On a high note: How Fort Wayne's live music scene is making a comeback

If recent activity at the Club Room at the Clyde is any indication of the health of Fort Wayne's music scene, musicians and venues have reason to be optimistic.

Gregg Coyle, Executive Director of the Clyde Theatre, is among those who keeps his finger on the pulse of activity in the hospitality and entertainment industry. Right now, at the Clyde, he's busy rescheduling shows from 2020 that were canceled due to the pandemic. The Clyde's neighboring Club Room is keeping him busy, too. From left are Alicia Pyle, Gregg Coyle, and Julia Meek at the Club Room in an August 2019 photo at the onset of the Club Room's live music initiative.

Coyle says there was pent-up demand for live music when the Club Room re-opened last July for dine-in service at 50 percent capacity, following the easing of the state’s COVID-related restrictions.

“We started resuming the shows that we had at the time,” he says. “There was our Monday Blues Night, Soft Rock on Tuesdays, Wednesday Jazz Night, Nashville Thursdays, and Friday Night Vibes with WBOI’s Julia Meek. Then, on Saturday night, we have high-energy bands. So right away, people realized there was something else to do, other than just go out to eat.”

Coyle says that following state guidelines to reopen as safely as possible has been good for business. Some patrons, self-described as "high-risk" or "cautious," have placed their trust in his team's precautions. The end result is that they’re seeing a significant show of support for their restaurant and the musicians it supports, Coyle says.

There's a new development as part of the Club Room at the Clyde Theatre in Quimby Village.

There’s a lot of good energy at the Club Room, and that’s what keeps patrons coming back for more.

“It’s great to be in a room where there's this common denominator (of music) that brings everyone together," Coyle says. “That's what we get to do every day. So, we focus on that. We try to bring in great entertainment that’s enjoyable for people. Customers are there for a couple of hours, and they eat and drink and take in the music. I love the reaction that we've gotten in that we've been booked out just about every Saturday night this year, so far.”

The Alicia Pyle Quartet performs during Jazz Night at the Club Room.

Coyle attributes this interest to a universal truth that music offers listeners a chance to be part of something larger than themselves—a feeling often absent from lonely daily life during a pandemic.

In his words, “music transports you to another time and place. For example, if I hear a song from 1984, I can tell you where I was when I heard it for the first time. And I could literally tell you what I was wearing and what my mood was like. Such an indelible mark left on your brain sticks with you forever.”

Musician and music teacher Alicia Pyle, who’s been active in the local music scene for nearly two decades, agrees. She says it wasn’t long ago that locals and visitors alike had to really seek out live music in the Fort Wayne area. Now, with the Club Room’s weekly schedule, it’s possible to take in live music six days a week.

Pyle performs at the Club Room.

In her opinion, there’s a greater value to live music during a pandemic, too. Patrons enjoy seeing their favorite acts after a hiatus, and in-person collaboration bodes well for the mental health of artists.

“Even if you’re performing virtually, it’s not the same,” Pyle says. “You want to see people you know and give them a hug. From a musician standpoint, losing that interaction has decimated our industry.”

WBOI Arts Reporter and “Meet the Music” Host Julia Meek says, despite the challenges of the pandemic, Fort Wayne's community of musicians has stayed active and hopeful.

“Musicians (here) have jumped through all the hoops to keep making their music, and that makes my heart sing,” she says.

Julia Meek

Meek credits Coyle’s vision and execution in making live performances possible at the Club Room, even when precautions add another layer of complexity to the task.

“Tell him there's no option or way around it, and he will try to find a solution,” Meek says about Coyle’s resourcefulness. “That's what he does. He is a fixer in that way.”

She’s also impressed with how local performers have leaned into innovation since the pandemic first took hold. For example, the local bluegrass band, Debutants, was among the first to live-stream their canceled show.

Overall, many people and organizations are responsible for advancing Fort Wayne's music scene, regardless of 2020's circumstances. According to Meek, the host of Friday Night Vibes and longtime local arts and culture reporter for WBOI, Fort Wayne is a city that never gives up on itself. That's reflected in the spirit of its musicians and patrons, too. 

“There's a whole bunch of groups and individuals who are making it work," Meek says. "And when you put it all together, it really adds up to something big. I think our arts and music scene has grown stronger in this last year.”

This story was made possible by funding from Sweetwater.