Booking at Bookclub: DIY venue acts as a center for musicians that are looking to create community with their art


Courtesy of Tony Ketchum

Local artist TYGKO performs raps and hip hop at the Bokkclub in Lakeview.

Chicago is  known to be a city rich with culture, especially within the music scene. Acting as the birthplace for many bands and musical artists along the lines of Wilco  and Common, Chicago has established itself as a hub in the modern musical canon. The city is also no stranger to live music, as streets are lined with venues ranging from the blues of Lincoln Park’s Kingston Mines to the noisier rock of the Ukrainian Village’s Empty Bottle. 

Although Chicago has proven impressive in musical activity, live shows are not always easily accessible for all. This is especially true with younger people who often cannot attend shows because of age restrictions or cost issues. However, Chicago’s musical influence can make it difficult for bands in their inception to find live shows to play. 

As a result, musical acts that are just starting out tend to turn toward DIY locations, whose sole purpose is to provide performances for beginning bands. A current Chicago hot spot is a Lakeview venue known as Bookclub, whose address remains hidden to legal issues (Instagram tag is @bookclubchi). Bookclub’s space is a quaint second-floor dive. It can house approximately 100 showgoers, and its stage is so low to the floor one can almost look the musicians in the eyes. 

“I love the Bookclub,” said DePaul junior Kira Isbell. “Its size is fantastic. There is a real sense of intimacy here.”

Like most of the bands it hosts, Bookclub is also on its infant legs, with the venue’s first show happening June 25 2021. Despite the fact that Bookclub has made it their mission to support smaller acts, they did not initially start the venue with this in mind.

“I was planning a show through my booking project Reset,” said Cam Stacey, one of the two renters of Bookclub. “The space we originally planned it at was served a cease and desist from their neighbors saying that they were going to be sued over noise if the show happened. I was worried we weren’t going to find a space, and then I remembered this little black box theater that was no longer operating.”

Stacey, along with Chicago-based musical collaborator TYGKO, signed the space’s lease for a month long contract. The pair, with the burden of rent hovering over their head, realized that they needed to host other shows.

“We had no other choice because we needed to pay rent, and we did the math and we needed about 10 shows a month in order to pay it,” TYGKO said. “Cam tried to fill the calendar with people he knew from Reset, but it was not enough, so we opened it up to other bands. The Bookclub as we know it, where shows are happening every night, probably began in October 2021.”

Bookclub’s current success is most likely due to Stacey and TYGKO’s philosophy on music. They have a deep appreciation for the performer, which can be seen in the way they operate. Bands receive half the ticket revenue, which is uncommon in comparison to many other venues that open their doors to bookings. This has resulted in bands often coming back with new lineups. 

“We provide musicians an opportunity to put on a show at a place with quality soundscape and stage for low stakes,” Stacey said. “You’re guaranteed to walk away with something and to that end, if you’ve done a show with us before and it went well, we’ll let you throw a show again without any money downWe like to keep good artists in the family.”

The performers are also granted complete freedom with what occurs on the stage. They never want them to feel like they don’t have a place for creativity and experimentation. 

“The spirit of what we do, and honestly what our bread and butter is, is that we allow bands to do whatever they want,” Stacey said. “We want the artist to be the sole director of the stage and show. It’s cathartic for bands to put on live shows, and it’s cathartic for the audience members as well. We need to have this catharsis.”

Bookclub acts as a safe haven of expression and musical connection. They want bands to feel comfortable as if it is an open mic, providing a home both for the groups that have never played a show before and for the weird side projects. 

This promise of opportunity and freedom has made Bookclub a frequent venue for bands from DePaul. Acts like Minivan, Daundry, Soaps and Digital Arts and Crafts regularly have shows together, and even when they do not, members will often be in the audience to support them.

Stacey and TYGKO love that communities like this are being formed in Bookclub. They believe that there needs to be more places like their establishment, that are completely open to anything. They have a sense of hope for the future of music that they believe can only be achieved with interactions like this.

“In the Chicago spirit, we are a trading post of sorts,” Stacey said. “Bands are constantly coming here and leaving with connections. I think that energy lends itself to budding artists and debuts, because there is a carte blanche that they’ve never seen before.”