ABOUT THIS SERIES:
“Music Venues in the Quad Cities” is a 12 part series providing a comprehensive overview of live music venues in the Quad Cities area, with a specific focus on venues whose audience capacity is below 500. The series aims to highlight the vibrant music scene in the Quad Cities and shed light on the smaller, more intimate venues that may often be overlooked.
The series exclusively focuses on dedicated live music venues and excludes bars that occasionally host live performances. By narrowing the scope to these venues, the series provides a detailed exploration of the unique experiences and opportunities they offer to both local and touring musicians.
By highlighting venues with an audience capacity below 500, the series aims to showcase the intimate and personal experiences that these venues provide. The series acknowledges that larger venues, and bars often dominate the music scene conversation with either touring musicians or cover bands and seeks to shed light on the charm and character of the Quad Cities’ smaller music venues.
When you think of the local music scene do you imagine a manifesto motivating the movement of said scene? Has that ever crossed your mind, or is a manifesto simply another idea we all loosely understand but would struggle to explain? This is the crossroads where we shall begin, as I showcase what many have long considered the most unique venue in the Quad Cites, Rozz-Tox. However, to label it a venue, or a cafe, would be extremely limiting and unfair to the depth that Rozz-Tox represents. The idea and energy of this space transcend far beyond a single definition, with origins that cross oceans, in both a mental and very physical sense. I’ll leave it up to a quote on their website to give a good jumping-off point, and basis for better understanding how they define themselves,
“(Rozz Tox is) a listening bar, cafe, performance venue, gallery, culture cell, guesthouse, cinema, club; a virus whose ultimate goal is to constantly mutate to avoid becoming part of mainstream culture.”
Mainstream is about the last word I would think of when entering, and after reading Gary Panter’s Rozz-Tox Manifesto, from which the name is derived (with approval from Panter himself), it’s clear this is not only intentional but a main motivator behind what this venue represents. The Rozz-Tox Manifesto promotes a particular avant-garde aesthetic, showcasing the need for one to not only support a scene but to overtake the scene. With a primary focus on the underground, especially in relation to expression, Panter advocated for the underground to infiltrate what is commonly deemed the mainstream. While continually evolving in a way that garners mainstream attention while keeping away from actually becoming the mainstream, almost like a means of consistently re-establishing the underground. This is a motivation I feel deeply in my bones as a photographer and artist, and it makes me wish I would have had knowledge of this Manifesto in my youth. It promotes progress and helps keep one from creating stale work. This is increasingly fitting for a venue/cafe that completely remodeled itself in 2022.
Another major factor of the Manifesto is the idea that artists should aim less at being socially unconventional, and focus on working within capitalism to reach the greatest possible market of individuals. While this can prove a little more difficult, it is through this process that one can bring themselves into the “mainstream”, and following such ideals is unquestionably what has helped Rozz-Tox thrive locally in the Quad Cities for over a decade. While Rozz-Tox planted itself just East of the district of Rock Island in 2011, its origins began 4 years prior in Guangzhou, China when Co-Founder Marisa “Missy” Sorrells and her son Benjamin Fawkes (who had been living in China) opened a space called LOFT345 (previously PARK19). Upon this closing, they returned to Illinois to show the QCA what it was missing. Opening 2 more Rozz-Tox locations, with a return to Guangzhou, as well in 2018 introducing their 3rd location in the Northern Chinese city of Shenyang, Benjamin and Rozz-Tox as a whole show no signs of slowing down.
Though the distance between Rock Island and Guanzhou is in excess of 7,500 miles, you can experience sights, sounds, and especially flavors, reminiscent of what one might find in this Southern Chinese port town without spending an entire day of travel to do so. With its deep connection to East Asian culture, there are many options to please one’s palette that would not commonly be expected at a local venue/bar, including Dumplings, Japanese Curry, and Bahn Mi sandwiches and a list of global spirits. If you aren’t looking for something too outside your comfort zone, RT also offers more “midwest options” if a cold PBR and Momma Bosso pizza is more your lane. There’s even a choice that bridges the gap between these two, a pizza with added Kimchi. Of course, not everyone is searching for adult spirits, and there’s no shortage of additional offerings, including an eclectic list of non-alcoholic choices, the Vietnamese Coffee and Thai-Iced tea being my favorites.
While it may seem outside of your comfort zone, it’s a new year, and new experiences should be topping your to-do list, especially when you can do so while supporting a truly local establishment. Rozz-Toxx is extremely inviting, and as a notably anxious individual, I’ve never felt anything but comfort when I visit, whether taking in a musical performance or simply stopping in for some damn fine coffee. They are located around the corner from QCA mainstays, Ragged Records, and Futureappletree, and with Desoto pottery within walking distance, it’s a very creatively connected part of town. And once the weather finally clears there’s a great outdoor space where one can enjoy their treats in the open air.
When it comes to events, the diversity of what is offered here has always stood out to me, and this is in part due to their outletProgramme, which brings in avant-garde, electronic, experimental, and international artists. From live bands to zine release parties, film screenings, monthly deejay sets, and more, you’d be hard-pressed to not find a reason to visit this difficult-to-pin-down space; and with a show capacity of around 60 you are guaranteed an intimate performance each time. So while browsing their event page you may not recognize many of the names, I can assure you this mix of artists/events is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in the QC. Though, considering I was once part of a lucky crowd that saw Nathaniel Rateliff play a show here before his explosion on a national level, those unknown names today, could be the superstars of tomorrow, so don’t allow the unknown to keep you from experiencing a true gem of the QCA.