The Listening Room: a small space with big ambitions

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You’d never know this was in this building,” Roger Reupert said as he swung open two doors and headed down about a dozen well-worn stairs.

A right turn at the bottom of the steps takes one into an underground world of music.

Reupert is talking about the Listening Room, a newer performing arts space at the Lakeside Legacy Arts Park, 401 Country Club Road in Crystal Lake.

“I thought it would be great opportunity for the community,” he said. “At the beginning, it was hard to get noticed.”

Reupert is continuing to grow the space’s reputation by bringing some serious musicians to the room, which is celebrating its first anniversary.

“In the past year, we’ve had 39 performances here,” said Reupert, the Listening Room’s house manager.

Musicians he’s brought to the space include Fareed Haque, a world musician and former guitarist for Sting; violinist Rachel Barton Pine; and Peter Calo, who has played with Carly Simon, Hall and Oates and others.

Going underground

Reupert is a man with short-cropped hair, black-rimmed modern glasses and a youthful appearance that belies his more than 30 years in the music industry.

He’s got a quick smile and a deep passion for music and the arts, having traveled the country playing trumpet for the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra.

He was tapped to bring the Listening Room to life by the board of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, said Siobhan Cattone, the foundation’s executive director.

“Roger has years of experience in the entertainment and performing industry. He has a passion for wanting to bring live music to this community – and wanting to share his love for music with all ages,” she said.

Bringing in big-name performers takes a special room to attract them.

The Listening Room feels like a club somewhere in Chicago, but with its own twist.

The space is comfortable and compact with a low black ceiling, a light wood floor and off-white walls. Teak chairs that look more like upscale patio furniture than concert hall seating are loosely arranged in rows on the floor while bar-height chairs and tables hug the walls.

The room has seating for 100. “That’s the limitation [of the Listening Room], but also the beauty of it,” Reupert said. “It’s a great experience for someone who loves music.”

The stage is about a foot above the main floor, and the first row of seats is just 5 feet from the front of the stage. This creates an intimate atmosphere that music lovers don’t often have the opportunity to experience. The audience can see the passion, sweat and fun that the performers are having.

A room for everyone

Musicians and audiences are driving a trend that sees more performances happening in smaller spaces. Both enjoy the intimacy and the connections that come from being in close proximity to one another.

The latest big name to play the Listening Room was the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra during a sold-out show last Saturday.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is the new jazz,” said Nicholas Tremulis, the leader and guitarist of the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra. “Musicians are playing the smaller joints. In smaller places the crowd is more appreciative.”

He said it also is a move to go to where the audience is.

“People don’t go out that much because they have obligations,” he said.

“The intimacy is fantastic,” Ken LaRue of Crystal Lake said while sitting with his wife, Laura, in the front row.

“It is so close to home. Roger [Reupert] has done a great job with the space. Not many suburbs have this kind of diversity – with the Raue Center and now the Listening Room. We’re very fortunate.”

Tia Poggensee of Lakewood and her husband are regulars. They’ve been to the Listening Room 12 times.

“The entertainment caliber here is similar to what you’d find in Chicago, but it’s so affordable and so close,” she said.

“I think it’s great; I like how small it is,” Tim Barry of Crystal Lake said of his first visit to the Listening Room. “The acoustics are great, and they’re getting good people in here.”

Driving awareness

To grow awareness for the Listening Room, Reupert said he is working to stage 60 performances in 2014.

“They won’t be all music, but a combination of business meetings, private occasions,” he said. “A Buddhist temple from Woodstock rented the room for meditation workshop. It also can serve children’s and seniors programming.”

With that, he is working to develop children’s theater for the summer.

Reupert is always thinking big for the future. His wife, Olga, also encourages him to keep reaching for the stars. He said she told him, “Wouldn’t it be great to get bands to warm up their tours here? Like the Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton?”

That would certainly help accomplish Reupert’s goal of making the Listening Room a McHenry County destination.

“We’re like a start-up company,” Reupert said. “We need companies and private individuals to sponsor performances,” grow awareness and help him accomplish his big goals.

To learn about upcoming performances, visit Tickets range from $10 to $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

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