Kyle Fournier of the band FayRoy poses with his guitar in Chicago in 2013.…
On any given night, a Chicagoan has dozens of opportunities to hear live musicians perform. But that also means a thief has at least as many chances to nab thousands of dollars worth of music gear from touring performers.
Depending on who you ask within Chicago's music scene, the city may be the "Bermuda Triangle" of band gear. Or it may just be another major metropolitan area offering both peril and opportunity for indie musicians on the road.
Consider the Louisiana band Brass Bed, who have been victims of theft twice while touring through Chicago on separate occasions, according to singer and guitarist Christiaan Mader, 29 . The most recent theft took place last fall, just after the quartet played at Subterranean in Wicker Park.
The band spent the night at a friend's home a few blocks from the music venue, Mader said, with their van parked on the street, in view of the apartment. In the morning nothing appeared amiss, and the band prepared for the long drive to Pittsburgh ahead of them.
"Our bud walked his dog in the morning, and he said 'Your van's still here!' it was kind of a joke, we thought nothing of it," he said. "Then we packed up to leave around 9 a.m., I opened the door, and there was shattered glass all over the middle seat, and snow."
Since January, more than four musicians and bands have had property—from guitars to vans—stolen while touring through Chicago, leading some to urge extra precautions to those traveling around the city. This March, heavy metal rocker Zakk Wylde said his $10,000 guitar was stolen from his tour bus outside the Chicago Theatre—the first time he had had an instrument stolen on the road in close to 25 years.
The Chicago Police Department does not keep data on how many of the thousands of thefts, car thefts or break-ins that are reported each year come from people stealing instruments or gear from musicians, but there are several media reports of CPD officials helping touring rockers recover some of their missing items.
Touring is expensive and risky, but it's necessary for bands serious about gaining a following and making money, according to Jenny Lizak, publicist for the Metro.
"Basically the only way for most bands to make any money is to play shows," she said. "If you want your music to be heard, going on tour is the best way to do it and also the only way to make money," particularly when a band is starting out.
Patrick Van Wagoner, an administrator at Schubas and Lincoln Hall, said Chicago is no more perilous to bands than any other major city.
"We hear about it happening in Chicago more often because we're surrounded by the scene here, but it happens everywhere," he said.
His advice for bands is simple: "Don't leave your stuff in your car. At Schubas, that is our No. 1 recommendation. We're not even comfortable having cars parked in our lot with gear in them."
The majority of media reports of stolen band gear involve thefts from vans parked outdoors.
Brass Bed, the Louisiana band, lost four guitars and three pedal boards, among other items with a total value of more than $8,000, Mader said, but no personal belongings, as was the case when the band was robbed while spending the night in Logan Square in 2012.
"That was a lesson we learned from the previous time we played in Chicago," he said. "They stole a laptop, iPods, suitcases, that sort of thing."
Last fall, the Northwest Side claimed the band FayRoy's gear as well, along with their maroon '97 Chevy, two months into their cross-country tour. The band was spending a layover in the city at a friend's home and had parked their van right outside. The group went out to dinner and returned just two hours later to find the van gone.
"We thought we must have parked on the wrong block, and then it hit us," said Zack Hoag, 25, who plays the guitar and sings in the band.
The van contained more than $10,000 worth of equipment, he said—enough damage to force FayRoy to cancel the rest of its tour. But the band hung around Chicago for another two weeks, he said, and used social media and news reports to ask people to be lookout for their instruments.
Those efforts paid off, to some extent; Hoag received a call from an employee of the Guitar Center in Villa Park, who suspected that a man who had visited her store to sell a used fender telecaster had stolen it from FayRoy. With the help of the Elmhurst and Chicago police departments, he said, they were able to recover some gear, but not enough to finish their tour, which had five more shows scheduled.
"We're definitely going to be doing the same route again this September, but be a little more prepared," he said. "We're not going to let our lives get stolen away."