A New Venue for Live Music
An intimate concert space with a listening-room vibe opens in downtown Aurora
A brand-new music performance space in downtown Aurora opened June 1 with a sold-out Blues & Roots Festival headlined by acclaimed Chicago bluesman Toronzo Cannon. Since then, the new space has hosted a variety of musical acts, including after shows for the popular annual Blues on the Fox festival in mid-June.
But those who missed out on a ticket to those events have plenty to look forward to — nationally recognized and local talent representing all musical genres, including blues, rock, roots, alternative, world music, big band and much more, will be seen on stage at The Venue in upcoming months. Music-lovers in the western suburbs will find it similar to the intimate setting of SPACE in Evanston, but much closer to home.
The music hall has a capacity of 200 and can accommodate both general admission shows and reserved-seating events, thanks to a flexible layout that can be configured as open space or cabaret-style, with chairs and cocktail tables. Pallet walls with orange accents, exposed brick and industrial-style lighting contribute a rustic vibe to the space, but the main attraction will be the music. “We are very focused on providing great acoustic sound,” says Melissa Mercado, executive director of the Fox Valley Music Foundation, which operates facility.
The Venue was conceived by members of the not-for-profit foundation, which coalesced some 15 years ago to coordinate Blues on the Fox. The group’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the area’s rich history of music as well as provide music education. When Blues on the Fox outgrew its street-festival beginnings and moved to RiverEdge Park, foundation members focused on finding new ways to enhance the local music scene.
Realizing small concert venues were scarce or too expensive to rent, the group began seeking a programming space of its own. They found it in a former Woolworth’s 5 & 10 store, located adjacent to a park in downtown Aurora. Grants from the City of Aurora, Invest Aurora, The Community Foundation of Fox Valley and local residents and businesses helped make the dreamed-for space a reality.
The former store had been converted into two units and used as offices in recent years, so it needed a lot of work. Interior demolition began in March 2018. A crew of foundation members and volunteers, ranging from skilled tradespeople and artists to everyday folks willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, helped transform the space. It was a true community effort, says Mercado. “A lot of people have contributed their time and talents to making sure it gets done,” she says of those who painted murals in the restrooms, installed carpet squares, constructed pallet walls, built the stage and much more.
A diverse bunch, the volunteers are united by a shared love of music. Mercado herself designed many of the space’s features as well as the signage, which was fabricated locally. “We were all building the place we wanted to come hang out,” she explains. “It’s like working together to build a tree fort or clubhouse when we were kids. We are excited to share our vision with everyone and enjoy some wonderful music.”
Besides hosting concerts, The Venue will serve as a gathering space for local musicians to connect and play together during daytime hours. Educational programming, workshops and films about the area’s rich music history are also in the works.
The main entrance to The Venue is at the back of the building, accessible from the pedestrian-friendly Water Street Mall. The building sits next to the city-owned Agnes-Mundy Park, and a garage door opens The Venue to the outdoor area, which will be utilized for public events as weather permits. In addition to the performance space, The Venue includes a small retail shop that offers promotional merchandise, vintage blues posters and local music for sale.
To learn more about The Venue, located at 21 S. Broadway in Aurora, and see the schedule of upcoming shows, visit www.themusicvenue.org.Edit Module