JULIET – The Illinois Rock and Roll Museum on U.S. Route 66 in Juliet isn’t a cheap trick – though it is rooted in one.
“The idea sort of crept in over time,” said Ron Romero, founder and CEO of the museum. “I’ve been to Cleveland a few times, Nashville a few times….One of the things that moved me the most was that Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick had a show in Rockford, which is the hometown of Cheap Trick.
People from abroad came to Rockford to see the exhibition.
“That’s just one band,” Romero said, noting that it made him question the reaction if a museum were dedicated to all Illinois music. “Although the name is ‘rock and roll’, we respect and preserve all genres of music.”
Romero and others met and, in 2019, purchased a building on Cass Street in Juliet.
“Since then, we have renovated the building,” he said. “We all know what happened in 2020; we slowed down a bit. We are not a development company, we are not millionaires. This is all grassroots.”
Romero said the effort has received “really amazing community support” at Joliet, with contractors frequently donating their time to work on the building.
“The building was built in 1930,” he said. “It’s as solid as possible, all cement. It’s listed as a fireproof building. But even though it’s built like a tank, we have to replace the elevator” and make other upgrades.
The current batch, Romero said, is the completion and opening of the first floor of the 25,000-square-foot building, after which work will be completed on the second and third floors.
Exactly when that will happen is still not clear.
Opening in “2020 would have been good,” Romero said. “…we would like to be open with this as soon as possible. We will shoot for this year and see how we do that, depending on the funding.”
Funding is also at a grassroots level, Romero said, with “700 members from 30 states and three countries now.” “Memberships keep us afloat. We have donors who donate every month. …we have an online store where we sell T-shirts and all kinds of things. We are able to pay the mortgage, electricity, gas and going forward. We have also received a lot of in-kind donations.”
As they work toward the opening, Romero and his board are also working on the details.
“We have design people on our board of directors,” he said. “The first floor is based on blues. We had to start this story. I chose the blues because… the blues is where it all started with rock.”
The plan is for the second floor to contain the majority of their other exhibits, with the third floor dedicated to the famous Illinois Concert Hall.
“Because we open up the first floor and the basement first, it’s going to have a little bit of everything in it,” Romero said. “As we finish the second and third floors, we will move everything to the appropriate places.”
He said that’s not a bad thing.
“We want to do it because we want people to not come once and say ‘I’ve been here’ but[they want to come back]. We want it to be dynamic and changing.”
The plan also includes offering music lessons and music training courses. There is a small performance stage on the lower level that allows for smaller concerts as part of these educational performances.
“Part of our mission here goes beyond the historical part of it,” Romero said. We want to honor and preserve history, but it’s also an educational museum. We are building a facility to teach, not just music but… to disseminate music (and other aspects of the industry, such as lighting and sound). There is a lot of money to be made in this industry, not necessarily as a rock star.”
Classes last six, 10 or 12 weeks, he said, with a performance at the end.
“Our teachers are people who have real-world experience, who have toured and played with bands,” Romero said. “They don’t just teach machines. They have a good background in performance.”
While the organizers wait for the building to be completed, they aren’t waiting for the Illinois Music Hall of Fame to be built. They held their inaugural class – what was supposed to be the class of 2020 but didn’t happen until 2021.
Those included first class Chicago, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy.
The recently announced 2022 class includes Styx, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, former University of Illinois student Dan Fogelberg, and New Colony Six.