The House café: Kicking out the jams

By Kelly Johnson

The Midwest now has a second home to prominent independent rock bands on tour: DeKalb’s own The House Café, 263 E. Lincoln Highway.

In association with Kickstand Productions, The House is bursting onto the indie rock road map this fall with an impressive roster boasting some of today’s well-known bands. DeKalb has proven it is a worthy host for groups looking for an alternative venue to the Chicago area.

“Some bands that I’ve booked have bypassed Chicago completely because the market there is sometimes oversaturated with so many shows,” said Kickstand Productions founder John Ugolini. “DeKalb is a rich market where it’s far enough away from Chicago but it’s perfect for [touring bands] routing between bigger places like Iowa City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Louis.”

As a result, indie bands such as The Gossip, Troubled Hubble, Duvall and Of Montreal are just a few of the more recognizable names gracing the schedule for The House Café this fall.

After getting his feet wet through independent booking at various venues around DeKalb and in Rockford, Ugolini’s Kickstand Productions was offered a regular booking job through The House Café after it reopened its doors this past April. Through these connections, he has been able to establish a reputation through word-of-mouth.

“The bigger bands that have played here have really enjoyed the experience,” Ugolini said. “When Fear Before the March of Flames played here twice to sold-out shows, they went back and spoke highly of DeKalb and now their [booking] agency will contact me for shows.”

One appeal to the shows has been the fact that they are all ages. With many venues in Chicago employing an 18 or 21-and-over age limit, The House Café offers a more welcoming environment. This, in turn, attracted a younger crowd for the hardcore shows over the summer with bands like Bear vs. Shark, Fear Before the March of Flames and HORSE the Band.

Emily Ericson, a sophomore English major, attends the Thursday night shows at The House regularly.

“I’m totally for all-ages music,” Ericson said. “I can’t even think of the number of times I’ve wanted to see a show and wasn’t able to because of my age, but The House shows are open to everyone.”

The college campus aspect is key. As opposed to a larger town like Rockford, which is also close to Chicago, DeKalb benefits from the large student demographic. The campus atmosphere is also conducive to promoting culture and the arts.

One concern about the popularity of the venue however, is the crowd capacity. According to Ugolini, the approximate capacity for The House Café without seating is 300 people. This is a problem when a band such as Murder By Death draws around 400 people as they did in the beginning of the summer.

“We’ve never had to refuse anyone yet from coming in to a show,” Ugolini said. “The capacity number is generally nice; it accommodates many of the acts that people are willing to see for $10.”

Kickstand Productions operates solely as an independent organization. There are no bank loans involved and every dollar up to this point has been made from running shows. Ugolini has the luxury and responsibility of handling the money all himself, and all of the money made from shows that Kickstand books goes back into funding future shows and making bids on

touring bands.

The successes of the shows over the summer and early into this fall have sustained this trend. According to Ugolini, the increasing attendance has allowed him to make bids on larger bands that are coming to the area such as Of Montreal and The Gossip.

For the near future, Kickstand is firmly committed to building a presence for The House Café in the NIU area. According to Ugolini, DeKalb benefits from an already well-established local scene.

“DeKalb is very fortunate to have good solid local bands,” Ugolini said. “It’s nice to know that when there are big touring bands that I will be able to offer supporting local bands that will be able to draw enough people on their own.”

The exposure of up and coming bands is an aspect that Ericson also enjoys.

“It’s great to see high school bands from around the area playing at the House as well,” Ericson said. “It’s great to see them get to have as much exposure as the touring bands.”