Venue makes ‘Elbo Room’ for college musicians

By Alex Stedman

It’s not hard to walk through a city college campus and find young musicians vying for money and exposure. The music industry can be tough to break into, but starting Oct. 11, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln Ave., will dedicate one night each week to emerging college talent.

The Lakeview bar will host a College Night every Thursday, during which students will be able to perform music for an audience. Patrons who show a college ID along with their 21+ ID will pay a discounted cover charge of $5.

Adam Powers, talent buyer and production manager at Elbo Room, said College Night was partly inspired by his own experience playing in a small band in Ohio that was often featured at a bar, and he wants to offer similar exposure for Chicago’s college students while getting a first look at new talent.

“I feel the only way to move any kind of music forward is to catch [musicians] while they’re young,” Powers said. “I’m trying to figure out what college kids are actually listening to.”

Elbo Room isn’t the first local venue to make it a mission to feature young acts. Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., has been a prominent destination for live music for years. Metro’s publicist, Jenny Lizak, said bands that play in Chicago must often go through Metro because of its reputation for giving new bands their first shot. It also consistently attracts a younger crowd.

“Most of the people who are coming to see live music of the rock, indie rock or electronic music genre fall within the 18 to 25 age range, the same range for traditional college students,” she said.

Powers said he believes a benefit of featuring college-age acts is that students are often less biased than other audiences. He said after college, many people turn to the mainstream media for music instead of local bands.

Why a band would choose to play at College Night is a complicated answer, according to Jerry Brindisi, instructor in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department. He said it all depends on who the band’s target audience is.

“It can certainly benefit college bands if their market [is] other students,” he said. “If their music appeals to someone else, just playing at a college night because you’re a college student may not be the best move.”

Brindisi pointed out that serving alcohol at the venue is an issue because many college students are not of legal drinking age and customers must be 21 years old to enter Elbo Room.

Still, he said, exposure is extremely necessary for success in the music industry. He endorsed the importance of having a fan base because a music venue is, first and foremost, a business trying to make money.

Lizak and Powers agreed that attracting an audience is crucial, and while the music comes first when booking bands, there’s a bit more to it than that.

“There are millions of people who want to be rockstars,” Lizak said. “You not only have to practice and get good musically, but you have to work hard.”

She said bands that utilize social media and pass out fliers get the most attention.

Brindisi said bands should look for help and management where they need it to get their names out, whether through social media, contacting venues

or advertising.

“There’s certainly no shortage of students that are interested in helping to manage, market, promote and work with artists,” he said. “They need to put the feelers out and let people know what they’re all about.”

Powers said College Night could be a great place for young musicians to play and make some money because a portion of the cover charges goes to the bands, and some groups could be asked to play again.

“I’m trying to get a cool vibe and a niche of college kids that want to continue playing music, maybe forever,” Powers said. “You never know.”

College Night begins Oct. 11 at Elbo Room and will continue every Thursday. Interested bands can contact Adam Powers at