Chicago music venues adapt to changing Covid-19 policies to stay afloat


Maddy Maes

Brennan Quinn, manager of Martyrs Live at 3855 N Lincoln Ave.

North Center neighborhood staple music venue and bar Martyrs’ was forced to close its doors in Mar. 2020  for over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s just one of the many music venues across Chicago that have had to close their doors and find other ways to keep their businesses afloat. A lot of music venues pivoted to doing things like live-streaming, opening outdoor patios, or selling food out of their kitchens.

“We had four months where it was like, really just totally closed, and then we opened up the patio space and it was literally, we didn’t even have a staff.” said Brennan Quinn, a manager at Martyrs’.

Along with neighboring Mrs. Murphy’s Pub, Martyrs’ was able to open up an outdoor patio, and be able to put on shows again. They also started a GoFundMe, which raised almost $25,000 that went to keeping the bar open during the pandemic.

“We’ve been around for a while,” Quinn said. “So people were super happy to help, and we were just so thankful.”

After the patio closed for the winter, Martyrs’ turned to selling pizzas using the bar’s kitchen. These pizzas allowed the business to stay open during the cold winter months.

Old Town School of Folk Music, located in Lincoln Park, underwent similar struggles at the beginning of the pandemic. Like Martyrs’, they received financial support from the community that helped to keep the school going.

“We’ve been very lucky that many of our long-time donors and members have continued to support the organization in a similar manner or in many cases an increased amount over the pandemic period so far,” said Dave Zibell, director of marketing at Old Town School of Folk Music.

The school was able to transfer most of their classes and lessons onto an online medium, allowing people to partake in them safely from home. Before they were able to put on live shows again, the school pivoted to doing online workshops with well-known artists.

“Nels Cline (Wilco), Sondre Lerche, Jeff Parker (Tortoise), Bill Frisell, Molly Tuttle, Will Sheff (Okkervil River), Robyn Hitchcock, The Mekons, Dom Flemons, Mary Gauthier, William Tyler and Rhett Miller are just a few of the dozens of artists who did online workshops with the school in 2020-2021,” Zibell said.

Despite all this help, the pandemic was still extremely difficult for both Martyrs’ and Old Town School. So both venues were more than excited to finally be able to open their doors back up in the summer of 2021.

Old Town School was able to put on concerts inside again in Aug. 2021, and Martyrs’ was able to open its indoor venue in Sept. 2021. Both venues saw great success right off the bat, with tours able to come through once again.

Martyrs’ was able to put on shows that had been rescheduled “three or four” separate times throughout the pandemic. About a year and a half of waiting and work culminated in a very successful fall season for both Martyrs’ and Old Town School.

As a result of Covid-19, both venues had to drastically change their plans in 2022 . Old Town School has decided to move all classes online once again, and Martyrs’ has decided to take the month of January off.

While this is a road bump for both businesses, they’re much more well prepared than they were last time. Old Town School has even found that the pandemic has allowed them to adapt to a whole new audience.

“We did not teach any online classes until the start of the pandemic and that’s something we’ll continue to do going forward, which gives us an opportunity to offer programming to folks from all over the country and the globe,”  Zibell said.

Martyrs’ had a similar experience with the opening up of their outdoor patio space. They feel like this outdoor space has the chance to feature “quieter music, acoustic music, much more family-oriented” a contrast to the “hard rock club” interior.

Both venues are also looking forward to a return to Chicago summers as tours continue to make their way into the city. Chicagoans are just as ready as they always are to be able to go see live music.

DePaul senior Caroline Sands is excited to be able to get back out and see shows in the summer.

“Outdoor shows in the summer are preferred, but inside shows should hopefully be ok by then,” Sands said. “I’d think that I’d just like to be able to see a show anywhere that I can.”

While the next month might be hard for these music venues, we can rest assured that they are much more well equipped to handle the storm.

“This thing will be around for awhile, but we know that the world isn’t over,” Quinn said.

You can visit Martyrs’ at 3855 N. Lincoln Ave. or visit their website You can find Old Town School of Folk Music at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. or visit their website