You have to travel around a bit to understand just how rare this is — that a pair of music venues founded in 1982 are still open, are still thriving, are still at the center of their community, and they’re still in the hands of the local guy, the independent owner that founded them.
The proclamation was handed to Metro and Smartbar founder Joe Shanahan by Chicago Department of Culture Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Erin Harkey during the Chicago Independent Venue League‘s free concert series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
Shanahan accepted the proclamation on behalf of the venues which were recognized for four decades operating as independent venues which saw the rise of Chicago’s punk and hardcore scenes, the birth of house music, the arrival of techno, the Wicker Park alternative scene and a constant and unrelenting support for the city’s homegrown musicians, producers and DJs.
Shanahan accepted the Mayoral Honoree award, thanking his wife Jenny, his children Tara and Michael and the “amazing staff past and present” at Metro and Smartbar.
“Thank you commissioner Harkey, all the fans who’ve come to see shows at our venues over the past four decades…and to my hometown… The City of Chicago. THANK YOU!”
Joe Shanahan was also recognized for his work toward economic relief for independent music venues, the arts and music communities during and after the COVID-19 lockdowns. In an era in which music venues and city authorities are often at odds, Shanahan’s philanthropy has spearheaded Metro and Smartbar’s deep community involvement:
“His collaborations with The Chicago Independent League on a national level were praised as well as his philanthropic efforts; campaigning for The Chicago Children’s Choir, Nourishing Hope (previously Lakeview Pantry), just to name a few.”
Smartbar was the first of the two venues to open, in July 1982, but Metro followed quickly thereafter.
The award was presented during Chicago’s Independent Venue Week and CIVL’s free show in Millennium Park. CIVL advocates for Chicago’s independent venues and strives “to gain recognition for the essential role these venues have played in defining the music culture as it exists in Chicago today,” according to a release.
Smartbar is celebrating their 40th anniversary with a pair of shows next weekend, on Friday, July 22 and a second date on Saturday July 23, the latter with Derrick Carter b2b with Mark Farina, DJ Heather, Ariel Zetina, Justin Aulis Long, Jeff Derringer and Sevron. Both are all building events and tickets are on sale now at smartbarchicago.com.
Photo by Sarah Elizabeth Larson