Reunions Mark RIBCO’s 30th Anniversary July 31 and August 1 Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Emily Heninger   
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 09:35

Tripmaster MonkeyJason Parris, the booking agent for the Rock Island Brewing Company, knows there is something special about the local bar. "The room feels and looks like a New York club," said Parris. "You can see the history in the room with all of the black-and-white photos of people who have played here. You can definitely see that it's been around for 30 years."

On July 31 and August 1, RIBCO (at 1815 Second Avenue) will commemorate its 30th anniversary. Bands including Driver of the Year, Cheese Pizza, Jim the Mule, and Keep Off the Grass will perform at the two-night celebration, along with reunion performances by Tripmaster Monkey and Einstein's Sister.

The alt-rock band Tripmaster Monkey will play without its original bassist, Wes Haas, who will be replaced by Pat Stolley. The group got its start in 1987 playing Quad Cities-area venues, including RIBCO, and eventually signed with Warner Brothers' Sire label (later switching to Elektra). The band released two full-length albums and broke up in 1996 -- although it has since played a few reunion shows.

Tripmaster Monkey's first performance at RIBCO was for the wedding of two local radio DJs whose ceremony was held on the stage. Chris Bernat, lead vocalist for the band, said, "So that got us into RIBCO, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is our big break here!'"

For many local musicians, playing at RIBCO is a rite of passage. "RIBCO was one [club] where, if you live here, you have your sights set on at an early age," said Bernat. "You're like, 'Well, that's the club.'"

Kerry Tucker, guitarist for Einstein's Sister, said that RIBCO was instrumental in his band's success. "We owe so much to Terry [Tilka] at RIBCO and to the RIBCO staff," he said. "The very first gig we ever played was there, [and] we had all of our CD release parties there."

Einstein's SisterThe local power-pop band released its first album in 1997 and played together for nearly a decade. The band's music was licensed and played on MTV shows including Road Rules and Making the Video, and its popularity in Japan merited a Best of compilation CD in 2003.

"Without RIBCO, it's very easy to say that there would probably be no Einstein's Sister," Tucker said.

Tilka, the owner of RIBCO and someone whom Tucker described as "a musician's best friend," was modest about RIBCO's influence. "I'm not so sure we gave them their start," Tilka said of Einstein's Sister. "I think we helped them along a little bit. But it was also quite an honor for us for them to call us for a date. ... It's both sides."

Parris took the lead in organizing the celebration and the reunions. "I was trying to figure out something unique to celebrate 30 years," he said. "I wanted to make it fun for everybody."

Parris said one way to do that was to put the focus on the venue rather than reunited bands: "I didn't want it to be, 'Oh, here's Tripmaster Monkey's reunion.'"

Most of the bands Parris invited to play at the celebration had been influenced by RIBCO -- hence the choice of Einstein's Sister as well as his own Driver of the Year, which will be reuniting with its original bass player, Jamie Salsbury.

"RIBCO gave us our first break as a real music venue, not just some warehouse where we'd set up and play little parties," Parris said.

He noted that he met many of the bands playing at the anniversary celebration while Driver of the Year was just getting its start at RIBCO. "I think that was one of our first shows was actually opening for Tripmaster Monkey in front of a sold-out crowd," he said.

RIBCO opened in 1979 under the ownership of brothers Dan and Jerry Carmody, who sold it to Steve and Cheryl Lane in 1987. Tilka, who had been a patron of the bar before he owned it, took over in 1990.

"It's fun, but it's a lot of work," said Tilka. "But we chose to do this for a living, and that's the difference between us and a lot of other people."

RIBCO's longevity is particularly impressive considering that bars last an average of three to five years, Tilka said.

"From a band's perspective, the sound" is what has helped RIBCO last so long, Parris said. Bill Douglas, vocalist for Einstein's Sister and former RIBCO employee, said in a 2004 interview that RIBCO has the best sound between Omaha and Chicago.

Big names such as The Wallflowers and The Barenaked Ladies have graced the stage, but RIBCO has also seen many celebrities enter the club unannounced. Tilka remembers Eddie Money, Poison, Hoobastank, John Mayer's band, and Hootie & the Blowfish coming to RIBCO on their off nights to drink a few beers and enjoy the local music scene.

Saturday Night Live's John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray -- whose mother's family lived in the area -- used to show up at the bar on occasion, too. "I remember the night they found Belushi's wallet on the floor after they closed," said Tilka.

For the future, Tilka said he hopes to transition to more of a background person. "I'm the old guy," he said. "I would like to find something a little more low-key. ... I've always wanted to own a brewery."

Parris is optimistic about RIBCO's future. "Hopefully 20 years from now somebody's celebrating the 50th anniversary," he said. "I think no matter what, with the economy or anything like that, you need to be entertained, you need to get away, and I think the natural thing of music, it just makes you forget about a lot of your weekday garbage that you have to deal with. Whether it's work, bills, [or] arguments, a nice release has always been music, so why not go see it live?"

He added that the goal for RIBCO is to present enough variety that there's something for everybody. "I want there to be no excuse that you're not coming to RIBCO at least twice a month," he said.

Friday's lineup includes Einstein's Sister, Keep Off the Grass, John Resch & the Detroit Blues, and Jim the Mule. The show starts at 8 p.m.

Saturday's lineup features Dean Wellman, The Warmth, Driver of the Year, and Tripmaster Monkey in an all-ages outdoor show starting at 7 p.m. Cheese Pizza will play a 21-and-over after-party inside.

For more information, visit RIBCO.com.