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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Pointing forward: Music nonprofit goes big with latest eclectic act at history museum

A woman lays in an unmade bed with an electric guitar, looking at a photographer in the foreground of the image.
Adam South
courtesy Rousay
Claire Rousay makes her Twin City debut on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington.

Twin City music promoter pt.fwd [pronounced “point forward”] returns to the McLean County Museum of History next week with its latest salon: a shared bill featuring Los Angeles-based experimental musician Claire Rousay with opener Emily How.

How is a young indie rocker from Petersburg, who's honing her sound after early success as a folksy singer/songwriter and a brief stint on “The Voice.”

Pt.fwd recently celebrated a big milestone, crossing the five-year mark. Thus most of this new nonprofit's existence was during the pandemic.

“This is our first real year back since the pandemic,” said executive director Eddie Breitweiser, who’s taking the year to ramp up Pt.fwd’s capacity.

“We’re going harder on promotions, going harder on audience growth, going harder on marketing and all those kinds of things,” he said. That has included first-ever fundraising events, hiring a marketing intern and booking artists like Rousay, nationally recognized as one to watch in experimental music.

Rousay collects thousands of hours of field recordings, layering bits and bobs from everyday life within a sound that’s deeply personal and, lately, has become increasingly melodic. She fits right in the pocket of Breitweiser’s curatorial zeitgeist, which trends toward atmospheric, ambient and improvisational — but not unlistenable — electronic music.

“I launched the series to celebrate and stay in touch with the music I love,” he said. “I know that’s not always the most common type of music that people like. What’s interesting to me is not just sort of forcing a perspective on listeners, but actually building community and building audiences. So, what I look for in artists is people who are at the forefront of advancing what music and the world around us sounds like today — but doing it in a way that draws people in.”

Rousay builds her music in real time, engaging the audience with prompts and folding in voice memos and atmospheric sounds that will be in ample supply in the museum’s cavernous rotunda. Breitweiser said it’s hard to describe her music and is best experienced live.

“I’ve had the good fortune of seeing her play twice now,” he said. “When you listen to her recordings, you don’t totally understand how multi-sensory it is. I love music that demands to be seen in person.”

It was a Harmon Arts Grant that made it possible to get Rousay here. Indeed, the lion’s share of Pt.fwd’s miniscule budget is earmarked to pay each artist in the series. Breitweiser has yet to draw a paycheck, but grants and Pt.fwd’s partnership with the museum make it possible to keep concerts free and guarantee artists get paid.

That, plus a sympathetic, growing audience make Bloomington-Normal an appealing stop for reputable artists— who Breitweiser said all talk to each other. The gossip train is one reason he’s been able to attract some of the most notable musicians of the genre.

“I’ll give you a real-life example,” he said. “Two season ago, we had Jon Mueller. I’ve been a huge fan of his music and was thrilled he found out about us as an organization. Once he reached out, it was a no-brainer to bring him in. In very short order, his next two Midwest tours included dates in Bloomington-Normal.”

Claire Rousay with opener Emily How performs at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at the McLean County Museum of History. Details about the free concert at ptfwd.org.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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