As the self-proclaimed “Home of Country Music,” the Rose Bowl Tavern has made its place in the local community. Serving as a music venue and tavern, Rose Bowl is a lively influence in Champaign-Urbana’s music scene.
Charlie Harris, an owner of the Rose Bowl Tavern, said the establishment has four to six events per week, sometimes with multiple performances in a single night. After he took ownership of the tavern in 2019, Charlie said he has increased the programming and diversity of tavern events.
“What we’d like is for the Rose Bowl to be a place where local and regional acts can perform and share their music, or performances, on a pro-level stage that has a really great sound system,” Harris said. “For the performers, we want to provide a space where people like to see a show.”
Instead of featuring solely country music, the tavern has branched out into different genres such as indie rock, pop and funk. The Rose Bowl still retains its country roots through its weekly hootenanny, which occurs on Monday nights. Harris described the hootenanny as where open acoustic jam sessions meet open mics.
Emily McKown, who runs the Monday night hootenanny, said the tavern’s new ownership has created a shift toward inclusion of different genres and it has become more accessible to anyone who wants to play music in a safe space to try out performing.
“It’s growing into something and I hope everyone can feel comfortable there,” McKown said. “Charlie and I and a lot of people who love the Rose Bowl want to see lots of different walks of life, lots of different people mixing in there, and I think it’s where the real community building happens.”
With its wood-paneled walls, horseshoe bar and neon signs, the Rose Bowl Tavern certainly has its own honky-tonk flair. Since taking ownership of the tavern, Harris has made an effort to build a reputation of being a place that boasts exceptional shows, but said building that reputation takes time and requires treating people with respect.
“For us, it’s just about providing a space where the genre doesn’t really matter so much,” Harris said. “If people are looking for somewhere to perform and this space seems like something they’re interested in, then we want to make it work because it’s so important to have those spaces in our community.”
McKnown said the tavern’s mission is to highlight and empower artists who are marginalized and underrecognized in the music scene.
“We can try to build community and make change to make it more welcoming for everyone in the bar. That, to me, is the crux of a good community, when we can all find a good time under one roof.”
CU Broad Comedy, currently run by Lisa Graff and Andrew Schiver, said the Rose Bowl Tavern is a welcoming face for performers who are searching for a place to share their talent.
“With other venues we’ve used, sometimes it can be sort of like we’re just trying to make our thing work, and they’re just letting us do it,” Schiver said. “With Rose Bowl they really, really want us to perform, and they encourage us to do well. They genuinely want local performers to do well.”
The Rose Bowl hosts a number of events throughout the week, including multiple performances by various artists, such as the Sam Payne Trio, the Kilborn Alley Blues Band and Wild Earp & The Free for Alls.
“The scene that we have, people are just enjoying the music and enjoying the company and enjoying the drinks,” Harris said. “It’s just a good way to pass the time and indulge in some art and creativity.”
Harris prides himself on the tavern’s diverse music scene, and he wants the Rose Bowl to be a place where local and regional acts can perform and share their music. He said he wishes to provide performers with a space where people would be willing to see their show.
“Whoever wants to play will work with me and the crew here to get something good going,” Harris said. “We hope that the Rose Bowl Tavern can be a staple music venue, the kind of place that when people think about where they like to go to see a show, that the Rose Bowl Tavern is one of the first places on their list.”