The Bloomington-Normal music scene has seen a resurgence over the past five to seven years. As GLT reported last year, many give kudos to the Castle Theatre as the catalyst for that surge. But other venues and players are making their own noise.
Jazz UpFront, Six Strings Club, and now Nightshop are regularly booking live, original music that brings music fans to downtown Bloomington. As its name implies, Jazz UpFront’s focus is jazz music, but live blues and folk are also part of the mix for the club on Front Street. Six Strings is known primarily for live country, but rock is also heard regularly. Nightshop’s core is harder rock, but you can hear almost anything during a given week, including folk, jazz, blues, and experimental rock.
It’s nowhere near the well-known Nashville, Austin, or Portland music scenes, at least for now. But with the expansion of Midwest Punkfest to four days for its 10th iteration, Bloomington-Normal continues to impress music fans as a destination for good, live music, and a town where music is beginning to make a dent in the local economy.
“I know a couple that’s coming from Oklahoma,” said festival founder Jerm Plue, adding that the four-day ticket price of $50 is a bargain. “You can see so many great bands that you like in one place and still not pay a lot of money.”
He implied fans would then have extra spending money.
“That’s just revenue that’s going to be generated buying food, hotel rooms and frequenting other businesses,” said Plue. “Even some of the bands are choosing to forgo playing somewhere else the next day after they play here so they can stay and watch one of their favorite bands.”
Moving to Nightshop
Plue said moving and holding the fest exclusively at Nightshop has punk bands and fans both in and out of Bloomington-Normal energized.
“For the most part, we’ve never really had a venue that was 100 percent about punk rock and alternative music,” said Plue, the founder of Midwest Punkfest. “It’s always been about the venue and what the venue can get. It’s going to be a head over heels better show than it has ever been.”
In past years, Midwest Punkfest was staged at various venues including the Castle Theatre, Firehouse Pizza in uptown Normal, the Bistro in downtown Bloomington, various houses, and even at Meltdown Creative Works, which he owned by Plue. He said the venue change doesn’t alter how punk bands view themselves, but it can change the way they feel about the broader Twin City punk and music scene.
“Maybe how positive they feel things could be,” said Plue. “That there is actually going to be a place that cares about what they’re putting on and the fans that want to see them.”
Placid Bloomington-Normal with its decade’s long insurance industry backbone seems an unlikely place for a major punk festival. But Plue points to Gainesville, Florida, a city roughly the size of Bloomington-Normal, as another town with an even bigger festival that includes 400+ bands, comedians, and wrestlers over three days. He also said despite its dull reputation, the Twin Cities has a lot of punk fans.
“There are so many underground and older punk rockers in this town,” said Plue, using McLean County Assistant State's Attorney Davis Rossi as an example. Rossi also owns Bombshell Recording Studios in Bloomington.
Plue said Rossi is one of his best friends and the guy that recorded his band’s (Dirty Rotten Revenge) EP.
“He was in a major pop-punk band back in the early 2000s,” said Plue. "And now he’s a lawyer here in town. He’s one of the fastest drummers I’ve seen in a long time. There’s tons and tons of people, even from Chicago, that come down to work here even at State Farm. And they grew up loving punk rock.”
And because of the venue change, he was able to up the ante (and his budget) for Midwest Punkfest X.
“We’ve spent a lot more money than we’ve ever spent,” said Plue. “Which I’m totally happy to do because I think the town will appreciate it and the people will come see these bands. That’s ideally where we want to push it. More and more bands and maybe even more venues.”
Midwest Punkfest X runs May 31 through June 3 at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington. A complete schedule can be found on Facebook.
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