The pandemic has virtually eliminated live music indoors since March, and now venues are starting to close for good. A few weeks ago Brillobox in Bloomfield closed, and now it’s the South Side’s Rex Theater, closing after 11 years.
“Due to the ongoing hardship and uncertain future caused by the Covid pandemic, The Rex Theater will be closing our doors after over a decade of live music and events,” reads a statement on Facebook by Ben Penigar, who manages Grey Area Productions, which books the Rex.
“It meant much more than a music venue to us, and we hope it did to you too. Nothing has made us happier than sharing this space and music with all of you over the past eleven years. The memories that we’ve all made in these four walls will live on. The music that’s happened here will live on. The friendships and relationships made in this room will live on. The beautiful energy that all of you helped us create will live on.
“While we greatly appreciate all of your support, and we understand that many of you would like to find some way to save The Rex, please trust that we have considered every option and have done everything possible to keep our dream alive for as long as we could.”
From jam bands, punk rock and electronic music, to metal and burlesque shows, The Rex was remarkable for the diversity of its musical offerings. It was also a big supporter of local music.
A movement called #SaveOurStages is seeking government help for the live music business, and has some political support. But it hasn’t resulted in legislation yet. Ninety percent of independent music venues could be wiped out by Covid, according to the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which formed at the beginning of the shutdown in March, and includes more than 2,000 venues and promoters from all 50 states.
Tributes have been pouring in on social media.
“Galactic always enjoyed our time at The Rex and you and your staff treated us like royalty,” said Robert Mercurio of the New Orleans brass funk band Galactic.
“This breaks our hearts, The Rex Theater,” read a statement by the band Lez Zeppelin. “We have only the fondest memories of jumpin’ around on your super cool stage and sharing in the vibes and visions of a true rock and roll institution … We wish you all the best in your new adventures and hope to see you out there, somewhere, one day soon — or at least, sooner than later. Whole lotta love and thanks for the music.”
“I grew up at this venue,” said patron Matt Spang on Facebook. “I fell in love with live music at this venue. I made countless friends and memories at this venue. Having the opportunity to experience live music coming from a quality group who cared so much for their patrons has been a huge inspiration in my life that I could not be more grateful for.”
The Rex was originally opened as a vaudeville theater in 1905, and was a movie theater before it became a concert venue.
Penigar auctioned off his own collection of music memorabilia to help keep paying staffers at The Rex for a time.
There is a crowd support fund for The Rex Theater’s employees. You can also pre-order a Rex hoodie from Commonwealth Press, proceeds of which will go directly to the Rex Staff Relief Fund. Proceeds from merchandise sold via the Grey Area Productions online store will also go to staff.
“It was a hell of a ride. Thanks to everyone who was on it with us,” said Xander Hendrickson, webmaster, designer and promotional manager for The Rex, on Facebook. “Making this place what it was with so many great friends will always be my proudest achievement. You’ll live forever in our memories, The Rex Theater.”