What could be more American than Route 66? Rock n Roll.
And in Joliet, the kickoff of Route 66, a road travel itinerary that takes travelers from Illinois to California, is set to become home to a museum showcasing history. Illinois rock and roll.
Ron Romero’s dream of bringing a local music museum to Joliet is coming true, and he has been both helped and injured by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I recently visited Romero on the site to keep up to date with what is happening with the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum, which is slated to open in the winter.
The Illinois Rock & Roll Museum inducts its first group of Hall of Fame members on August 31 at the Railto Square Theater in Joliet.
Thanks to social networks and the website, roadtorock.org, the museum already has 500 members in 25 states.
âEven now I’m sitting in the building and still feel like ‘it’s going to happen, isn’t it? “” said Romero, chairman of the board of the Rock & Roll Museum.
âI had been to Cleveland (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and an exhibit in Rockford of Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick on his band. Nashville has several museums, and I liked what they were doing for the economy. and I especially love the story, “he said.
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In 2013, Romero, who moved to Joliet during the process of working on the museum, began to figure out how to achieve this. In 2016, he formed a committee and started working on a business plan. Then he applied for and obtained association status.
âIn 2017 it started to take off. We presented the idea in another museum as an exhibit, and the board said ‘it’s big enough, you should find your own building’ “
The building was purchased in 2019. âIt’s a well-constructed building from the 1930s. Our architect loves it. We updated the electricity, the flooring, new drywall – companies have come in that donated the technology and started using it all, âRomero said. .
Donors include ComEd, NECA, IBEW, some carpenters, private companies and individuals. Romero says $ 300,000 has been donated so far.
âWe are absolutely blown away by the generosity of the community. So often when someone comes in to volunteer we hear a story about their love of music and being part of a band, âsaid Debyjo Ericksen, Director of Operations and Tours and Vice -President of the museum’s board of directors.
âMusic is truly a universal language, no matter your race, gender or religious affiliation, music brings people together,â she added.
Romero is the owner of Stage Right Events, a sound and lighting company for corporate events. He’s also a musician, who still plays bass for his band, Acoustic Avenue, and has served with other bands. âIt’s kind of a life and a learning (experience). I’m from business, not museums, so I surrounded myself with people who knew these things,â he said.
He called on various experts, many of them local, to sit on the 19-member council. Members include members of Illinois rock royalty such as Ides of March frontman Jim Peterik and Carl Giammarese of the Buckinghams, as well as non-musicians such as Chicago media legend Bob Sirott and presenter. WBBM Lisa Fielding.
The ground floor is expected to open in the fall or early winter, according to Romero. The first exhibit is the History of Illinois Guitars.
The basement, with classrooms and a performance space, will open in September. The top two floors, containing the main exhibition hall and banquet space for hire, will open later.
Mike Arturi, from Lovin Spoonful. Is director of music education. The museum will offer music lessons in many different genres, many of which will be taught by professionals. Two hundred students are expected to start classes in September.
The first floor of the museum begins with The Great Migration, when black people moved from south to north to work and brought the beginnings of Blues music, which developed into the Maxwell Street Blues scene. The exhibits recognize the contributions of blues legends including Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Koko Taylor’s daughter and Muddy Waters’ son visited the museum during its construction.
“We have a list of acclaimed musicians, artists and celebrities who contact us, tell us that they have heard of what we are doing and want to congratulate us and get involved as ambassadors for the museum,” said said Ericksen.
The first thing you see as you enter the museum on the left is the control room of WAJP, the first female-owned FM radio station in Will County, which dates back to the 1960s.
âSomeone had it stored in Pontiac; they had the whole setup,â Romero said. Al and Mary Jane Pohlers started out as radio hosts in the 1950s, then opened their own station in Joliet in 1960, and after Al’s death in 1975, Mary Jane owned it until 1985.
Next to WAJP is the museum control room for its own radio station, roadtorockradio.net. The station is made up entirely of musicians from Illinois interspersed with speeches by famous Illinois disc jockeys, such as Bob Sirott.
The remainder of the first floor will house a rotating exhibition. The first will be on guitars made by Illinios.
“The museum (will be) an economic engine in Joliet, and the people who want to see the city center thrive again. It started as an idea, our first fundraiser had 300 people,” said Romero, 57. .
âAs an advocate and promoter of Route 66 travel, I see the potential of this museum as a national and international attraction along the route and, more importantly, what it will bring to the local community with our music programs, âEricksen said.
Students from Elmhurst College conducted a marketing study for the museum. âHaving said that the average person who comes to Joliet spends an hour and then moves on. They come to the Route 66 stop at the Route 66 restaurant, they go to a show.
âI see people pull up at Rialto, take a picture, then get back in their cars and drive to the Green Giant in Wilmington. So what are we doing to keep them here? Chicago doesn’t use Route 66. The people can start their journey here, âhe said.
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Although the project is fully supported by private donors at this point, Romero still considers the location important to Joliet. “We are still winning our wings. Trying to become something of value to the community. We still have to get to the point where people see us open,” he said. So far, the museum has relied on social media, foot traffic and word of mouth to get the word out.
âA lot of people who live here in Joliet remember what it was like when it was the town that had the Christmas parade. And they had Sears and (Montgomery) Wardâ¦ There are so many restaurants. to do attractions We have to put it all together.
âWe have to find people who believe enough in the city center to come here. We took our chances by building the city center,â Romero said.
“I always say that people gather around a lake in Lake Geneva and that it is a lake. They marketed it well.”
The Illinois Rock & Roll Museum is located at 9 W. Cass St. in Joliet. Memberships start at $ 20 per year for military, faculty, and students. Adult memberships are $ 35 per year. Benefits include free entry, course discounts, and Hall of Fame voting rights. Call 815-927-1540 or go to roadtorock.org.