In the ’90s, it seemed that every shop and store in Chicago was on the verge of becoming a Starbucks. Today, they’ve gone condo.
The Shrine is the latest casualty in Chicago’s property wars gone mad, and the most depressing. Located in the South Loop, The Shrine was a one-of-a-kind club in Chicago, focusing on what the British might have called “black music” and what Hollywood likes to call “urban music” in all of its forms. Focusing on House, Soul, R&B, Hip Hop, Afrobeat and Reggae, The Shrine built a clientele that was unlike the habitués at any other club in the city.
At this point in the story, typically, we would lament that this formula didn’t bring the big crowds and curse that people didn’t appreciate what we had. But they did appreciate it. The Shrine isn’t shutting down because it’s unpopular, but because of an ownership change that will demolish the building in favor of a new development for a hotel, condo and street-level retail.
The address being hollowed out is important. “The Shrine’s location was specifically chosen for its historical significance to Chicago’s black music history,” a release from the owners states. “The area was the epicenter for local and national Blues, Soul and R&B record labels beginning in the early 1950s, and a logical location for a venue specializing in great black music.”
In its seven years, the Shrine brought some of the most dynamic artists to the city; the same release lists 50 Cent, Roy Ayers, Erykah Badu, Eric Benet, Bilal, BJ the Chicago Kid, Brand New Heavies, Common, Mos Def, De La Soul, Dwele, Lupe Fiasco, Floetry, Future, Ginuwine, Robert Glasper, Goapele, Beres Hammond, Lalah Hathaway, Talib Kweli, Kem, KRS-ONE, Kendrick Lamar, Amel Larrieux, Les Nubians, Ryan Leslie, Mali Music, Ky-Mani Marley, Chrisette Michelle, Miguel, Monica, Sean Paul, Rakim, The Roots, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Eric Roberson, Jill Scott, SWV, Tank. To this we’d like to add Tortured Soul, the Chosen Few, Dimitri from Paris, Rich Medina, DJ Spinna’s Wonder-Full, countless “Fela-brations” and Terry Hunter’s long-running Sunday night residency, Bang!
Bang! is just one of the dances closing out The Shrine’s last waltz, with March 6 and March 27 dates.
Most of these artists have played in other venues and will play in others in the future. But The Shrine was special for its fusion of a remarkable space, enlightened programming and a unique audience. Not for those reasons alone will it be missed.
Photo above: The Brand New Heavies at The Shrine by Tito Garcia, originally published in 5 Magazine Issue #89.