Live music rocks downtown Waterloo

St. Louis musician Brent Stewart performs Saturday night at Hopskeller with guitarist Dan Tejada. (Sean McGowan photo)
St. Louis musician Brent Stewart performs Saturday night at Hopskeller with guitarist Dan Tejada. (Sean McGowan photo)

In a packed house full of lively people and tasty beer Saturday at Hopskeller Brewing Co. in Waterloo, musician Brent Stewart and guitarist Dan Tejada provided the evening’s entertainment.

Stewart is a Murphysboro native now living in St. Louis who considers his playing style “Midwestern Americana.” He started his musical career at the age of 15. 

In inviting Stewart out to perform over the weekend, Hopskeller founder Matt Schweizer was participating in a growing trend of using live music to draw crowds into the downtown Waterloo establishments. 

Schweizer said he has gigs every Friday and Saturday at his microbrewery located on the courthouse square.

“It’s a pretty eclectic mix,” Schweizer said of the different musicians he books at Hopskeller. “We’ve had jazz, R&B, country, rock. It’s pretty fun.”

Schweizer added he attempts to choose music that is more entertainment-based, and even though he at times goes for musical acts outside of Monroe County, going local is a preferred choice. 

Hopskeller has brought in local artists such as Brian McKelvey and The Sofa Kings. So far, Schweizer is encouraged by the addition of live music to the atmosphere of his business.

Waterloo musician Brian McKelvey performs at Hopskeller. (photo courtesy Jerry Stuart of

“It’s kind of hard to tell. On the whole, it’s been going well,” he said. “I think we’ll see when summer rolls around.”

James Gallagher seconded Schweizer’s thoughts, saying he’s ready to see what the changing of the seasons will bring. Gallagher’s restaurant offers live music on Saturdays.

“I think around spring, summer, fall, we will start to see downtown change drastically,” he said. “People have taken notice of the new bars and nightlife.”

Gallagher said one trick to choosing the right musician boils down to collaboration.

“We put live music on before everybody else, so people mostly come to us. But we do get in touch with Matt over at Hopskeller to see what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “And they do the same with me.”

In some cases, though, what works for one establishment may not produce the same results at another. Stubborn German Brewing Co. owner Tammy Rahn noted her brewery takes a different approach to featuring live music.

For instance, Tammy and her husband, Chris, attempt to book an authentic German band at least once a month — the brewery features live music twice a month. 

Tammy also indicated the goal is to select an artist who hasn’t recently played at a bar or brewery down the street. However, that can still produce many different outcomes.

“We try to go for a variety of music across different genres. We want it to be something that people can sing along to,” Tammy said.

At Vintage Wine Bar, owner Justin Schmidt said he likes to instill a more serene environment with his musical choices.

“People like to come and relax so we try to keep the music fairly mellow,” he said. “The crowds are into the acoustic bands. But sometimes on a Saturday night, they can get into some heavier stuff.”

Schmidt relayed that he has included many local bands in his lineup, but also likes to explore different options on occasion.

“I try to do new stuff occasionally. It’s tough because people can get burnt out on hearing the same stuff,” he said.

Every weekend on Fridays, Saturdays and late in the afternoon Sundays, patrons can be serenaded by musicians ranging in style from blues to rock and country at the wine bar. Similar to the Rahns, Schmidt said he doesn’t lean heavily on other bars for entertainment choices.

Local bands
On the other hand, artist Brian McKelvey of Waterloo conveyed that musicians in the area often operate as a community. For instance, McKelvey will sometimes play drums with the Waterloo band John Sabo Revue.

“Everyone has got their own take on it and different motivations. But I think anybody can help each other out because it’s better for the community as a whole,” he said.

McKelvey first got into playing for an audience in the 1990s, and was involved in the St. Louis bands Peach Crate and The Trip Daddys for a time. The one-man acoustic acts started in the last year — in which he plays blues, rock, country and other styles.

Since then, he has been playing frequently at the different establishments in the area, including at Stubborn German, where he sang a special song he wrote titled “Halloween Hootenany” during the brewery’s Halloween celebration.

“I thought, ‘I could write a song about this,’ and things started popping up in my head, lyrically,” he explained, adding he recorded the video for people to see on Facebook.

But McKelvey uses his talents for more than simple entertainment. Whenever possible, he also likes to participate in fundraisers and benefits to serve his community.

He did so by playing pro bono during the Krebel Crawl in support of Dan Krebel, and again for a recent Derek DeWilde fundraiser. For both events, he also donated 100 percent of his tips.

Another band that appreciates the idea of charitable giving, Burn Toast and the Jam, has been playing in the area for about three years. The Waterloo band includes three musicians.

Luke and Matt Hays are father and son, and perform rock and blues music with Luke Martin. The band has done several benefit gigs and will play at a March 24 benefit for local crash victim Logan Goodnick at Fountain Inn in Valmeyer.

In addition to helping out its neighbors, the band likes to have fun. Matt recalled their desire to entertain themselves as the catalyst that brought them together as a band.

“Luke Martin was bass on the high school jazz band and was friends with Luke through that. It all gelled together, and I jammed with them a couple times and thought, ‘These kids can play,’” Matt said.

Matt estimated he and his bandmates play between 25 to 35 performances a year. Luke Martin plays bass for the band while Luke Hays plays guitar, and Matt is on drums. All three are on vocals.

In his time with the band, Matt has seen downtown Waterloo grow into a great place to hang out and have a good time on the weekends.

“I think it’s great the way Waterloo has been progressing with places like Hopskeller and the wine bar. I see the live music coming up,” he said.

Aside from the myriad of bars and breweries in town, the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce also hosts a downtown summer concert series, starting June 10 at the Monroe County Courthouse bandstand.

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