OTNES, Emily the Band bring indie pop to new Champaign music venue


James Hoeck

OTNES performs at new Champaign diner and music venue The Space on Sunday.

By Maaike Niekerk, Staff Writer

New music venue and restaurant The Space hosted indie pop artist OTNES with opener Emily the Band on Sunday night in downtown Champaign.

The Space, which originally began as a hot sauce company, combines a cozy diner vibe with a small stage for live music.

To begin the night, alternative indie pop group Emily the Band took the stage. A small crowd packed the back of the restaurant.

Lead vocalist and ukulele player Emily Antonacci said they were honored to be able to open for OTNES.

“We’re just big OTNES fans in general,” Antonacci said. 

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Guitarist and backing vocalist Camryn Proctor agreed and said that Emily the Band looks up to the group.

“It’s just really cool to see another nonbinary, femme artist doing their thing,” Proctor said.

Emily the Band brought an abundance of energy and positivity to the performance, getting the entire audience moving to the music. 

Emily the Band’s drummer Abbey Haste said that the musicians’ love for playing is what drove them each to pursue it as a career.

“It’s just something that I’ve always loved,” Haste said. “I started really young playing drums, and it was instantly the most fun thing I could do.” 

Haste is the only member of the group who remains a full time college student, while Proctor and Antonacci are pursuing careers in music.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do my favorite thing all the time,” Antonacci said. “And now that I am, I’m just very grateful.”

The group was additionally celebrating their second anniversary of performing together. Their first show as a trio was in April of 2021. 

OTNES expressed lots of love for their opener as they took the stage for their 45-minute set, carrying on Emily the Band’s indie pop vibe and positive energy.

Emily Otnes, a musician originally from Urbana, described how special it was to be performing a show so close to home.

“This one was very sentimental for me, because I recognized a lot of people who I haven’t seen in a long time,” Otnes said.

Otnes said that as the second stop on their tour, the small restaurant vibe of The Space provided a sharp contrast from a sold-out show played in Chicago the night before.

“I like every single type of crowd,” Otnes said. “I would play in a Walmart if they let me. It doesn’t really matter who’s watching, because you can make an impact on anyone.” 

Previously releasing music under the name “Emily Blue,” OTNES said they began an entirely new musical project after doing some deep thinking while in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After exploring their gender identity more thoroughly, and living through the loss of a close friend with high level involvement in the “Emily Blue” project, Otnes felt that it was time for a change in both music and branding.

“Using my real last name feels very authentic,” Otnes said. 

Otnes said that it also felt more “safe” and “real.”

The OTNES project is showing no signs of stopping, as they continue their tour in Nashville on Friday, planning to continue releasing new music.

Otnes said they are working on a full-length record that will be released in 2024. 

The purpose behind both Otnes’ current and future music holds the same.

“To understand myself better, and to be honest and tell stories that are important to me,” Otnes said. “I write for myself now; I used to write for other people.”

Audience members present at The Space commented on how musical acts like OTNES bring something new to the Champaign-Urbana area.

Former University employee Mary McGrath said this style of music is changing the music scene.

“There used to be a lot more rock and honky-tonk and country, and this indie pop and alternative rock now is really great to see,” McGrath said.

McGrath and fellow former University employee Brandon Evilla were visiting C-U.

“I used to play music when I was here, and this is just so different,” Evilla said.

Evilla described the performance at The Space as “very diverse” and “very inclusive.”

The Space’s location, on Main Street in downtown Champaign next to Big Grove Tavern, is especially vibrant due its to artistically spray-painted walls and neon lighting.

McGrath said that small music venues like The Space are what make this diversity in local music possible.

“We’re grateful for The Space, because a bunch of music venues closed down (before) and during COVID,” McGrath said. 


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