When Soleil Smith came to Knox College in Galesburg, she expected she would have to drive hours to see live music. So she was pleasantly surprised to find posters around town advertising DIY punk shows at the Glory Days Barber Shop.
Over the next two years, Smith became heavily involved in the town’s small but thriving DIY music scene.
“As soon as I went to my first show I was hooked,” Smith said.
DIY shows are traditionally open to all ages and generate little or no revenue. DIY Galesburg was founded in 2015 by Knox students Hadley Gephart and Kyle Hall, who wanted to provide a space for amateur musicians to get in front of a crowd and collaborate with local artists.
They wanted the organization to be as collective as possible so that it could outlast any single member. However, the responsibility of booking bands and organizing gigs typically falls on one or two people at a time.
For the past two years, it’s been Soleil Smith and Cam Schierer. They aim for one or two shows a month. Smith recently stepped away from the group to focus on academics but plans to return soon.
Schierer said he often finds touring bands looking for obscure venues on “dodiy.com.” He’s also had bands reach out to him through social media.
“I’ve always wanted to make Galesburg a spot on the map for bands and I think we’ve started to do that,” Shierer said. “I’ll get emails from bands like, hey, this band that played here a year ago said I should reach out to you. Getting that is really cool.”
Bands sometimes book hotels but more often stay on the floors of organizers. Most of the donations collected at shows go to the touring bands so they can afford to get to their next gig. Lately, Schierer and Smith have been taking 10% as they save up to buy a P.A. system.
Currently, Nathalie Haurberg, a professor of Physics at Knox College and veteran of the DIY punk scene, lends the group her sound equipment.
Where the shows are held depends on who’s booking them. Shierer works at Baked, so shows are often held there after dark. He likes avoiding a bar atmosphere and keeping the shows open to all ages.
Shierer and Smith would like to see DIY Galesburg find a permanent location in downtown Galesburg. If the collective ever does find a space to call its own, Smith said it would have to be in a location accessible to both Knox students and community members, hopefully bringing those groups closer together.
“We need a spot that’s accessible to people both on Knox’s campus and in Galesburg,” Smith said. “We’ve been having to have a lot of shows in the WVKC radio studio and, although that’s a really nice, intimate space, I think it makes itself a little inaccessible to people in Galesburg who don’t feel comfortable coming on campus. And if things are all the way down on Henderson or farther it might be hard for people on Knox’s end to come out.”
Members of DIY Galesburg say the organization has already done a great deal to bridge the rift that exists between the college and town. Shierer said he tries to book one touring band, a local act, and someone from Knox for each show to get the best mix of people in the audience.
Smith said she has made many friends in the community through DIY Galesburg and open mics. She sees these music events as one of the few opportunities for Knox students to engage with the Galesburg community in a collaborative way.
“I feel like the interactions Knox students can have with Galesburg residents are just observational,” Smith said. “You come in and then you leave. It seems really insincere and I think DIY Galesburg provides that ground of sincerity and actually being able to talk to people and get to know people and understand the city a lot better.”
In addition to making sure that people from Knox and Galesburg feel welcome, Schierer and Smith take steps to ensure that every DIY Galesburg show is a safe space. Smith said this means not engaging with bands who have a history of bigotry or cruelty. If anyone at a show is being violent or making others feel unwelcome, they might be asked to leave. Amid an uptick of sexual assault and abuse in other DIY scenes, Schierer wants to help people feel safe.
“I don’t want someone to not come to a show because they don’t feel comfortable being there,” Schierer said. “For me a safe space is just a place where you’re comfortable and a place you can be yourself, where you know you’ll be respected. It almost shouldn’t even be a thought because you should just be comfortable where you are.”
When booking bands, DIY Galesburg also takes diversity into consideration. Smith said that DIY scenes tend to be filled with one kind of artist. Schierer said that he and Smith try to showcase artists of color without using them as tokens. Smith said she would like to expand to genres beyond punk rock.
“It’s been a really strong desire of mine to book more R&B and rap artists,” Smith said.
“Also adding more eclecticism to the kind of indie music we book because sometimes it can be oversaturated with the same sound and message. And just making sure that the people we’re booking aren’t just the same white dudes with guitars over and over again. Sometimes that can be difficult but it’s definitely something we try to do.”
One of Smith’s favorite shows involved a visual artist creating paintings onstage as another musician played.
Smith sees room for true innovation in DIY Galesburg because it is unique to the town and whoever happens to be in it. She said that since it is more accessible than scenes in bigger cities and less influenced by musical trends, people can make it whatever they want it to be.
Haurberg said larger scenes also have a tendency to fizzle out quickly. DIY Galesburg, however, shows no signs of stopping.
“We want to do more things that unite the community,” Smith said. “And just making sure we’re still connecting with the community and that people in town and at Knox feel this is something that is theirs and that they can do whatever they want with it.”
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