Into the Dragon Room: Nederlander Takes on Jam in China Club

On the verge of foundering last winter, the China Club is set to enter a promising new era as a concert venue with the inking of a deal between the club and the giant Nederlander Concerts operation. “Effective immediately, we will begin producing and promoting shows at the China Club,” says Mark Campana, director of midwest talent acquisition for Nederlander Concerts. Campana said the deal is a “multiyear” one, but would not specify when the contract expires. According to Campana, Nederlander will receive a fee plus a percentage of ticket sales that will vary depending on the act.

Nederlander Concerts is a division of the New York-based Nederlander Organization, a major player on the national scene in both the concert and live-theater businesses. Nederlander owns and operates the Poplar Creek Music Theatre in suburban Hoffman Estates and the 2,200-seat Shubert Theatre in the Loop, as well as many other large concert venues and theaters across the country.

With Nederlander clout behind it, Campana says the China Club will book between 50 and 60 national acts and around 100 regional acts a year. Nederlander expects to bring in a wide range of talent, from jazz and folk to country, salsa, and hard rock. Ticket prices will range from around $6 for local bands to $18 for the bigger national acts. Concertgoers will also have access to the rest of the club’s facilities. A number of other local and regional acts, signed by in-house booker Michael Yerke, will be part of the China Club concert lineup for the price of a regular cover charge ranging from $5 to $10. With its new booking arrangement, the club is likely to compete even more aggressively for acts with Park West on the near north side, a facility controlled by Jam Productions.

The Nederlander deal comes in the wake of renovations of the club’s main concert space, the Dragon Room, which have turned it into a location better suited for concerts. The room has a new sound system and improved sight lines, and a large bar that once filled the center of the venue has been moved to one side to increase seating capacity. The room can now accommodate between 600 and 1,000 people, depending on the seating configuration.

Nederlander had been on the prowl for about 18 months for a Chicago venue with a capacity of around 1,000 that could serve as a showcase for emerging talent. “We wanted to do more developing of young talent and bringing them through the system,” says Campana. Nederlander examined a number of locations, including the Cubby Bear, which had been booked by Brad Altman until he was fired last winter.

Several months ago Nederlander Concerts execs were introduced to China Club co-owner Paul Stepan, who was in the process of buying out the New York China Club’s management contract for the Chicago club. According to Campana, Nederlander and Stepan discovered a simpatico approach to running their respective businesses that eventually led to the China Club deal.

Art Dealer Moves to a Friendlier Neighborhood

Art dealer Marikay Vance of Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, is on the move. Vance, who caused a ruckus when she first opened her unabashedly commercial gallery in the center of the tony River North gallery district last September, is moving her business to a new space on the second and third floors of 675 N. Michigan on September 18. Vance’s sales tactics, which included gold lame swaths in the windows and large bows on paintings, shocked some of her neighbors, who feared she was adversely affecting the low-key image other gallery owners sought to maintain.

When Vance initially arrived in the area, some dealers suggested she would fare better on Michigan Avenue, which is apparently what she eventually decided. Vance was unavailable for comment, but a spokeswoman said Vance believed the customer traffic would be heavier on Michigan and that her artists would enjoy greater exposure. As a farewell gesture, Vance sent out change-of-address notices to her River North neighbors. Written across the top of one such notice, sent to Susan Sazama at Sazama Gallery, was the brief message: “It’s been real.”

Art of the Well-Subsidized Bash

he best fund-raiser is one where the funds to cover expenses are raised ahead of time. Fortunately, such is the case with the New Group of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual New Art ’92 Street Party, slated for Friday evening at Superior and Orleans streets. The event’s principal hard-cash sponsors include Fruit of the Loom, which forked over $10,000 plus event T-shirts. Swanky Oak Street clothier Ultimo nearly doubled its contribution to $8,000 from $5,000 last year. One source speculated Ultimo’s hefty outlay was an attempt to maintain visibility among the hip and arty and to deflect attention from this week’s opening of the first Chicago outpost of Barneys, an image-conscious New York clothing store and potential Ultimo competitor. First-time underwriter Toyota also kicked in $5,000.

Club Lower Links Gets Back to Business

Club Lower Links has a new lease on life. Daniel Howie, Lydia Tomkiw, and Laura Zasada have bought the club’s lease on the basement space at 954 W. Newport and its contents from former proprietor Leigh Jones. The reopening is slated for Sunday. Howie says the club will continue booking the kinds of acts it previously presented, including performance art, poetry readings, film, video, and theater. Performances will take place early in the evening to allow people time to mingle at the bar afterward. “We want this to be both a bar and a performance space,” says Howie, who indicated bar receipts would help underwrite other aspects of the operation.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.