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Chicago music venues look to get a helping hand through the coronavirus crisis through crowdfunding

A Chicago without live music is just another major city. Known as the birthplace of many genres — from house to drill to blues — Chicago’s reputation as a place where music lives and thrives extends far beyond the borders of the city. And yet, as the city faces the ongoing novel coronavirus crisis (which more than a week ago closed all bars and restaurants for public seating), many of the city’s most beloved music venues have faced another crisis: their own survival.

Although some venues like Schubas and Thalia Hall also include a food service component, many restaurants rely solely on the culture around live music. Think touring bands, local acts and plenty of bar and ticket sales. Without that steady stream of shows, numerous venues have turned toward crowdfunding to ensure their staff of bartenders, security guards, managers, and even performers can receive some money in a time when little is flowing in their pockets.

In the past, GoFundMe and crowdfunding platforms like it were commonly used by individuals to help cover costs for things like education and medical bills. But now, venues like The Promontory, Cole’s Bar, and Tonic Room have launched fundraisers for their workplaces. The first, created by The Hideout, came as little surprise to other venue owners around the city.
Katie Tuten, a co-owner of the beloved Goose Island venue, regularly attended city meetings on behalf of CIVL, the Chicago Independent Venue League. Her reports, said Coleman Brice, owner of Cole’s Bar in Logan Square, helped contextualize the seriousness of the rise of COVID-19 cases. “I was just kind of on the edge,” Brice said. “And it was like, ‘You know what? If The Hideout is there, if she is there at those meetings, she knows what’s going on and we should follow that lead.”
After closing The Hideout and launching a “Virtual Tavern” where people can “tip” the staff (so far, the Hideout has raised more than $28,000), other venues around the city — including The Promontory, Metro, Smart Bar, and the Empty Bottle — followed suit. “We were like, ‘Oh sweet, that’s an awesome idea,’” said Brice. “We got the idea from them because it was going to be really hard on everybody financially, especially the bartenders.” The Cole’s Bar GoFundMe page has raised more than $8500 since launching March 13.

Kyle LaValley of Sleeping Village said their GoFundMe was crucial for their venue, now in its second year of operation. “We’re not only a small business, but a relatively new business (…), so these emergency funds are crucial to getting us through this,” LaValley said. “It’s not easy for us to ask for help, but (we) cherish our staff and want to take care of them by any means necessary while we’re shut down.”

Despite its building reputation as a newer venue, Sleeping Village’s GoFundMe has raised more than $12,000. “I can’t express the amount of good times I’ve had here,” wrote Daniel Hart in the page’s comments section. Hart donated $50 to the fundraiser. “Keep on keeping on and stay healthy everyone.”
What makes so many venues around the city special is not just the music that is performed there, but the people who work to ensure a safe, clean, and enjoyable atmosphere for all who visit. Ensuring the city’s music venues are protected can be a way of sharing one’s appreciation for the many years and amazing experiences born within these performance spaces. Live music venues are not just about great shows; they also cultivate long lasting communities that ultimately shape the people who frequent their businesses.
“Community is the cornerstone of our business. Without our fans and supporters across the years, we wouldn’t have 38 incredible years of events under our belt,” said Annah Garrett of Metro, Smart Bar and GMan Tavern. “The art of live music thrives on its rejoicing spectators, and that is why we must take every precaution to protect each other, so the community may endure and unite again.”
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune