Music City 2

A few weeks ago, we reported that Indy Chamber, alongside Central Indiana Community Foundation, City of Indianapolis, and Visit Indy had launched Phase I of the Indy Music Strategy, an economic development initiative focused on the city’s diverse and growing music industry.

Following the piece, there was a prompt, asking NUVO readers to answer a series of questions related to the initiative. Below is the second round of responses we’ve received to the story.

Head here for the initial prompt.

Response 1: Craig Helmreich

In my view, this project is a great first step well, second or third step really. The first step was the true artist pioneers and visionary organizations that came long before this initiative. The second step was the bands that were inspired by those who led the way and entrepreneurs like the wonderful people at Square Cat, or HI-FI/MOKB, or State Street Pub, or more recently Healer, just to name a few.

This is a great next step. Show government that maybe some things don’t make sense be able to do an 18+ show at HI-FI. I’ve seen a few young bands that would be cool on the New Faces stage HI-FI is running, but their fans wouldn’t be able to see them. Thank goodness for Square Cat and other places that do a serious amount of all-ages programming ... but, it would be cool if some minor modifications to the liquor laws could help us reach a younger audience.

Additionally, I’m excited to see the data and the numbers that this project develops. I suspect Indianapolis will be shocked at the economic impact of music and will have another reason to promote music tourism here; both as something our convention and other traffic can seek out, and as it grows maybe even as a general strength of the citylike Austin, Memphis, Nashville and a few other cities do so well.

I know some artists see the money poured into this consulting project and think that money would be better off going directly into the arts community. But, this is a big, medium-term play. If this works, the reward for the arts community will be a stronger, more profitable community—and that is way better than a one-time infusion.

Like we hope to achieve with Fourth Sunday Music Co., this initiative will inevitably open some eyes to the scene here ... and that’s always good.

Response 2: Dave Jablonski

I played most of the venues when I was under 21. I've worked at most of the venues in town, and there’s always been underage bands that have played. I don't really understand what the issue is. How many underage places have come and gone because … well kids. Kids acting like kids, and underage drinking. You would need to change laws that hold venues responsible when those kids go home to their parents drunk, and they say they were at a show etc. etc.

Furthermore, there’s Healer, Grove Haus, Square Cat, and Woodruff Town Hall, and there's all the stuff at Tube Factory and Listen Hear. Then, there are neighborhood clubhouses and other options that people can rent to hold concerts for kids. I really think this whole thing is a nothing burger.

Response 3: Meredith Dover

During high school, Margot and the Nuclear So and So's were the big local band, and I had probably seen them at least 15 to 20 times before heading off to college in Bloomington. They played lots of all-ages venues, but mainly the Emerson, which now seems to only hold washed-up acts. We went to probably one of the shadiest parts of town because it was the only place where we were allowed. The Irving Theater was another one of these venues, but had far fewer shows than the Emerson.

It seems that now there are a couple different factors that give kids under 21 less of an opportunity to see local music. One is that most of the bigger names in Indy are playing bars like HI-FI, State Street Pub, Pioneer, etc. The emergence of these bars in Fountain Square/Holy Cross has "stolen the spotlight," in a sense, from less desirable all-ages venues. Yes, the Emerson, the Irving Theater, and the Hoosier Dome still exist, but they're pretty run down and are in close proximity to some clandestine activity. Most kids don't seem to care about that stuff, but I guarantee most of their parents do, especially if they're coming from the suburbs.

The other big factor seems to be a decline in the quality of bands. Margot was being written about in Spin magazine, playing Letterman and Lollapalooza, and touring in New York, while writing songs about places we knew and loved. I haven't seen that from an Indianapolis band in a very long time. It seems there's less to be excited about. I hope I'm wrong.

Other than Margot, the bands I was seeing were comprised of friends and peers who were also under 21. We organized shows for charity, and held them in church basements. I'm a bit out-of-touch with that scene now, but I truly hope that kids are still making music and playing for their friends!

I'm not sure if its Indy's laws and policies that have created a lack of opportunity for underage kids to see shows, but rather a lack of attention to awesome spaces that could be beautiful. And where they don't need to spend $50/ticket to see a good show and not be worried about getting Hep C from the bathrooms. I hope we can see the Emerson, the Irving, and the Hoosier Dome get a revamp that doesn't take away from the DIY vibe, and eventually get some bigger acts to perform there.

Response 4: Kirsten Eamon-Shine

One of my biggest challenges with going to shows at smaller venues is show start time. Late-night shows, which not only often have a late door and start time, but also often start later than they say they will, make me much less likely to attend. And that's even more the case on weekdays. I work a 9-to-5 job and have done so since I was 22. Add a kid to that mix, and I just can't stick around for shows that go into the wee hours.

And, sorry to be the old lady grump, but multiple openers at a small venue also make me less likely to attend. And I don't think that's good for venues in the long run. Back in the day, I couldn't spend very much at the bar at a show, but I could stay out until all hours. Now that I can buy top-shelf drinks or grab a bite at the places that offer food, I'm bummed that my relative financial stability can't benefit the great venues in this city.

Response 5: Ron Matelic

I read your NUVO article about the music of Indianapolis. As a member of the band The DoorJams, we’ve tried to play all original music and have found it difficult to get booked at local venues. We have played State Street Pub, Square Cat Vinyl, Pioneer, and Melody Inn, but the frequency of the shows has been sparse. Beyond these, other venues have been unresponsive to our inquiries. It’s hard to even get to talk to anyone. Granted we are an older group, but that doesn’t mean that we always have to play older cover music.

Venues say to submit requests through their websites, and even if they don’t want to book us, they could at least let us know that rather than no response at all. I see very few local bands that are allowed to play the Hi-Fi. Broad Ripple is all but defunct; the Vogue has more tribute bands than anything else. Apart from Fountain Square, it’s nothing but cover bands and more cover bands. Not to take anything away from them, but I don’t see Indy as a burgeoning music city when so few venues are open to Indy’s own original music.

Interested in joining the conversation? Leave your responses to the following prompts in the comment section below.

PROMPT 1: How did Indy’s laws and policies affect your interactions with live music before the age of 21? Do you believe Indy offers enough all-ages opportunities for those music fans under 21?

PROMPT 2: What does Indianapolis music sound like? Are there genres that come to mind? Is it more of a mindset? How would you describe Indianapolis music to someone who’s from another state?

Seth Johnson, Music Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.