One rising example is the music tribute night. Venues throughout the North, West, and South Sides of the city have tapped into a growing fandom culture that seeks to legitimize the output of musicians, both contemporary and older.
This week will see the return of two such nights:
Scenes help facilitate tributes, allowing bars and clubs to bet on an idea knowing that there will be an interested audience. Event creators can recognize what is missing in the scene and fill that hole. Local venues are much more open-minded and willing to take risks in holding tribute nights.
“It's a perfect balance,” said Joe Erbentraut, a co-founder of the Kate Bush tribute night. “We have everything we need here in Chicago for innovative and unusual nightlife to succeed.”
The Kate Bush tribute night moves through venues across the city, like Parlor on the far North Side and The Whistler on the Northwest Side. This gives different audiences a chance to attend while still providing access through public transportation for those who do not live nearby.
When creating a night that references the music, ideas, and persona of a specific artist or artists, a built-in audience is even easier to find than a standard club night. And in the case of someone like Kate Bush, it is a change to legitimize her significance with American audiences who are less likely to be recognized as major part of her fandom.
“Our primary hope is that we will reach those who adore and/or appreciate the music of Kate Bush and bring them together in a space of positivity and community,” Erbentraut said.
Performers for the Kate Bush event include Distant Cities, Kyle Greer, Luke McQuillan and resident DJs Belazauberin, Joshua and Josie Bush.
Bump & Grindcore incorporates a similar structure with a variety of DJs and performers for its R. Kelly event.
Eric Strom of Bump & Grindcore and the GlitterGuts Photobooth describes his event as, “a night for true believers by true believers, where DJs from a lot of different Chicago tribes can play their guilty pleasures and longtime favorites.”
Frequent collaborators include (but are not limited to) Ernest Wilkins and Moneyworth of the Sensitive Thugs tribute night, Tess Kisner of Slo'Mo, and burlesque performer Josephine Shaker.
“As the party progresses, R. Kelly becomes more of a guiding force than the central figure,” Strom said. “It's everything we like in R. Kelly in all music. It's about sexuality and hypersexuality in music. It's about comedy in music. It's about hip hop and R&B and it's about Chicago music.”
At the Kelly tribute, audiences will hear artists ranging from Betty Davis to The Lonely Island to Aaliyah and Jodeci.
The event is a way to recognize Kelly's significance both within his hometown (through local DJs and tribute performers) as well as internationally through the variety of musicians who have taken his aesthetics and created something new.
“The access I have to all these amazing people and the reciprocal support we grant each other leads to a crowd that spans all gender identities and racial and ethnic lines,” Strom said.
By focusing on the legacy and output of one artist at a time, the creators of these events can build nightlife communities that are drawn to their music and the experience it creates.
Britt Julious is the co-host of WBEZ's Changing Channels, a podcast about the future of television. She also writes about culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt's essays for WBEZ's Tumblr or on Twitter @britticisms.