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Feature Thu Sep 17 2009
Upon first hearing about this new venue up in Evanston, I immediately wrote it off because, well, it's in Evanston, and that's too far from the city, right? Even the name SPACE, an acronym for "Society for the Preservation of Art & Culture in Evanston," sounds stuffy and official. Then I heard that there was something very special happening there, that it was a sort of co-op for artists and doubled as a recording studio. This piqued my interest. I contacted General Manager Jake Samuels and he invited me to the Buckwheat Zydeco show a few weeks back so I could check the place out and talk with him about the concept. We were lucky to also be joined by Owner/Partner (and musician) Stuart Rosenberg for the conversation where we talked about everything from archaic liquor ordinances, to the abstruseness of jazz, to of course SPACE itself and the concept behind it. Turns out there's a lot going on under the hood.
SPACE (All photos courtesy of Jake Samuels)
First lets get to the specs: 2,000 sq ft venue, 250 person capacity, hardwood floors, vaulted ceiling, exposed brick walls. The building was formerly a car dealership, not that you'd ever know it other than a mention on their website where it talks about parking. It fronts as a pizza parlor with Union Pizzeria as the façade, and there is a small entrance to the club just beyond the front door. Inside is a beautiful room that serves as a "blank canvas" for whatever is on the bill. The original idea behind the club was to create a flexible room for the community that could transform into whatever it needs to be. They've hosted rock bands, blues, jazz, singer/songwriters, classical music, kids shows and even comedy — and they all shape the room uniquely.
Hidden even further beyond the venue is a state of the art recording studio--but this studio isn't available for session rental. As Samuels said during our interview, "What's cool is we have 250 people out there and they have no idea what's going on back here." So what exactly is going on back there? Artists are invited to record while stopping there on tour, working it into their trip. The other side is The League of Creative Musicians, the co-op I spoke of earlier, where musicians (professional, amateur and aspiring) can join and based on membership level, get a certain number of hours in the studio along with tons of other perks. Members get access to the backstage lounge, entry to any show, ability to put on their own show, rehearsal time, and are even able to hang out and play with musicians performing there on tour. Touted as "a serious playground for the musically inclined," think of it as what a golf club is to people that love golf, but for those who love making music. The League is still evolving as it grows, though. Rosenberg says, "as is always the case with a venture like this that has never been done before, it ends up telling us what it is."
On top of musicians recording in the studio, SPACE is also doing something very special: they record every show. That's right, they have an archive of every show played there. I asked them about making the recordings available to ticket buyers after a show, (who wouldn't love a souvenir like that?!) and there is a plan to have an archive on the website, but they want to perfect it first. "It's somewhat complicated to make the recordings feel as good as the live experience," Rosenberg says. They also have a similar plan for video in the works, but for now, they're "happy to rack stuff up on the hard drive" until they get a distribution method ironed out.
One of the big motivators for opening in Evanston instead of Chicago is because, well, that's where the owners live. A lot of their friends and co-horts have families and they wanted to provide a place in the community where they could come to experience culture and not have to venture into the city, which can be difficult once you have kids. But the main inspiration for SPACE was restoring the supportive art community of Evanston that they remember growing up with. "What's at the heart of the experience as far as we're concerned is the music," says Rosenberg. "It's not about making a really cool scene, it's about providing a really cool context for the music, for creativity." I think that applies to the concept as a whole, in the studio as well as the venue. And to any music-lover is admirable.
Now open for a year and a half, word is spreading and people are really starting to come in and see what SPACE is all about. The bottom line is that once you visit SPACE, you'll want to come back. Just one block from the Purple Line and only blocks from Northwestern, suddenly Evanston doesn't seem so far away. For those of us city-dwellers, it's now on our radar of possible places to attend a concert. Check SPACE's website for upcoming shows.