A Sit Down with Terry Tilka of RIBCO - The Echo

Echo: How did you get started promoting shows? 

Terry: It’s not just promoting shows. It was learning the business side. I worked on the south side of Chicago when I was 15 stocking shelves in liquor stores. I drove a beer truck when I decided I was going to college to get out of Gary, Indiana. I came here and put myself through college bartending for four years. I picked the brains of a lot of guys in this business to learn it. I owned my first bar and restaurant when I was 21. I had three bars in Iowa and I sorta got the bug of when this place came for sale. The mayor of Rock Island called me and said he had a downtown and that he knew I knew about bands in the bar business and he said I had a good reputation and no criminal record. So, he convinced me to look at buying RIBCO and helping them create the downtown and then from there we created the District. I fell into booking band very quickly because that was part of the gig. For what I didn’t know, I would call friends, I would call different people and what I didn’t learn they taught me. 


E: That’s pretty rare that the mayor just gives someone a call…

T: He became the mayor and he wanted to get this downtown up and running. It had been sitting empty for 20 years. He knew there was probably a casino coming to town. He wanted to breathe some life into this downtown and city. We did it with the help of a lot of people that volunteered tons of hours. I made a ton of friends down here and they helped us out. The very first thing we created for the city was – besides RIBCO doing outside shows on their own – then we created the district which was Ya Maka My Weekend, Gumbo Ya-Ya, Motown Soul Festival and some other things. It was a lot of fun. 


E: What are you most proud of at RIBCO?

T: Well the building and property and the history of this place is amazing. To know it all, I mean it took me 30 some odd years to learn it all. The employees are probably what made it what it is. I was a crazy guy running around in circles every night screaming and yelling “We got to do this. We got to do that.” over and over. I’ve had some of the most amazing employees in the world. They taught me things. Sound guys helped out fighting with production companies and figuring out what kind of speakers to put in here and what kind of wedges to use. We had sound guys argue over adding horns to the PA for two years before they ever installed them. It was a blast. It was so much fun. It’s amazing the friends we still have forty years later that used to work here. I had some amazing, brilliant people that worked here. We were their stepping-stone. From college kids to sound engineers and everything else. I mean to be able to call agents in California and different people that would help you out and say “You should do this. You should do that. Look at this.” To have them just pick up the phone and call you back in a small secondary market and help you and give you pointers was amazing.


E: Is there anything coming up that you’re really excited about?

T: Trying to recover from COVID has been hard enough. We’ve brought in, in the last couple of months, some new bands that have never played here. We brought in some new bands that just their musicianship and professional have just blown me away. I hope to God we can get him back here. It’s hard getting bands in the secondary market because they like the bigger rooms, the bigger cities. The Quad Cities are tougher with four downtown and the competition. The other thing is really cool is a lot of the older bands of the play here have told other bands “Hey you should check it out. It’s a routing gig. They’re nice people. The place is clean. The PA works. The sound engineers are sober when you get there.” I mean I’ve heard that from dozens of people over the years and that’s why they stop here. The room nationwide has a pretty amazing reputation. 


E: Are there any shows specifically coming up that you’re excited about? 

T: We’re going to do a Phish tribute act coming through in a couple of weeks that I’m really excited about. There’s a band I think we’re at 99.9% sure they’re out touring with ZZ Top, and they have an off night, so they’re going to be here in two weeks on a set. I saw their video and couldn’t believe how good they were! Those are the things I’m excited about and seeing the older band that have been coming here for 10 to 20 years. I get pretty excited about most of the shows. 


E: What do you think the special qualities of RIBCO are? 

T: I think the best quality of RIBCO has to go back to the employees. When bands hit the door and they walk in and ask the bartender questions and just their professionalism and how polite they are. That was part of selling the room. I’m the guy in the office and upstairs and running around. It comes down to them, not me. It’s their reputation, which is part of the room’s reputation, and the club’s reputation.


E: If you were attending a show here, where do you think the best place to stand would be?

T: Top corner of the balcony on the left side. Stage left. You’re in there and you’re protected on all three sides. I mean I’ve been up there for shows where you could move in here. If it’s me running, around usually right in the corner by the bar, or a lot of times I’ll sit backstage watching the back door. The most famous spot in the bar from customers is probably the hallway on the side of the stage. 


E: What should someone expect when they come to RIBCO?

