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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 04:43 pm

Venues make a comeback


New Orleans/Nashville songwriter Greg Barnhill hosts the Hitmakers song swap with country superstar Billy Dean at Boondocks, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 7

Not long ago Springfield was sorely lacking in club venues capable of handling a few hundred folks to see national touring acts. Now within a few months, voila!, ask and ye shall receive, here you go, we have the spaces.

Some months back Catch 22, located downtown, near the corner of Fifth and Adams began booking bands on a regular basis. Long known as a late-night dance club, Catch built a nice stage, set up a good PA system and brought in bands. The space can hold a good crowd, mainly caters to local acts and after the bands are done the dance crowd takes over from 1 to 3 a.m. The space sounds good and works nicely, even if it’s a bit disconcerting, watching the late night crowd file in, just waiting for the live music to end.

Just recently, the former Pizza Machine space (once the Atrium, the Spot and other names) became Donnie’s Homespun, a venue with food, a large sound system and stage, green room and space for several hundred music fans. They’ve been aggressively booking national touring acts as well as popular local groups, staying to the rocking edge of things and working the alternative audience. The owner comes from Decatur where he made Donnie’s Homespun Pizza a good go near Millikin and approached Springfield with a can-do attitude, bringing it on with big names and bold ideas.

Just six weeks ago another venue entered the fray, as Boondocks opened in the renovated space belonging to a longtime, late-night dance club, Rockin’ Robin’s (and the GA before that). New owners Pat and Carole (Grigiski) Keating had a dream and followed it all the way to fruition. After much reworking of the building, Boondocks is open for business in a big way courting local acts and working the modern country scene on a level not seen before in Springfield.

“I’ve always liked live music and the business of it. My aunt worked in music promotion and spent time with Nashville country stars,” said Carole. “We thought it was over our head, but we just jumped in – we’ve run a business before and decided to give it a go.”

This week kicks in big time with Randy Houser on Saturday (with Brent Anderson and Tyler Hartry as opening acts) and an in-the-round session next Wednesday, Nov. 7, with hit songwriter Greg Barnhill and his guest, million-dollar record selling star Billy Dean. Houser is on the move with a Top 20 hit, “How Country Feels,” currently burning up the charts and touring the places that can put the performer over the edge, and Carole intends to bring Barnhill back to Springfield every three or four weeks with a different star/songwriter guest each time. As far as I know, no one in town has hosted this kind of modern country music at this level in a venue this size and your hosts are hoping Springfield responds to the offer.

“We’ve had some trying moments and sometimes these six weeks have seemed like six years, but things have been evolving. It’s coming together,” Carole said. “We see it as a great opportunity for Springfield to experience some high quality country music and we’re having fun bringing in the acts and trying to make things happen.”

The only problem seems to be whether Springfield can or will support venues on the level necessary to sustain the budgets that come with booking national touring acts and maintaining the facilities needed to support the larger groups. What does an owner or manager do if a DJ brings in the same size crowd at a fraction of what it costs to book a big act? No business can survive without business, no matter the strength backing the desire behind the dream. We sure are happy to have the nice new venues, now let’s go show our support.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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