Photos by Sippy Cup Productions
As a student at Valparaiso University, Chris Triebes had to create opportunities in order for his band to find any sort of success.
“In Valparaiso, there was simply nowhere to play,” Triebes recalls. “There were no music venues. I was like, ‘We want to play for our [under-age] fans,’ so I started renting out legion halls and stuff.”
Ever since, Triebes has continued booking shows, while also looking out for concertgoers of all ages. After managing the Emerson Theater for four years, Triebes decided it was time for his next step, opening up the Citadel Music Hall on Indy’s west side.
The Citadel Music Hall, 6447 W. Washington St., consists of three rooms. According to Triebes, the venue’s largest room is about three times the size of Emerson Theater's main room, allowing him to book more notable acts than he was before. In looking over the Citadel’s upcoming calendar of shows, this fact becomes apparent, with acts like Black Flag, DMX, Static-X and more visiting the venue within the next three months.
Originally from the Chicagoland area, Triebes first got involved in Indianapolis via the Emerson Theater, where he booked shows before having a hand in management.
“I was renting Emerson from the old owner anywhere from two to six times a month,” Triebes says. “I don’t want to take credit for everything they’ve ever done, but most of the touring acts you’ve seen at Emerson have been me for the last decade or so.”
After a while, Triebes was invited to manage the Emerson — an offer that he accepted. Upon coming on board as venue manager, his first order of business was making vast improvements to the storied space. After putting $30,000 of improvements into the Emerson Theater, however, Triebes was still far from satisfied.
“It just didn’t seem to make a dent; it seemed like people didn’t notice,” Triebes says. “It’s an older building. I’m not trying to down it. It’s just challenging to make work for entertainment currently, at least with what I’m doing.
“As live music becomes a much more dominant portion of the revenue stream in the music industry, so do the standards. And making a punk rock facility work for people who don’t really want to do the punk rock thing became harder and harder.”
Triebes eventually learned of the Citadel’s current location and decided to inquire, despite the building’s rather unfortunate past. Once Club Tropicana H2O a decade ago, the space then became Live Indy, before a short-lived stint as Krave Event Complex from 2017 to 2018.
In August 2018, a 34-year-old man was shot and killed while attending a Moneybagg Yo concert at Krave Event Complex. According to Jared Evans, city county councilor for the area, eight instances of violence occurred at the site between 2009 and 2018.
“I heard about this spot because of the unfortunate circumstances that surrounded it,” Triebes says. “The first thing I did was start poking around to make sure that history couldn’t affect me negatively. With a building like that, you want to check these things out.”
After dealing with a burst pipe, the Citadel opened its doors to the public in March, providing Indy music fans with another all-ages option. According to Triebes, this new space allows for greater possibilities than the Emerson did.
“I was familiar with the layout, size, location, and parking scenarios,” Triebes says. “Half my list was already checked off before I had even stepped foot in there. Once I got in the building and saw it, I was like, ‘Oh God. This is the perfect spot for me.’”
THE LIQUOR DEBATE
Although the Citadel Music Hall will continue being an all-ages venue regardless, Triebes is looking to obtain a liquor license in order to attract audiences young and old alike.
“I’m looking to meet all of people’s interests when they come to my place,” Triebes says. “Some people don’t want to see a show without alcohol. I don’t really agree with that standpoint, but there are people like that. From my standpoint, it’s more about making it a good experience than it is about the monetization of the booze.”
Due to the building’s violent past, however, the Citadel’s initial request for a liquor license was denied. The venue is currently in the process of appealing this decision.
“We’re in the middle of an appeal, looking to show some community support and demonstrate that the community does want this,” Triebes says.
“Right now, that’s our standpoint in our appeal — we believe this is actually a positive change for the area,” he continues. “Maybe things happened in the past in this building, but our business model has literally nothing to do with that.”
Regardless of whether or not he obtains a liquor license, Triebes plans to continue moving along with shows at the Citadel. “Whether or not we have alcohol, we’ll still be doing all our stuff,” he says. “That’s not really relevant.” In looking over his calendar, however, the Citadel founder says it is pretty clear to see why he’s hoping to serve alcohol eventually.
“I would prefer to have alcohol for every concert, especially some of them,” he says. “You can probably look at my calendar and do the math. Like, “C’mon man. This should have beer at it.’”
In Thiebes’ opinion, this issue of “alcohol vs. no alcohol” is one that extends far beyond the Citadel Music Hall.
“As a performer, you shouldn’t have to decide, ‘Do we want to play for our older fans that can drink? Or, do we want to play for all of our fans?’ I think this is a conflict that plenty of artists deal with,” he says.
“Also, a lot of acts don’t draw in a 21+ scenario, so there’s that component,” Triebes continues. “There are several considerations. But most importantly, it’s just lame when it’s not all ages.”
FUTURE OF THE EMERSON
With shows at the Citadel now in full swing, the Emerson Theater is currently looking for a new tenant. Although he’s moved his attention elsewhere, Triebes says the historic 10th Street venue still holds a soft spot in his heart.
“I have considered going real hard on it, giving it a proper renovation, and really gutting it,” he says. “I have considered it. I have not totally discounted that possibility.”
He believes another option could be to renovate the Emerson via crowdfunding or a larger community effort, especially considering the venue’s historic value.
“If there was a way to maybe revitalize it through a community effort, I think that’s a really smart and cool thing to do, and I would be happy to spearhead that frankly,” Thiebes says. “I totally haven’t let it go. But right now, I need to think about the logistics of what I’m doing for a career, and what I need to do to make my people happy, which are my performers.”
Editor's Note: Throughout this story, Citadel Music Hall founder Chris Thiebes touches on many of the obstacles facing all-ages venues in Indy today. Do you have any experience with these obstacles, whether that's as a promoter, a musician, or simply a concert attendee? If so, please share them in the comment section of this story, or email writer Seth Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.