The music venue SPACE, although tied to different venues in Chicagoland, is a special place for Evanston residents.
The music venue SPACE, although tied to different venues in Chicagoland, is a special place for Evanston residents.
Kupu Sumi

Sounds from SPACE

Local music venue has found its place in the Chicagoland music scene

First-timers at Union Pizzeria, the lively bar and restaurant on Chicago Avenue, might be curious as they watch people walk straight past the bar and down a dimly lit hallway. For long-time attendees of Evanston’s beloved concert venue, SPACE, it’s a transformation act they’ve taken part in plenty of times, from the restaurant into a world of music. 

SPACE, established in 2008, has held world-class touring acts from The Lumineers, to Alabama Shakes, and later this year The Jayhawks, as well as local Evanston artists, with performances almost every night, year round. 

SPACE holds a variety of different performers, with the goal of creating a home for all types of music and gathering a diverse audience. General manager and talent buyer for SPACE Davis Inman explains the importance of striving for a broad span of music at the venue. 

“[Having a diverse range of artists] is something we think and talk about a lot,” Inman tells. “Some of it is booking nationally touring acts that are looking to play a venue like ours, where we know we can sell tickets. But we are always actively looking for things that are outside of the norm, presenting all different kinds of genres and artists.”

SPACE typically is known for holding music more on the folk and Americana side, as well as a lot of jazz and blues music. Although these genres of music are played often at SPACE, there is something for everyone—including the younger audience as it is an all-ages venue—with shows differing in content every single night. 

“Tonight is a totally indie rock show where the crowd will be much different than last night,” Inmans says during his interview with the Evanstonian on October 18th, where Jordana with Dev Lemons were performing just hours later. “I think it’s something we are conscious of, and we’re just trying to present diverse music that attracts a diverse crowd.” 

Inman has worked at SPACE for nine years, but previously worked as a music journalist for different entertainment and music magazines and journals in Chicago, New York and Nashville. He worked as the general manager of SPACE for his first eight years, but last year took the role of talent buyer as well. The previous talent buyer, Jake Samuels, moved to orchestrating the artists coming to The Salt Shed, so this left the open role that Inman stepped into. 

Chicago is known for having an extremely active music scene, and artists come from all over the world to play in the many venues offered in the bustling city—SPACE being one of them. 

“[Chicago is] one of the best cities to see live music; it’s such a lively town. We’re just a part of it as our own little niche in Evanston, serving this sort of north side thing. I see it in the continuum of music in Chicago, and hopefully, we’re doing something that people are excited about here,” Inman explains. 

Each venue in an area brings something special and unique, and this is something that bands take into account when choosing the location for their concerts. 

“In terms of the Chicago market, we are one of the venues. So, if it’s a touring band, they’re gonna have to choose between playing at SPACE or City Winery or Fitzgerald’s, etc…So we do compete on that level with other venues, but there’s also a lot of collaboration, talking to each other, and being supportive,” Inman explains. “We all want to be successful, so we try to not step on each other’s toes. I think we’re all part of an ecosystem.”

[Chicago is] one of the best cities to see live music; it’s such a lively town. We’re just a part of it as our own little niche in Evanston, serving this sort of north side thing.”

— General manager and talent buyer for SPACE Davis Inman

Although tied with different Chicagoland venues, SPACE is a special place for Evanston residents to enjoy live music while also allowing a place for local artists to showcase themselves at a real, professional venue.

SPACE brings a north-side feel to the Chicago live music scene, which helps the businesses in and around Evanston, as it brings more attraction and people visiting. Inman sees Evanston as a perfect locale for music performances. 

“I think that it fosters the arts in a town like Evanston; there’s a lot of creative minded people [here],” he says. “I think it’s great to have a place to see world class acts in your backyard.”  

Nora O’Connor, a member of the band The Flat Five, as well as a musician in multiple other bands, has been a regular performer at SPACE since 2010. O’Connor had been touring around the world with The Flat Five for around 20 years, but moved to Evanston in 2007. She was overjoyed when a new, upscale venue came right into the town she had settled in. 

