Earlier this week-I had the opportunity to speak with the ever growing legendary promoter and founder of The Shrine-Joe Russo. On the topic of discussion was the 3rd Anniversary bringing Soul and R&B music to Chicago’s Southside.
The journey for The Shrine from year 1 to 3…how did you go about making all of this happen?
The Shrine was first conceptualized about 10 years ago-during the period when I owned a lounge called SiniBar. The Shrine was a concept where we would merge DJ culture with live music. The name was taken from Fela Cuti’s legendary club in Lagos, Nigeria of the same name. The idea was to combine DJ driven venue with a live music venue and it took about ten years for this to happen.
Had you the opportunity to visit Fela’s club ‘The Shrine” in Lagos?
I had heard about it and was introduced to his music in the 90’s by a good friend-Joe Bryl-who used to work with me at the Funky Buddha and who went on to open his own club Sonotheque. I fell in love with the music and got very interested in West African music in general.
It seems your focus is on Soul and R&B. Are you part of the programming? What’s the methodology behind what you do?
The Shrine is basically a play on words-it’s not only called the Shrine as an homage to Fela Kuti-but is also a Shrine for lovers of R&B, Soul, Funk, Hip Hop, Afrobeat and Disco.
I do all the booking here-so I’m focused in on new R&B and Soul music-but also pay a lot of attention to the past-merging the old school with the new.
Are you a DJ? Where did you develop your taste (in music)?
My taste was formed at a very early age. My parents were very into soul music and I’ve been in the nightclub business for many years. It just happened to be-my musical taste was in Soul Music that then branched out to the other genres.
Because of this-It was a good choice to create a venue to cater to these genres in the South Loop.
How do you keep it fresh?
With the concept of being able to put on live shows in our large room(The Shrine) and recently adding live music to the small room (Coup D’Etat) we’ve been able develop new talent-in particular from Chicago, while also booking national acts. So, being able to help someone that’s up and coming in the business and be a spring board for their careers to host their own shows or open up for national acts-The Shrine provides the perfect venue for artists to do their own thing.
Do you ever venture out to other venues or festivals-to stay in the loop of what’s happening in Chicago music?
Actually, I went to Lincoln Hall last night to check out Lee Scratch Perry. So, I like to see what’s going on-we can’t book everything. In Chicago right now there seems to be a lot of options-but here, we’ve been consistent to the theme. If it’s in the Soul, Funk and R&B category-it’s probably going to be here.
What can we expect for the 3rd anniversary happening at The Shrine this weekend?
First off-it’s a pleasure to have one of my favorite all time bands-De La Soul-perform. And we do have a special guest-a local band I’ve been paying a lot of attention to called ‘Sidewalk Chalk’ opening for De La. I think they will be the next big thing-merging old school and new school.
The fact that we’ve been here 3 years in the South Loop-which has had it’s challenges due to the economy-things are opening up a bit and The Shrine has garnered a lot more recognition. And I think, the great shows we do will be heard by a lot more people-so a lot more people will appreciate what we’ve done here.
Also keeping in mind-every February we do a party called ‘South Loop Appreciation Day’ where we invite all of our neighbors to come out to The Shrine where they are treated to free food and cocktails; we also do a big jazz event. Those are fun to be a part of and we will bring them back again this year.
More recently, we did have an amazing thing happen to us-around the time the musical “Fela” was in town. It happened to be-Fela’s son Seun Kuti was playing at the House of Blues. I was fortunate enough to have met him and invited Seun to venue-at that time he didn’t know there was one The Shrine in Chicago and he was blown away. He said the next time he comes to Chicago he’d love to play here.
Joe Russo-continues to build The Shrine-which over the last 3 year-has been the epicenter of Soul Music on the Southside. We wish him well-with more years to serve up music we love to hear!