their show. It’s about dancing and shaking your hips at shows and not caring what anyone else thinks because you’re there for the music.
Believe it or not, there is a huge portion of shows here that 90 percent of the community is missing. I’m not talking about the jam-packed, sweaty, cattle-herding social shows that everyone attends, lining up beforehand in rows. I’m talking about the smaller shows with ten to twenty in attendance on Sundays and Thursdays, where a few die-hards make their way to see live music – to see live music. Recently, attendance has dwindled down to five to 10 people, but the movement continues. I’ve seen the best music here that most will never hear of again. A few of the bands I’ve seen in these intimate settings have gone on to become underground music giants, and I’ve seen and had a beer with them all here in Champaign-Urbana. You were all in the other room waiting and bitching, “there ain’t no decent scene here.”
My question to the community, from the bottom of my heart is: Why do you only stay for your friends’ bands?
If you are in the band, where the hell are you for the other shows? I can only think of two people in bands who consistently come out to not only support other local bands, but more importantly to support the visiting bands. Why do you leave early or late according to the fluxes of the local band hipsters? Aren’t you here for the music? We have so many fantastic music DJs in this town. Where are you when they are spinning rock ‘n’ roll live in the bars for everyone to hear? I’ve heard British 1977 punk, rockabilly, stoner rock, and several classics in the past week alone going to different DJ nights.
Don’t be afraid to go and meet people who aren’t like you or to whom you think you are “musically inferior.” Go to the Rosebowl Tavern to see the Feudin’ Hillbilliles. Go to Metal Monday at the Highdive and request your favorite high school anthem. Go to a high school ska-punk show or play that acoustic rendition of “Raw Power” at the Espresso open-mic. Believe it or not, there is a huge thriving scene out there. The problem is that this scene is unawakened and scattered and untapped. I never thought it possible when I first came here that I could know so much more about music and be ten-thousand scores less pretentious than I used to be. I owe this to my innate curiosity and the fantastic people I’ve met here over the years – the unheard musical geniuses.
I have heard from so many people who I have tried to introduce to the scene that they hate going to shows because it’s depressing. That’s right, depressing. I might have become numb to being one of few show-goers because I have tits of steel and am still not afraid to make a fool of myself. But there are a lot of people here who really want to go to shows, but won’t because they know it’ll be the same social hierarchy scene, ass-kissing chaos. You have to set an example yourself.
One travelling musician I spoke to said it best: “What kind of town is this where you all can’t even hold on to a damn record store?”