Huber’s West End Store rekindles live music scene

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Photo Courtesy of Della Perrone

Musician David Howie poses for a photo. The West End Store bar in Champaign, Illinois hosts artists like Howie in their outdoor Covid-19 conscious seating area.

By Michal Szczepaniak, staff writer

As the pandemic continues to rage around the world, many industries are fighting to stay afloat amidst the chaos. Among those industries struggling to regain stability are leisure facilities and food services, though many establishments have been able to safely reopen their doors despite the uncertainty of these times.

Huber’s West End Store is a family-owned bar in Champaign, Illinois that provides guests with live entertainment during the pandemic. While many performance stages have been dark during this past year, Huber’s has taken the necessary safety precautions to allow for live music again.

Large tents are arranged outdoors to provide guests with a secure viewing experience. Inside the tents, tables are distanced from one another to limit unsafe interactions among audience members. Performers are also completely isolated from guests at the bar and perform their shows from a separate tent, which limits unnecessary exposure.

Musician David Howie has been a Huber’s West End Store fan-favorite for the past 10 years. When the bar initially shut down due to the pandemic, Howie turned to Facebook Live and other broadcast services to release content to his supporters. After several months of online shows, Howie reflects on the feeling of returning to Huber’s West End Store for live performances.

“Playing live for people… Oh my God,” Howie said. “I closed my eyes, and I heard the clinking of glasses and plates, and I heard people laughing. It was an awesome feeling. I hadn’t heard that sound in a year. I always think singing in front of people is some ridiculous act of bravery, so it’s a very life-affirming, therapeutic experience for me to be performing back in Huber’s.”

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    Like many others, Howie has relied on music to bear the nature of the pandemic. In both his virtual and live performances, he encourages guests to choose a song from nearly 400 selections that he has in his repertoire, almost like a jukebox. Part of the old-school experience of a jukebox is that it “developed patience as a listener,” and it was a way for audiences to learn new music.

    From Louis Armstrong to Brittney Spears, Howie offers a large variety of selections that are guaranteed to get audience members up on their feet (from a safe distance, of course). Genres range from old-school rock ‘n’ roll to modern-day pop. While he has many performances a year, Howie continues returning to Huber’s West End Store because of the fans’ electric energy.

    “Huber’s is a fantastic place for musicians because the people who go there to hear music are deep listeners,” Howie explained. “The level of appreciation is incredibly high and palpable, which is always very reassuring during a performance. Some people come ready with their sets prepared on their phones. It’s really a no-brainer to go and play as often as I can.”

    Through the pandemic, we have experienced significant changes in how we engage with others. While returning to live performances has been great for Howie and his peers, there are still several restrictions that prevent them from the complete live experience.

    “After the pandemic, I’m looking forward most to giving people hugs and getting hugs from people,” Howie said. “I’ve hit enough elbows for my life. Boy, it’s gonna be so much nicer when we can just embrace each other and relax.”

    With the vaccine becoming more readily available, there is a glimmer of hope that live shows will regain a sense of normalcy in the following months. Until then, establishments like Huber’s West End Store will continue to make do with the pandemic-related restrictions in place.

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