Thank you, goodnight!
Aging fans want to rock but they also need to sleep
By Monica Eng ~ Chicago Tribune staff reporter
Like a lot of longtime clubgoing music fans, I've gotten old. Nights of bounding out of the house at 11 p.m., cheerfully standing around a hot, smoky bar for hours, returning home after 3 a.m. and then zinging back into action the next day like a fresh little rock 'n' roll daisy are way behind me. So is it too much to ask for a show that has some temperature control, clean air, a place to sit and--at the risk of sounding massively un-rock 'n' roll--gets me home by 11 p.m.?
When I asked this of a fellow reporter, he told me that I don't deserve to rock anymore and maybe I should just stop going to clubs. Then he mumbled something about taking up Ravinia and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Ten years ago his sneering comments might have held water. But times have changed. And so as live music fans continue to grow older, club bookers have been quietly adjusting start times to suit their customers' more mature biorhythms and lifestyles."That is definitely the case, especially when we are doing a show that is being welcomed by WXRT," says Sean McDonough, talent booker for Metro. "Their audience is typically 35- to 40-year-old crowd that has the kids and the day job and is living up in whatever suburb or even in the city. They don't want to be out late. They want to be home at 11 o'clock." And that is what McDonough is giving them. But Metro is certainly not the only venue in town making concessions to the elderly 'XRT crowd. In late July the radio station sponsored two nights of Finn Brothers shows at the Vic that started promptly at 7:30 p.m. with opener Angela McCluskey and wrapped up with the Finns harmonizing their last note just after 10 p.m. Although the show was classified "all ages," the only youngsters there seemed to be the spawn (even an infant in a Snugli) of older fans. But even those who didn't bring their kids could appreciate the early hours (ending before 10:30 p.m.) that come with all-ages shows. "We have a baby and three kids with the baby-sitter tonight so I don't want to go to shows that get me home at 2 in the morning," said Chicagoan Katherine Logue, 39. "Also I think there is a certain [time] hump for a lot of adults, if you don't get out of the house by then, that's it. "For this reason even a latenight club such as FitzGerald's in Berwyn has seen start times shift. "For a lot of shows I have been kicking back the start time a half an hour to an hour because I think for a lot of people it's important just psychologically to see that a show starts before 10," the club's owner Bill FitzGerald said. This doesn't mean that shows at FitzGerald's don't still go late. They do, but some just tend to start earlier, "or sometimes we will schedule an early show with a singer-songwriter and then have a band later that night," says FitzGerald. Fans also have the option of seeing slightly earlier shows at FitzGerald's recently opened SideBar, where start times are often 8 or 9 p.m. and singer-songwriters are likely to play. These are the types of performers who often get the early treatment at Schubas, where booker Matt Rucins tries to carefully read the fan base in order to determine start times. "If it's an older crowd, we'll usually do an 8 o'clock start with one support meaning that the headliner would go on by 9 and the people would be leaving here around 10 or 10:30 p.m. Oddly enough, I go with what my parents would be able to stomach," says Rucins, 28.
As part of its marketing campaign, Wrigleyville's 13-year-old Uncommon Ground started billing its music schedule "Rock Concerts for Grown-ups with day jobs … Go out every night of the week and still get to bed by 11." And that's just referring to the cafe's "late shows." In addition to its evening folk, pop and rock concerts that start around 7:30 p.m., Uncommon Ground co-owner Michael Cameron books some really early performances on weekends. "With this huge baby boom in our neighborhood, I have been booking late weekend afternoon shows for the parents that just need a break," he says. "I get performers who may be in their 50s and they would say 'That's perfect. None of my friends want to come out to a smoky bar at midnight to see me on a weekend anyway.' "Uncommon Ground, with its early shows, tasteful drink selection, seating and no-smoking policy qualifies as one of the best fogey-friendly venues around.
But in this category, nothing beats the Old Town School of Folk Music. Most know about the school's comfy seats, punctual start times, smoke-free building and tempting selection of drinks (beer, too) and snacks. But many don't know that, if you choose your show carefully, you can really rock here too. When performers such as Alejandro Escovedo, The Bottle Rockets or Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men come to play, it can be the most comfortable and intimate rock joint around. And for the convenience of those who like their loud licks served late, Old Town booker Colleen Miller often schedules two performances a night for the more popular acts. "The early show will usually have the older people and younger fans will come to the 10 o'clock," she said. But oldsters aren't the only ones who appreciate earlier or at least on-time shows. Even young bookers can get grumpy when they attend concerts that start falling behind schedule."I don't like leaving too late either," says Rucins. "When things start running behind then you're looking at a pretty late night and sometimes it takes away from the enjoyment of the show. "Still, there is also such a thing as show that starts too early. A lot of bands--especially during the longer summer days--don't want to be playing while the sun is out. First of all, it's pretty unrock 'n' roll and second, it forces them to compete with nice weather."I think that on a warm summer night around 7:30 p.m. they would rather be on their deck drinking a beer instead of a dark room watching an early band," says Rucins. And sometimes early start times just clash too much with a band's creepy, dangerous mood. This came up recently as Jam Productions talent buyer Nick Miller was negotiating details with an agent for the Cramps who was considering making an upcoming show all-ages, thus early. "I told him we needed to make it [later]," Miller says. "People don't want to be at a 7 o'clock show watching the Cramps. That's just weird. "Still, music being such a matter of personal taste, start times are not usually going to be the main consideration when it comes to catching a favorite band on tour. As Rucins observes, "If you are big enough fan, then for one night you are probably willing to suffer a little bit. "This is true. But it is also true that as the rocking body ages, its tolerance for late night shows is going to diminish and the idea of staying home and sitting in front of the stereo pretending to be at a concert will seem less ridiculous.
These recent adjustments to suit the maturing rock fans have helped to put off that day just a little longer. Says Chicagoan Julie Molzoff, 40, waiting for the Finn Brothers to hit the stage last month: "Just because we are all aging doesn't mean we don't want to see rock shows anymore."
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune