The Metro stage is a lot of things to a lot of people—a big break, a headliner’s dream, and even a wedding altar—but no matter what transpires under the nearly hundred-year-old roof, one thing remains the sole focus—the music.
Joe Shanahan began his journey in artistic propriety as a Columbia College graduate with a keen ear for the underground music shaking Chicago’s musical core. Shanahan spent his post-collegiate years trekking to New York and London to experience the happenings redefining the global arts community. He returned with an “act local, think global” business philosophy and an urge to fill the void in his home city’s art scene. Shanahan began throwing fringe gatherings in his loft, but soon the crowds, and his ambition, grew too large for the space.
It seems appropriate that a venue that’s blazed its own trail began with a band doing just the same. R.E.M., the off-kilter Georgians shaking garages and dorm rooms across the country, landed at Metro for a last-minute slot in Metro’s “big room.” With a five-dollar ticket and an enthusiastic crowd, Shanahan was left with enough cash to treat the staff to a round of pizza at the end of the night. He called Metro’s pilot show a resounding victory.
While the benchmark for success has changed over the years at Metro, the ideology has remained stalwart. Cross platforms; break boundaries; and pool talent from the local, regional and national levels. Local H took the stage with Nirvana’s groundbreaking set still settling into the stage’s grooves. Elliott Smith’s Chicago swan song rang through the building in the same month as Sleater-Kinney’s fiery feminist punk.
Metro isn’t in the business of simply buying talent, though—breeding the acts gracing the stage is engrained in the venue’s artistic credo. Year in and year out for over three decades, the Metro roster has maintained a delicate balance between national headliners and local up-and-comers. With every musical movement that has swept across Chicago—and the country—Metro has booked the key players on all platforms. From Joe Shanahan’s early championing of alt-rock pioneers Smashing Pumpkins to ushering in pop-punk royalty Alkaline Trio and Fall Out Boy and even Chance the Rapper’s recent meteoric rise to fame – countless Chicago artists have laid their roots in Metro as a business, sanctuary, and springboard.
The future is a straight line for most, but for Metro it’s a vast landscape—it’s a sprawl that continues to grow with every blink. One thing that is certain is that Metro will continue to serve as an artistic refuge that transcends the bricks and mortar of nightclub and rock venue—it’s an experience, an unforgettable one at that.