Despite low attendance, music benefit fights blues

Erin Stock

While singer Gloria Thompson Rodgers performed at Bill’s Blues on Sunday afternoon, listeners occasionally glanced at the television above the bar to keep up with the Chicago Cubs game.

At least, organizers would say, they came out to hear the music. Only a handful of people attended a First Night Evanston fund-raiser at Bill’s Blues on Sunday afternoon. Event coordinators said the Cubs game was mostly to blame.

“I’m happy for the city of Chicago and the Cubs,” said Lois Roewade, the director of the fall celebration. “But unfortunately a lot of people are at home watching the game instead of here listening to the blues.”

Organizers hoped the Fall Celebration Benefit at 1029 Davis St. would attract at least 50 guests at $20 a ticket, but only about a dozen people attended. The money from the event will go to fund First Night Evanston, a family-oriented, non-alcoholic New Year’s Eve celebration now in its 11th year.

“We’re a little disappointed we didn’t have a bigger crowd,” Roewade said. “But it won’t hurt our budget too much.”

Roewade said the event was organized not only to raise money but also to familiarize the community with First Night Evanston. The group’s main fund-raising event is the annual Great Chefs for Evanston benefit.

Bill Gilmore, owner of Bill’s Blues, which opened just before the beginning of Northwestern’s academic year, allowed organizers to use his venue with no charge.

Gilmore said he has low turnouts when the Cubs play, so he wasn’t surprised with the small crowd. When the Cubs beat the Florida Marlins in double overtime Friday, Gilmore had about half the crowd he usually does.

“The only entertainment venues that aren’t hurting are sports bars,” he said.

Those who did attend got an earful.

Drina Nikola, an Evanston resident who books blues bands out of her home, said she came to support First Night Evanston and to enjoy the music.

“Even if you’re feeling blue, after listening to blues you feel better,” Nikola said. “I’m feeling pretty good.”

Rodgers, a Chicago native who has been in the business for 17 years, sang a mix of jazz, blues and “whatever I feel like singing,” she said.

Rodgers said she wasn’t too disappointed about the small crowd. “We’re having a great time, and really, that’s what music is all about.”