Our guest curator for February is Shane Merrill of Empire Productions. Shane is one of the more well-known and respected promoters in the heavy and hardcore music scenes in and around the Chicago metro area and greater Midwest. Shane is a strong supporter of all things underground, “Any art that is being done strictly by the creators in their own vision without outside influence, to me, is underground.”
Along with curating this month’s Guest List, we did a brief interview with Shane to hear more about his beginnings as a promoter, his support of our local scenes; how the challenges of the pandemic have impacted him over the last year, and thoughts on moving forward in the year to come.
Shane reflects: “I played in a band and had friends that played in bands, and we all wanted to play shows. So I rented out the K of C (Knights of Columbus) Hall in my native suburb of Arlington Heights and did a show in May of 1997 for that reason, and it just grew from there. I was a part of the hardcore scene and word of me having a venue that could be used spread fast in within a couple weeks I did my first show with touring bands.”
Empire works with a large number of venues, ranging in scale from supporting national and international touring bills to putting together local shows. When working with local bands on a putting together a show, his look for something unique and different. “Hopefully they add something slightly different to the bill. Shows where all bands sound the same are boring to me. And also it’s important that they want to be on the show and are excited about it.”
Living through the pandemic over the last year has certainly been a huge challenge for everyone, duly so for people working in the live music industry. “It’s the darkest time I’ve ever been through, and I hope that once we are through with it, we never have to experience it again. We are doing our best to stay afloat but it hasn’t been easy and I’m not sure any of us could do this a second time. Hopefully in the future we pay more attention to science, saving us all a lot of grief, tragedy, and misfortune in the process.”
One of the main challenges is being creative with maintaining some sustainable level of income while keeping the music scene alive, at least virtually. “I personally have been delivering food to make ends meet. It was a side hustle for the winter months when we the music industry was active, and it became a full time job when the music industry paused. I also host a weekly Zoom trivia show, an extension of the trivia nights I hosted at Reggies before the pandemic. That has been very amazing to stay in touch with people and find a reason to smile a bit each week.”
“As far as Reggies, there was socially-distanced acoustic gigs going on through the summer on the roof and those will come back once the sinister winter subsides. Also the kitchen has remained open and the beach bar was open for some months this past summer and will open again in May. We are all hoping that we can get back to bringing full fledged live shows back at some point in 2021. We are just waiting now to see how long everything will take.”
Over the last year, the National Independent Venue Association came in to assist venues and live music industry professionals secure financial assistance through policy changes at the federal government level. “NIVA’s efforts were majorly responsible for the Save Our Stages act being included in the latest relief bill and the funds associated with that bill will literally prevent the closing of many venues across the country.”
In looking to the future, we need to follow science. “Science needs to be the guide here. Vaccines, treatments, cases, etc. It’s as simple as that. When the science says shows can come back, they will. Vaccines have to be wide spread for our governmental bodies to deem events safe. As much as we all miss live music, knowingly putting people in harms way by inviting them to a show before it’s safe isn’t an option in my opinion. I think eventually things will come back close to the way they were. Of course there will likely be a higher level of safety protocols and that’s a good thing. We evolve. I do think shows the way they were will come back. The question is when. It’s possible and even likely that when shows first come back some temporary additional safety measures will still be in place. I will be surprised if you can go to a show without a mask on before 2022.”
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