T: RIBOC was set up for its own style of customer back in the late 70s. RIBOC was doing imports, microbrews and certain styles of beers that nobody else in the Quad Cities was doing. The people that hung out in here, today you’d call them young entrepreneurs or young hipsters or whatever, they had their own crowd from the 70s and 80s that hung out in here. When I took over the place, we left everything basically the same. The people that hung out in here were a little more free-spirited than maybe the guy you be sitting next to a tavern. It was an eclectic crowd. It was people that liked good beer, people liked good scotches and whiskey. It was people that were into music, into the arts of all styles, a lot of artists. It’s amazing the celebrities that have walked in and out of here over the years and you walk into the bar like “What is he doing sitting in here?” but you can’t tell anybody there because you want them to stay and enjoy your night off. There’s just not another place like this in the Quad Cities. After owning and doing this and being in this industry for all the years I have, it’s just there’s not another place like this. Plus the architecture of the place is just amazing. 


E: What is your vision for RIBCO moving forward?

T: My vision for the future is to probably move on. I’m not from here, so it’s just my family is done they’re all pretty much gone. It’s time for me to start exiting. 


E: Is that a call to arms? 

T: No hah it’s a call to retire. I don’t know what’s going to happen. The Quad Cities just keeps changing so much. I mean we built the District and we had crowds of 8-1200 people! The city is getting involved now. The city is trying to micromanage everything. The city basically used to support everything we did down here with the arts and entertainment and it’s not happening anymore. I mean we can’t even do any shows outside. There’s no covers on the stage! It’s just ridiculous. There are some new young guys coming up and there are some new rooms that have opened up. I hope somebody who has the passion to do this steps up. I hope somebody comes along and buys me out and I can move on, but when I’m done in this industry, I’ll pretty much be done. I’d rather be going to shows. I’ve already got a couple invites for some tours coming up I’d love to go see, but if I’m here working I can’t go.


E: Why the Quad Cites? 

T: When I left Indiana, I went to Saint Ambrose. I went there and believe it or not I have a degree in criminal justice law enforcement and criminology. I wanted a job with the government when I got out and everywhere I applied and talk to they said “Go back and get an accounting degree. Go back and do this and get another degree and then get your Master’s.” I was sort of done with school and tired of really being broke all the time. I worked five days a week bartending all through college, all four years. So I bought a bar. I liked it here. I was shocked at how nice and friendly people were here. I had several opportunities to leave and I didn’t. I liked living here and I liked the people here. It was amazing how friendly everybody was. 


E: Is there anything that you especially want patrons to know? 

T: Some shows are done by the private sector, some are done by promoters, some are done by individuals that are using all their own money or some have sponsors, everything is different. Its like have a meal at a really good family-owned restaurant or going to a national chain. I’ve tried to beat that in my kids’ heads that you go to the family restaurant. They are local. They live here. They’re part of your community. Support them! Everyone says how much they love music. Everyones like “oh I remember going there” and all of that. Why can’t you go there anymore? “Oh, I’m too old.” I’m over here like I’m the oldest one here. What are you talking about? If it’s a great band, go! “Oh the bands don’t start until 9 o’clock that’s too late I’m in bed.” That’s no excuse. That’s bullshit. I don’t buy it. There’s great music out there. You support it. You support the Arts. You support your community. When you don’t it goes away. 


Whether it’s Rozz-Tox, they do their own thing, they are the nicest people and the best neighbors you could ever have or Kyle at the Daiquiri Factory. Kyle went to college with my daughter. Kyle has been my neighbor for 16 years. I’ve become amazing friends with his parents because they’re my age. There’s younger people coming up to do this. I hope someone steps up to it. Some of the local bands need to learn that it’s still a business, it’s not the drunk party time. If you want to be respected as a professional, they need to learn some of that especially about flooding the market or overplaying the market. They need to spread out a little bit. Don’t kill yourself by overplaying in this market. You’ve got to go to Peoria. You’ve got to go to Chicago. Even if you lose a couple of bucks, you’ve got to spread out a little bit. 


The last thing as I hear about a lot of people in the Quad Cities are always saying “Well there’s nothing to do here.” That’s the biggest bunch of BS I’ve ever heard in my life. There’s so much to do here! Quit sitting at home. Open up the newspaper. Look online. You’ve got the internet! It’s not rocket science. There’s plenty to do.


For more information about the happenings at RIBCO follow them on their social channels and look for daily updates on their website: ribco.com

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