Standing Outside With Their Tix in Their Hands

Around 100 ticket holders were standing in line outside HotHouse last Friday night when ten plainclothes police officers and Department of Revenue employees turned up to inspect the building–its fifth inspection since the E2 disaster. An hour later, at around 9:45, the officers informed manager Brian Page that the club was closed and that the sold-out 10 PM performance by Cuba’s Orquesta Aragon would have to be canceled. Page had several employees break the bad news to the crowd, and he says they took it well. But judging from the angry E-mails that have been zipping around the country in the days since–some suggesting the bust was an anti-Cuba police action or a shakedown–a lot of people have responded much less calmly.

Although HotHouse itself sent out a press release Friday night saying that the shutdown may have been “politically motivated,” executive director Marguerite Horberg downplayed such charges when I spoke to her on May 13. She spent Monday meeting with representatives from the Department of Revenue, who informed her that she didn’t have the proper licenses to charge admission or serve liquor during performances. HotHouse’s business and liquor licenses technically allow it to hold theatrical performances and serve alcohol an hour before and after the show and during intermission. But the venue, which operates as a nonprofit, has been putting on concerts, with typical nightclub liquor sales, since it opened in its current location five years ago. In a Tribune story that ran May 13, revenue department director Bea Reyna-Hickey said HotHouse “basically…lied” when it renewed its licenses.

Horberg denies this and insists that the licenses she has are what the department told her she needed. “When we applied we talked to lawyers from the city and we had many meetings with the Department of Revenue,” she says. “We brought in our clippings, our printed material, we had long conversations saying this is what we do: we have samba, we have poetry, we have Hugh Masekela, we have community things, and based on our narrative to them they said what you need is this. In order to get the license they came out to see the space, and clearly this is not a theater.” (Phone calls made to the Department of Revenue had not been returned at press time.)

Horberg says HotHouse attorneys are trying to negotiate with the city so that the club can reopen while waiting for a May 30 hearing. At press time, however, the club remained closed. “It’s incalculably financially horrific for us,” she says. “We have a staff to retain, but we have no income.”

Rebecca Gates’s Audio Mag

After moving to Chicago from Portland, Oregon, in the spring of 1997, Rebecca Gates kept busy: working out new material in low-key opening slots, supporting benefit projects (she appears on Jon Langford’s new anti-death-penalty record, The Executioner’s Last Songs, Vol. 2), adding backing vocals to other people’s albums. She recorded the final Spinanes record, Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop, 1998), and her first solo album, Ruby Series (Badman, 2001). She became such a ubiquitous presence that at times it was easy to take her for granted. Not anymore–in January Gates moved to Westerly, Rhode Island, to work on an audio magazine called the Relay Project with Lucy Raven, an editor at Bomb magazine. “I’m changing my status to ambassador of Chicago,” she says.

The two came up with the idea for the Relay Project last spring, when Gates was doing some work at the Armory Art Show in New York for the Brooklyn-based arts shipping company Atelier 4. Within 15 minutes of meeting each other, Gates says, she and Raven had decided to launch the project, a wide-ranging collection of audio work–including sound art, radio pieces, and music–released on compact disc as a periodical. “It’s kind of a combination of best mix tape ever and curated radio,” Gates says. “It’s edited according to our curiosities, and it’s been great to follow where things go and see where it takes us.” They started working together while Gates was in Chicago, but by the end of last year it was clear they’d need more face time. Coincidentally, Gates had friends who were opening a cinema/cafe in Westerly and needed help renovating the building, so she decided to move there and commute to New York when there was work to be done on the Relay Project.

Gates hopes the first issue will be available in July, with a follow-up finished by year’s end; they aim to go quarterly by 2004. “We’re going slowly with it, and we’re trying to keep it on a personal note,” says Gates. “This is by no means a huge launch of a new thing to buy.” The debut will feature contributions from radio artists Joe Richmond and Gregory Whitehead, sound artist Jane Philbrick, and Chicago musicians Pulseprogramming. “It’s been really nice to work with people who are obsessed with sound and audio but who don’t come to it in a music-song context or even a music-business context,” says Gates.

Not that Gates has abandoned the music-song context herself. Last Thanksgiving she started work on an album with Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner, and she’s now in the midst of writing songs for her second solo disc. She’s also been collaborating with New Jersey techno artist Morgan Geist for a series of dance records to be released on his Environ label this fall.

Prodigal Son Retreats

Lincoln Park’s cozy Prodigal Son started scheduling live music in the summer of 2001, predominantly showcasing lesser-known locals. When Brian Peterson of the Fireside Bowl took over booking responsibilities that fall, he started to bring in touring acts as well. The bar’s been presenting performances six nights a week since then–but that changed last week, when an ongoing dispute with neighbors about noise led co-owner Joel Donahue to cut the schedule back to Friday and Saturday nights.

Forty-third Ward alderman Vi Daley tried unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute herself. “A lot of times we can just settle things in the office,” she says. “But the neighbors were angry, so I suggested that they send a letter to the liquor commissioner, Winston Mardis.” The commissioner arranged a meeting between the parties and together they agreed that live music on weekends only would be an acceptable compromise.

“We want the neighbors to like us, and if that’s what we need to do, that’s what we need to do,” says Donahue, who declined to provide details about the conflict. “I just want to think of some ways to get people in here on weeknights that don’t involve live music and go about my business.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marty Perez.