“I was excited when SPACE came out, because it is just beautiful. As a new resident of Evanston and as a longtime musician, I was so excited to have a venue that is so close to my house,” O’Connor explains. “It was just such good timing.”

O’Connor has continued to play the venue often and thoroughly enjoys every performance no matter who she is up on stage with. 

“They’re just so nice. On many occasions, I get emails of texts from Jake and Davis who book the bands saying, ‘Hey, we think you are a good fit for this show. Can your band open up? Or can The Flat Five do this show?’” O’Connor illustrates. “I have a really good relationship with them, and I feel so supported by them, which is just a really good feeling.” 

Although this may seem like just common courtesy, O’Connor explains how this hospitality and treatment is not the same at every venue she plays as a musician. 

“Sometimes, you walk into a venue and the sound guy is kind of crabby, the staff is a little crabby, and you’re like,  ‘Am I in the way? Or, why is everybody mad at me?’ But I never have felt that way at SPACE. They are there when you show up, they’re ready to feed you…they want you to have a good experience. It is so professional from the minute you walk in to the end of the evening” O’Connor tells. 

Not only is that staff different from other venues with their caring nature, it is also a more polished location for bands to play, with its more modern atmosphere. 

“They care a lot about the sound in there. I don’t like crowds—especially since COVID—or being shoulder-to-shoulder with people, but even if it’s sold out, it’s not going to feel like that, which is different. I don’t want to say it’s more sophisticated, but it’s definitely like a more civilized experience than some of the smaller rock clubs that I play that are a little dirtier, a little louder, which is a cool vibe, too” O’Connor explains. “But I like to be a little extra fancy in SPACE.” 

O’Connor describes SPACE as a great place for newer or smaller artists to start getting more recognition within the music world. 

“I think the people who book SPACE are so kind to younger and newer artists. They’ll give them the Monday night, an early Sunday show, or try to match up a newer artist with a touring band that is coming through. [As a newer artist] you kind of have to work your way up, and I think they nurture that,” O’Connor claims. 

Jillian Arnyai

Inman finds that nurturing process vital to the success of a venue like SPACE. For him, when local artists will reach out, hoping to have an opening to a bigger show, he knows how vital it is to do his best to make that a reality. 

“When there is a show where the headliner is going to get a lot of people in the room, and there’s an opportunity to have an opening act, it’s a great way for us to help up-and-coming artists to build a fan base, get them in front of people. So we always want to do that, and it is a good way to keep the local artists community engaged” Inman explains. 

Playing on a Monday night or earlier in the day on a weekend might not seem like a huge deal, but to smaller performers, this is where you have to start to work your way up the ladder. SPACE has had years of experience with countless performers, so they understand the beginning phase, and try to cater best they can to these artists. 

“I hope that we support people who live in Evanston or nearby and are musicians and want to play. We do a lot of touring music, but we try to book as much local talent as we can too, so we can foster what they’re trying to do, and give them a space to play” Inman says. 

SPACE has also held performances with artists from our very own high school. The band Friko, who recently played SPACE’s 15th anniversary party this past June, includes members Bailey Minzenberger, Luke Stamos, and Niko Kapetan who all attended ETHS. SPACE has also booked Kweku Collins—alternative hip-hop rap artist—who is also an ETHS alumni.“We’re always excited to discover and help promote new bands and younger musicians in Evanston,” Inman says.

In 2018, for the 10th anniversary or SPACE, they hosted an outdoor festival at the Canal Shores Golf Course. 

“That first year doing Out of SPACE, because it was the first year, we didn’t really know what we’re doing, but sort of pulled it off somehow,” Inman explains. 

For that show, Mavis Staples performed, which Inman also describes as one of the great shows of his career. Staples was a major activist during the civil rights movement in Chicago, and is also a Grammy award winner, so it was a great honor to have her perform. 

