The stage was dark and silent at Bill’s Blues on Wednesday, the live music absent.
Bill’s Blues, 1029 Davis St., was closed Tuesday and Wednesday after the city suspended the bar’s liquor license in compliance with the state of Illinois.
Bill Gilmore, who owns the bar, said he owes the state sales taxes and has lost his license as a result. Gilmore said he needs to raise $50,000 within the next week in order to pay off all the necessary expenses to keep the bar running.
Unable to get a bank loan, Gilmore is seeking help from “friends, relatives and drinking buddies,” he told The Daily earlier this week.
This challenge comes after several financial struggles. Two years ago, owners held a special fundraising event to keep the bar open. This past summer, Bill’s Blues had to fight to regain its liquor license after being caught selling alcohol to a minor in a police sting.
While Bill’s Blues is under the threat of closure, another live music venue, Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., has experienced growth, not decline, since opening in April 2008, said general manager Jake Samuels. He said ticketed events make it easier to draw upon specific fan bases and that he would be sorry to see Bill’s Blues go.
“What Bill has done has been great and it’s a tough go,” Samuels said. “We certainly don’t like the idea of being the only musical option in Evanston.”
Gilmore, along with several musicians he books, said establishments like Bill’s Blues are becoming a rarity.
If Bill’s Blues does remain open, it will likely expand its horizons to include more indie rock and hip-hop acts in the hopes of attracting additional clientele, Gilmore said. High-quality music is a priority, he said, not dance parties.
“We’re not the Keg,” he said.
Gilmore said the recession of 2008 and 2009 caused a decrease in business as people went out less in order to save money. He said the bar has attracted most of its
Northwestern clientele through events organized by NU students.
Weinberg senior Cameron Henderson said he helped organize a fundraising event for STITCH Magazine and Northwestern Art Review at the bar.
“We chose Bill’s Blues because they always have great live music and they tend to be friendly to students,” he said.
Local musicians who play at Bill’s Blues said the bar offers a unique experience to Evanston that is getting harder to find.
“Bill’s Blues is everything that’s right about Evanston,” said Tom Crivellone, who plays at the bar’s weekly blues jam. “It’s an old-fashioned kind of blues bar, but it’s got modern touches and modern people.”
Mike Finnerty, who plays saxophone every week at Bill’s Blues, said the bar’s struggle is a result of the recession, as well as a long-term decline for music venues of its kind. Live music, he said, is becoming a less prominent part of culture.
“Our mass media doesn’t feature any live music at all,” he said. “You won’t see somebody playing jazz on American TV. The average American’s music consumption is the equivalent of eating McDonald’s five nights a week and Burger King the other two, but paying filet mignon prices.”
Finnerty said Bill’s Blues cultural value merits the city cutting the venue some slack.
Finnerty said he would like to see more students coming to play at the bar in the future. “You can’t be a jazz musician just going to school,” he said. “You have to go out to play.”He said closing the bar would eliminate one of a dwindling number of jazz clubs in the area.
“I play pretty much vintage jazz, and there’s hardly any outlet for the jazz I play,” Finnerty said. “It’s destroying the only living habitat of an endangered species.”