The Courtyard Concert Series is heading into its sixth season of free community concerts held at Heritage Square in Peoria Heights.
Brought to central Illinois by Pour Bros. Craft Taproom, the CCS started back in 2016 when I and co-founder Nathan Monroe were putting the finishing touches on our locally first-of-its-kind, pour-your-own taproom.
While in the final stages of construction, we were approached by local DJ and past music industry influencer Marc Alghini about putting on a concert with Anderson East for our grand opening. Anderson East at the time was an up-and-coming roots Americana band from Nashville. The lead singer, Michael Cameron Anderson, is known for his iconic, soulful voice, and at the time was frequently featured in national publications for his relationship with Miranda Lambert.
We knew we had to open with a splash, but we were very hesitant to accept this opportunity because of our lack of experience in the bar industry, let alone zero experience in the music industry!
But as we sat together and mulled over the decision with our wives at the kitchen table, we all agreed that you only get one first impression, and that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a lasting impression on central Illinois.
So, on June 9, 2016, Anderson East and his band took the stage before more than 2,000 spectators, and the Courtyard Concert Series was born with a bang!
We were told to expect 500 guests, by the way, so when we saw the crowd grow well beyond that number, we were terrified. We also were in too deep to back out. It was go time.
Somehow, we made it through the night with unbelievable success and some amazing stories. We turned the lights off that night knowing we could do some great things at the Heights’ Heritage Square with its New Orleans-esque vibe.
Between Kevin and Emily Shields, the owners of Heritage Square, the Village of Peoria Heights and its police department, it took a lot of trust from everyone to allow these gatherings, and we can’t thank them enough.
Since 2016, we have hosted more than 200 free shows and we are very proud of the safe, fun environment we continue to work hard to create.
The defining mission has always been to bring the community together, and we felt that music of all genres was the best way to do so. We love how the music style brings so many new groups of people. Things never seem to get too stagnant, from our pour-your-own rotating beer wall to the rotating genres of music. Nothing is better than watching folks forget about their worries for a few hours on a Saturday night! The series has a very cool neighborhood vibe.
We book all of our acts up to a year in advance. Our booking style is like a big recipe: We stick with well-known local bands that play favorites, add some original regional acts, and change the genres each week to stay fresh. We’ve had bands from all across the nation, including California, Colorado, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and more. With everything being online, there are so many ways for bands to get their music to the masses. We use these platforms to identify talent daily. Also, on occasion we visit regional music festivals to identify bands on their way to larger stages.
Meanwhile, we pride ourselves on providing a high-quality, professional-level environment for our acts and our patrons alike. We can’t thank our production team, Custom Sound & Lighting, enough, along with a fantastic team of managers!
This year, our opening show on May 21 was Them Coulee Boys, an alt country, Americana and bluegrass band from Eau Claire, Wis. I honestly believe they will be playing venues like Colorado’s Red Rocks in the coming years. From Peoria Heights to Red Rocks!
Our slogan is “Pour the Experience,” which is the best way to describe our approach to being more than just a bar. We’ve always viewed ourselves as a village town hall. We love our small village within the bigger Village of Peoria Heights.
Again, we do not charge admission, so 100 percent of the cost is on Pour Bros. and some local underwriters. Magically, we’ve learned that when you take care of the community, they take care of you! We look forward to another fantastic season of music, cold beer, barbecue and making memories!
Rob Mathisen is a bar owner and restaurateur who co-owns Pour Bros. Craft Taproom with partner Nathan Monroe, with locations in Peoria Heights, Champaign and Moline, along with Slow Hand Craft BBQ in the Heights