This celebration was a huge success and still occurs annually. It even gave SPACE an easier outlet to continue their work through the pandemic. SPACE did face struggles along with the rest of the live music industry during COVID, but it found ways to continue bringing music to the community. 

“They did these “Out of space” little yard shows where you can hire, there was a list of musicians, and I was one of them. So you could ‘hire Nora’ to come play your backyard, and you would get a six pack of beer or soda and some pizzas from Union,” O’Connor explains. “They were curating these sort of backyard parties all over Evanston.” 

It was a complex time to navigate and flow with, but SPACE found their way to keep the performances rolling, even in this abnormal way for them. Keeping staff at work was a main priority, and so these smaller, outdoor shows were the perfect way to continue operating. 

That first year doing Out of SPACE, because it was the first year, we didn’t really know what we’re doing, but sort of pulled it off somehow.”

— Davis Inman

“They did a lot for their staff just to try to keep people working, and they found creative ways. They also built a small stage behind Union Squared and did outdoor concerts for a year there. So I feel like they jumped right into action pretty quickly, to help support artists and bring music into the community. I actually think back fondly on those days,” O’Connor reminisced. 

Now that society has for the most part resumed to normal with social situations, the larger Out of SPACE festivals have been reinstalled, and is something many Evanston residents look forward to every summer. In July of 2023, the concert was held at the Canal Shores Golf Course and featured artists such as Dawes and Lucious, Lord Huron, Regina Spektor, Andrew Bird, and (of course) O’Connor. 

Just like many other businesses, SPACE came out stronger on the other side. But this was a gradual change that came with lots of patience and seeing how things would pan out. 

“Right after we were beginning to see things open again,” Inman explains, “We kind of thought the floodgates were going to burst open and there will be this huge sort of renaissance for live music,” Inman explains. 

But this was not truly the case, as the pandemic was a tricky thing to maneuver with.

“Tourists would go out, but then get COVID and it’d be canceled. There was this stop/start for I feel like a year” Inman describes. 

This unsure and nervous nature if shows would go on was still lingering up until around December of 2022, but SPACE has seen this dwindle throughout the rest of this year. 

“It feels like this year has really come back, things are really strong,” Inman says. “People want to be out, and the artists are just so thrilled to be back. It feels like that renaissance is finally sort of hitting, which has been exciting. That just felt like a really negative time, so this has just felt really positive. I love seeing people back out enjoying my music. It’s been a real relief.” 

So not only have the people who enjoy live music gotten back to singing and dancing in-person with others, the people running this industry find a calm in seeing all the faces back in their environments, that are curated specifically for life and music. 

Having never experienced a shutdown like this before, it was a time for SPACE to reflect and see what they could improve within their workplace. 

“I think we’ve learned a lot…. how to take care of each other better, how to run a little bit more efficiently, a lot more focus on safety and on mental health—within the industry and in artists on the touring side—So I think [COVID] really opened up a lot of things,” Inman names. 

With everyone at home, it brought time for individual reflection. Inman claims he can vaguely see the difference in comparing people’s attitudes when coming back out to SPACE pre and post pandemic. 

“I do think people are way more aware. I think guests are more aware of the spaces they’re in. I can’t prove this, but I feel like there’s just more of a general kindness among people—that we’ve sort of survived this together. There used to be so much more sort of tension, but now I see the shows and people just seem to be nice to each other and take care of each other which is really nice” Inman explains. 

There is a chaos that ensues throughout the time a show is put on the books, till the time the doors shut and the band goes home, but Inman states it is all worth it. 

“Seeing the shows is just the best part. You put so much effort into every single one from booking it, to putting it on sale and marketing it, to the communication that happens leading up to the show and then they finally get up on stage and it happens. And there’s a thrill of the chase, when trying to book big artists” Inman explains. “The middle is sort of excruciating, but the beginning and the end always makes it worth it.”

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