When it comes to treating musicians the right way, Moe’s Tavern on Milwaukee may very well be the model venue. Transformed from a seedy dive bar eight years ago by the venue’s owner and namesake Maureen “Moe” Clancy, Moe’s has evolved into a hub for some of the best up and coming rock bands Chicago has to offer.
While the Avondale bar originally branded themselves as a standard sports bar, live music became a priority early on. Within its first year in operation, Clancy brought on Chicago audio production veteran Ric Radick to help build out a legendary sound system for a venue of Moe’s size.
Music soon became a staple at Moe’s Tavern and in February of 2011, the tavern launched their first ever battle of the bands. Today, 30 bands compete every winter for a shot at the “Indie 500”: a $500 cash prize, festival spot, and recording time.
The balancing act of booking acts and running a new business began to wear on Clancy and she began exploring the idea of outsourcing booking to someone more plugged into the Chicago music scene. So, when JB Bartlett – guitarist of Wax Works, the winner of the inaugural battle of the bands – approached her about promoting shows, the timing was impeccable.
Bartlett jumped at the opportunity and hasn’t looked back since. He began as a booking manager for the venue and continued to take on more responsibility over time. Today, he holds onto the responsibility of booking talent while also managing the bar and overall direction of the venue.
“My goal is to make Moe’s a venue that people know will always have good music,” explained Bartlett. “We want people to come here because they want to find something new and trust we will put awesome music on night after night.”
As a local musician himself, Bartlett understands the trials and tribulations of both local and touring artists, especially those just starting out. This empathy has helped transform Moe’s into a haven for developing artists and serves as a great landing spot for first-time touring artists looking to cut their teeth in Chicago.
“Bands play here because they love the vibe,” Barlett proudly stated. “We place a high priority on taking care of our performers.”
Moe’s Tavern has a long track record of hosting bands on the rise. This open mindedness and welcoming culture has helped Moe’s land some incredible diamonds in the rough. Successful bands like Enemy Planes and Calliope Musicals often play their first Chicago gig at the venue and come back 12-18 months later to play at much larger capacity spots.
Going forward, Bartlett’s main focus is ensuring quality music on a nightly basis. The venue currently puts on three showcases each week with each typically having two local acts and one touring artist. Moe’s is also home to various open jam sessions and open mic nights throughout the week.
“It’s shocking how many talented musicians we see come through here on our jam nights,” Bartlett reflected. “It’s totally mind blowing.”
According to Bartlett, numerous different bands and musical connections have been formed at the Moe’s Tavern jam nights. He even credits these sessions with the formation of his own band and immense personal growth as a musician.
Moe’s Tavern is, without a doubt, a true blessing and amazing resource for rock music in Chicago. With stellar music on a consistent basis, a focus on treating musicians well, and weekly efforts towards building a community of music lovers, this venue is one that has a special place in our hearts.
This venue feature is dedicated to the late Maureen “Moe” Clancy. Rest in peace.