Metro to celebrate 30th anniversary in July
Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 17:08
The Metro stands neatly tucked away on Clark Street in Wrigleyville, with a modest black and white marquee adorned with gold molding jutting toward the busy street.
From the outside, the venue resembles any ordinary storefront, but it is bursting with memories of performances that have defined Chicago’s art and music scenes. Celebrating its milestone 30th anniversary, music fans and Chicagoans alike are urged to reflect on the Metro’s lasting impact on Chicago and its promising future as a cornerstone of Chicago’s cultural fabric.
While the Metro may be a prominent fixture in Chicago’s art and music scenes today, it was a long and arduous journey leading to that acclaim.
In a mission to showcase Chicago’s growing underground art scene, Joe Shanahan began to throw gallery openings and concerts in his loft. But it was only a matter of time before both the massive crowds and Shanahan’s ambition outgrew the confining space. And from that spurred the Metro’s settlement at 3730 N. Clark.
The Metro began its run as a venue in August of 1982 with a show by an obscure band from Athens, Ga., called R.E.M., charging just $5 per ticket.
Shanahan continued on this trajectory and focused on promoting fringe talent. A champion of Chicago’s alternative scene (he was an early supporter of the Smashing Pumpkins), the Metro became an integral part of Chicago’s independent artist scene.
Professor Alan Salzenstein of DePaul’s Music and Theatre Schools reflected on the Metro’s significance.
“The Metro definitely has iconic status, due to its history, traditions, philosophy and contributions to the community. Commitment to artists, providing emerging talents a platform and their generosity to the community all come to mind when thinking of the Metro,” he said.
In 2000, Shanahan brought Jenny Lizak aboard the Metro team as a publicist. Working closely with Shanahan to maintain the Metro’s high standards and cement the venue’s place in Chicago’s music scene, Lizak has witnessed the incredible growth the Metro has undergone these past 12 years.
The DePaulia had the opportunity to hear a firsthand account of the Metro’s meteoric rise in Chicago art culture from the duo.
The DePaulia: How did you decide to open a music venue?
Joe Shanahan: The idea of the Metro and SmartBar came out of my travels. I was travelling post-college and between my sophomore and junior year. Some of my trips took me to New York and London and New Orleans, and from some of those experiences in those three cities I recognized a void that needed to be filled.
And after seeing CBGB and Paradise Garage in New York, I realized the cultural gravity of what that and jazz and blues had in New Orleans and then seeing what was happening at Dingwalls and The Marquee [in London]. I was inspired and gravitated toward that and having a place in Chicago.
DP: What was the Metro like when you first started?
Jenny Lizak: I think we’re always growing and evolving. Things were different; the biggest difference was how you promote shows and find out about a band from both a fan’s side and a promoter’s side. We were in the middle of a social media revolution.
Fans used to use radio, The Reader, but now people can go online and connect with bands and venues and get immediate information.
DP: How did you set the Metro apart from older, more classic venues like The Vic and The Riv?
JS: Those are strictly venues. Metro is a functioning nightclub. We are open an average of four nights a week, SmartBar five. It separates itself naturally.
DP: Did you ever foresee the Metro reaching its 30th anniversary?
JS: Yes, after the 10th anniversary. The first 10 years was such a roller coaster ride. I wasn’t sure we’d make it year to year. After the 10th anniversary, there was something that happened culturally; it was a seismic moment.
The idea began to galvanize with what was happening in popular culture. Like Smashing Pumpkins coming out of Metro and the whole era of Nirvana, Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers that happened under our roof. The alternative nation was born and so was house music. So between industrial music and house music, all of the sudden something clicked.