Arny Granat and Jerry Mickelson
Owners, Jam Productions
JAM solidified its hold on the mid-sized concert market in Chicago by booking the first major show at Cricket Hill, near Montrose Beach. Tens of thousands of fans showed up to see Mumford and Sons the night of June 17. The concert generated noise complaints from several adjacent neighborhoods, which could pose immediate problems for Cricket Hill, but not for Arny Granat and Jerry Mickelson; JAM remains the largest independent producer of live events in the country, and is already gearing up for two high-profile shows at Wrigley Field: Foo Fighters on August 29 and AC/DC on September 15. Meanwhile the organization continues to book The Vic, Park West and the Riviera, and is actively exploring additional venues.
Owner, Metro and Smart Bar
With the Schuba brothers having sold their club (see #17), Joe Shanahan takes his place as the grand old man of Chicago independent music venue owners and operators. It’s a title he might easily have missed earning; a little over a year ago he was at his lowest ebb, drained physically and emotionally by an aggressive course of treatment for tongue cancer. Now fully recovered, he seems more vital than ever; and in addition to recommitting himself to both his clubs, he’s gearing up to co-produce his first film—a dramatized retelling of the story of Chicago’s legendary Warehouse nightclub and its charismatic DJ, house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles, a former associate of Shanahan’s who died in 2014. Meantime, Shanahan remains a frequent and energizing presence at both Metro and the Smart Bar, which may be why both clubs continue to be such a vital part of many Chicago artists’ career trajectories, as they have been for thirty-plus years.
Owner, SPACE/Co-owner, The Promontory, Thalia Hall
Craig Golden believes that success at three entertainment venues many miles apart is earned by respecting the people you want other people to pay to see. “We’re pretty artist-centric in our outlook; this is not a money-grab for us,” he says about SPACE, his Evanston-based club that opened in 2008. “We get people that normally wouldn’t play in front of 225 people, but they know that this is a great stop on a tour.” All three of his venues are characterized by their eclectic, chameleon-like musical palettes. As for the South Side location of Thalia Hall and The Promontory, which Golden launched with partner Bruce Finkelman (see #6), he says, “We love going into areas that are neighborhoods where we can bring a positive, long-term effect with music and food, as opposed to the tourist areas. That’s what gives us the greatest joy. We want to be there for the long haul.”
President, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Jeff Alexander has only been on the job for six months, but the change in tone from his recent predecessors is already remarkable and refreshing. He began his career as a French horn player, and possesses the sensitivity and soul of a musician, a huge plus for the CSO. He brings more than thirty years of experience as a music manager to Chicago including long stints at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, both organizations that he considerably expanded both artistically and financially. Thus far, Alexander seems far more interested in listening than talking, whether to Riccardo Muti or average CSO subscribers. In this, he seems a throwback to the management style of John S. Edwards, the CSO’s general manager during the Solti years, who was far more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy than the flamboyant and gregarious styles of Henry Fogel and Deborah Rutter. Of course, the proof is in actions more than words, and Alexander has already begun quietly making changes that are in line with Muti’s vision without Muti even needing to ask him. Alexander’s first real test, however, will be the upcoming three-year contract negotiations that last time ended up breaking off and causing a strike and picket line during the first week of the season.
General Manager, City Winery
One of the jewels of the West Loop scene is City Winery, the Chicago iteration of music impresario Michael Dorf’s original Tribeca performance venue. Part culinary playground, part concert hall, the renovated 1911 warehouse regularly manages to attract top-tier talent to its relatively intimate 300-seat “listening room”—a feat that can be credited to GM Nathan Holgate and his intrepid talent booker, Libby Brickson. Holgate’s earlier career as a singer seems to have left him a sensitivity to artists’ needs that’s helped make the CW the kind of spot players like to play—where Norah Jones will perform an unadvertised set, or Prince will take the stage at 1am with an eighteen-piece horn section. (And yeah, if you’re asking, the wine selection is all that, too.)
Leader, Wilco and Producer
Tweedy is primarily known as the singer/songwriter at the helm of Wilco, the band he’s steered for more than twenty years, and whose current status is best described as “live performance juggernaut.” But the influence he’s accrued with Wilco has enabled him to build a platform for other, rising musicians. And not just new talent, either; his most recent work as a producer is for the English folk legend Richard Thompson. Tweedy produced Thompson’s 2015 release “Still,” which was recorded in his band’s famous North Side Chicago loft. Tweedy also helped to found dBpm Records, a label now stationed in Massachusetts that’s released efforts by Wilco as well as Tweedy’s latest solo album, “Sukierae,” which features his son Spencer on the drums.
President and Managing Director, Harris Theater
Thanks to Michael Tiknis’ vision and persistence, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater has set a high bar for presenting exciting local, national and international acts that would otherwise go unheard and unseen in Chicago. Last season saw Harris venturing into opera apart from Chicago Opera Theater—a mainstay of the venue since it opened over a decade ago—with the North American debut of Teatro Regio di Torino performing Rossini’s “William Tell.” In conjunction with Lyric Opera’s Lyric Unlimited, Harris also inaugurated the brilliant “Beyond the Aria” series in which two internationally-known opera singers and a rising star from Lyric’s Ryan Center perform non-operatic repertoire in a cabaret setting. The theater is also beginning a five-year collaboration with Kronos Quartet, which will kick off with the world premiere of a Harris-commissioned opera. Meanwhile, Harris remains the resident venue for an ever-expanding host of diverse area music and dance companies, including Music of the Baroque, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series, Fulcrum Point New Music and Chicago Jazz Ensemble, to name a few.
Chief Operating Officer, Schubas and Lincoln Hall
Big shakeup since we last profiled the Schuba brothers in 2013: Chris Schuba chose to leave the music biz for other opportunities, and in April of this year he and Mike sold both of their clubs to Chicago music company Audiotree and Michigan-based Greenleaf Companies. Mike, however, is staying on as COO of both venues, which is great news for Chicago music fans. He stresses that the sale is “very, very fresh” and that he and the new owners are still in a transition period. Beyond some immediate infrastructure upgrades, there are no immediate new plans… but any that are arrived at will be the result of “a collective brainstorming,” in which Mike’s years of hands-on experience will undoubtedly play a significant role.
Agent, Windish Agency
With president Tom Windish having gone bicoastal, Brad Owen is his agency’s chief man on the ground in Chicago. Owen has been with Windish for nine years and represents an expansive palette of talents including Dillon Francis, Flosstradamus, Justice, Bonobo, Amon Tobin, Matthew Dear, Kill Paris, Simian Mobile Disco, The Magician, Peter Hook & the Light and many others. Owen’s past endeavors include booking at Metro and The Smart Bar, as well as DJing at those clubs and other high-profile rooms, including Crimson Lounge. This puts him squarely in tune with the EDM acts that make up an increasing percentage of the Windish client list—which at latest count includes more than 800 artists, for whom the agency books some 18,000 gigs per year.