Interview: Rich Fessler (Bear Claw)

September 12, 2005

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Here’s a portion of my interview with Rich Fessler from Bear Claw. My Bear Claw shirt is in the mail, supposedly. Jet is sending me one. She’s the best.

EL: As a musician or just in general, do you have a lot of pride for the city of Chicago and for the art that comes out of the city?
RF: I would say I have pride for the bands that work hard and believe in their music, but as far as… like, the city helping music, especially with the all-ages club situation, I don’t like it for that. There really needs to be an all-ages club, otherwise music is just going to be force-fed by the radio and everyone or every band is just going to sound the same. Which is bad enough right now…
EL: So you’re saying there are almost no places at all that do all-ages shows anymore?
RF: The Bottom Lounge, they’ll have maybe once a week or so they’ll have an all-ages show. Then there’s a place like, way up on the far north side that no one can really get to, that’s only going to be open during the summer, they’re just like, renting out this theater type place just for the summer.
EL: Is there a reason for all this, you think?
RF: I just don’t think anyone really cares enough to open an all-ages place. I think that the clubs… no one really cares about the music it’s just the money and how much money they can make. Like, just the way… I’d say that’s true for almost anywhere, but, you know, the way people treat bands. When we were on the road I’d say one-third of the places we played we didn’t even make any money. That’s really tough, you know. If you have an out of town band coming in to play at least give them some gas money.
EL: There were places that refused to pay you?
RF: Oh yeah.
EL: Wow.
RF: Yeah.
EL: That’s not good… Before, you mentioned Fireside, that was a bowling alley, right?
RF: It was a bowling alley for a long time, and then, I want to say in the 1980’s, they started having shows. They built a stage like…just off to the side, like if you look to the right when you’re facing the stage you could see all the lanes, and they like, just blocked off all the lanes. So they would have bowling a couple times a week but it was mostly a venue. That was one of the coolest places to see shows, um, just because you had all these younger people who just really cared about the music. When I was going to shows in like the mid-1990’s it would just be packed there. It was just like, hard to breathe, everyone was sweating to death. It was just such a fun time because everyone cared so much, but then it just started fading away for some reason and not many bands were playing there anymore.
EL: Do you think the local government kind of figures in as far as debilitating venues, or do the venues themselves not want all-ages shows.
RF: I would say that the Fireside, you know, I don’t know the story or anything but I would guess that the guy just, over the recent years, got sick of having all-ages shows because it was more hassle for him. He had to get an all-ages license and not many people were coming to shows. And from a club standpoint, you’re going to make more money off of liquor sales then ticket sales, so from a monetary standpoint, I would guess that’s why the decision was made.
EL: Would you say that from the point of view of an artist, that the city is at all invested in art or is it just…
RF: I would say to a point, yes. I don’t think that they totally don’t care about the arts, but…you know, I don’t know. I try not to get too much into the political side of things, it just frustrates me.
EL: After going out on the road and seeing all the different cities where you played, would you say that Chicago offers, as far as art and culture or entertainment, more or less than other cities?
RF: It all depends, honestly. When we were on tour we didn’t have like, much time to like, go around the cities and explore them to the fullest. Just being locked up in a club and then going straight to sleep doesn’t help with giving a true impression of each city so it’s hard to make a decision. I feel that, Chicago, you know, there’s a good diversity between different cultures and such that, I think Chicago is pretty cool. I enjoy living here and just seeing different people and like, different artwork from different cultures. I think it’s really cool. I think Chicago has a wide variety. You know, like…New York, we were there for a couple days, and it seemed like a really cool city on one hand, but there’s just too many people there. So it’s like, even though you have different cultures and such, I felt like I couldn’t enjoy anything because I was just sort of frustrated all the time. And that’s just my view of it, of course (laughs).

That’s just the start. There’s a lot more I’m still transcribing but I wanted to share something to let you know I’m actually doing work.

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