By TONIA HILL, Staff Writer and JAMIE A. COOLEY, Herald Intern
Kenwood Academy High School alumnus Jake Austen, venue manager and talent buyer at the Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. West, has over the span of three years created an event and concert space that is inclusive for all.
In his time at Kenwood, he engaged with people from different backgrounds and was able to work alongside and connect with a variety of individuals, which is the vibe he sought for the Promontory.
“We have events for the Caribbean, queer and African communities,” Austen said. “The goal is to have everyone who visits feel comfortable and have an enjoyable experience. As soon as we opened, it was important for us that this space not be for one demographic or one age group.”
He said, “We could just [have] parties or house music or jazz. It’s never occurred to us not to make this a space for everybody in the community involved.”
The Promontory offers programming that brings in both young and the old and seeks to honor the deep-rooted music scene of the South Side.
“We wanted a lot of versatility…like [to] have some of the classic jazz that used to thrive on 53rd Street but we also have a lot of the house music DJ’s that I remember from high school,” Austen said.
Musical acts that have graced the stage include jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper, pianist Willie Pickens, hip-hop trio De La Soul, PJ Morton and Avery Sunshine.
“We’ve had a lot of musicians tell us that they love seeing an audience that looks like them. A lot of musicians play in other neighborhoods, and it doesn’t feel like they’re playing at home,” Austen said.
CHIC-A-GO-GO, a children’s television show produced and written by Austen, which premiered in 1996, is just one of many television shows that have been filmed at the Promontory.
“We have puppets and bands musicians playing for kids,” Austen said. “It’s like Soul Train for little kids but with puppets.”
CHIC-A-GO-GO airs on CAN-TV (Chicago Access Network Television) weekly, and Austen said that they set up cameras and invite children to dance when filming at the Promontory.The event attracts hundreds.
Other major attendees for events are University of Chicago students, along with locals and those who travel through the city just to go to The Promontory.
Austen said that there is usually a line out-the-door of people waiting to get in.
The big events held at The Promontory include Thursday’s $1 admission night called “Dolla Holla” where hip-hop DJ’s come in and battle each other, a Caribbean dance party called “Body,” Salsa dancing once a month that brings in 300-350 people, spoken word, and various other performances.
“We have about 10-12 events every week in the venue. We usually have a concert followed by a party and then on the weekends sometimes we’ll have a charity event in the morning.”
Last year, the Promontory served as an anchor site for the first annual Chicago Podcast Festival for two nights in November.
The Chicago festival featured live recordings of the podcasts “Lady to Lady,” “Bullseye!,” “Roboism,” “The Book of Ye” and “Black Girl in Om.”
The range of genres of podcasts that are available to listeners is endless, including fan-fiction, crime, news, politics, comedy, and sports. Listeners are in control, and they can develop relationships with the hosts of their favorite shows.
If the festival returns this fall, Austen said he’s on board with hosting it at The Promontory.
Austen said The Promontory’s success is due in part to its excellent staff, along with the venue’s elegance and the diversity of the neighborhood.
“It’s important to listen to the community and be respectful and responsive to the South Side of Chicago,” Austen said. “We are very fortunate to bring a venue to bring with this kind of elegance and this quality to an area that hasn’t seen anything like it in awhile, and that’s a responsibility that we take very seriously.”
A full schedule of events at The Promontory is available at promontorychicago.com.