There is a Facebook page that has been created in an effort to boycott Congress theater, and it has 1500 likes. I've never seen 1500 people come together to ban a venue in my life. My home is nestled in-between Philly and New York. When close-by establishments (like Fluid in Philly or Savalas in Brooklyn) decide to shut their doors, the patrons that have enjoyed music and made friends there have reason to be sad. I didn't get this vibe with Congress. At all. And it didn't make sense to me.
I've been to Congress Theater. The sloped floor must be nice when there are seats in place. But it's a fucking sloped floor, and I've never seen footage of any concert there with seats installed. I can't imagine dancing and partying on an angle for hours at a clip. The place is in desperate (and obvious) need of repair, even to my untrained eye. The green room looked frightening. But these kids aren't structural engineers and probably never went backstage. So what gives?
Chicagoist reports that owner Eddie Carranza "has nine lives, a genie who granted him three wishes, a lucky rabbit's foot, a backyard full of four-leaf clovers and a horseshoe planted firmly up his ass" after a court ruling allowed for Congress Theater to stay open WHILE (not after) they address their building code violations. The decision to allow patrons inside the venue came only a week after "preventing owner Eddie Carranza from “renting, using, leasing or occupying” the venue and granting police the power to forcibly remove Carranza from the premises if he doesn’t vacate the Congress immediately." Interesting.
And the violations are incredible. Bare cable wires that lack ground continuity. That will fucking kill you. The ventilation system designed to vent flames and smoke is disabled. That will fucking kill you. The fire curtain hasn't been tested in years, but that's of no consequence. There are cables that prevent the fire curtain from dropping anyways. Oh, and the fire sprinklers have been painted over. Remind me to never step foot in this place if there are pyrotechnics. But it gets worse. The catwalk is "dilapidated" (say a prayer for the lighting crews there). There is no railing to prevent falling from the balcony. There is water in the basement near an open live front electrical panel. Those are just SOME of the MAJOR violations. The full list is unimaginable.
And just skimming the surface of Eddie Carranza's public maneuvers in Chicago turns up the most interesting point. Perhaps he's a little short on money because he just purchased another venue? Eddie defaulted on his loan at Congress Theater AS HE WAS SECURING THE LOAN to buy the Portage, another venue in the city. I'm not sure where this guy went to business school. One would think that if you're getting four-to-five thousand kids packed in a room and presumably clearing tens of thousands of dollars every time you throw an event, you would do things like paint the walls and replace the couches where your artists relax before they play. And fix the code violations. And make sure there is proper ventilation for your crowd. But this Facebook page looks like it's run by and trafficked by kids. And as I read through the comments, it all becomes crystal clear.
It seems that the major qualm is the interaction with security guards. But uncovering all of the layers of shit to this story reveals a crazy accusation: security guards were seizing drugs from patrons, and then selling those seized drugs... to patrons. There are also allegations of security roughing up concert-goers. Those allegations are echoed by numerous comments on this Facebook page. Scrolling through these horrific testimonials unfolded a constant stream of stolen phones, seized drugs, assaults, and unimaginably rude behavior by the very people hired to PROTECT and ensure the safety of these paying customers.
Thankfully, Congress hired a new Security Chief, Bill Whelehan last November. Bill was fired from the Chicago Police Department for “Provoking an altercation by placing a bag of dog feces on [the neighbor]’s doorstep; calling [the neighbor] a nigger; pointing a gun without justification at [the neighbor], who was not armed and not threatening the Respondent; failing to identify himself as a police officer when drawing his weapon, and writing false official reports and making false official statements in an attempt to cover up his misconduct.”
I'm of the opinion that simply fixing the issues wouldn't have cost Carranza more than the consistent legal bills. And that there would have been a much easier time navigating these issues had his hired team of security professionals acted, well, professional. The thing that sucks for Chicago is that the lineups at Congress are actually quite fantastic, and there really isn't another venue that can handle a crowd of 5000 kids. Protesters reached the required 250 signatures at Change.org. Who knows how all of this will end up. But at the end of the day, I don't think these kids care at all about code violations. This is a landmark that's been a staple in the city for nearly 90 years. Nobody wants it to get boarded up or be forgotten. These kids just want to feel like security is keeping them secure.