Music is in the air – or, at least in the bars – on Madison Street these days.

A few watering holes are now showcasing music throughout the week, and are making a concerted effort to get away from aging cover bands.

In June, Murphy’s Pub on Madison enlisted musician and owner of JKMP (Just Keep Music Playing) entertainment Patrick Creedon to bring a better sound to the bar. Creedon recalls a not too distant past when the only thing to hear in Forest Park bars were the gulps of thirsty patrons, small talk and overplayed jukebox favorites.

“There was no entertainment on Madison Street,” Creedon said, “and, now we want Murphy’s on Madison to be known as a place to go and see good music.”

Creedon does the scouting, buying, booking and promotions for the bar. All of this is mainly done through a kinship he has with the Chicago music scene, and its talent buyers, agencies, and promoters. However, touring with his band Liquor Boxx allowed him to network nationally, so there are acts from across the country lining up to play Murphy’s.

“I’m excited about these bands coming from all over the country,” Matt Mathey, Murphy’s owner, said.

Creedon forged his relationship with Murphy’s somewhat accidentally, after Liquor Boxx had a falling out with a neighboring bar, and they happened to stumble into Murphy’s and strike up a conversation with Mathey.

“We walked out the door, made a right, and went into Murphy’s and said ‘let us play’,” Creedon said with a laugh.

Mathey – a former beer salesman – purchased Murphy’s in December 2003 and was intent on making live music a regular occurrence.

“It was a big investment and I knew I eventually wanted to get music in there,” Mathey said. “With the economy today, you have to give people a reason to come in other than just to have a drink.”

There is now free music at Murphy’s every day of the week except on Monday. Sundays are open mic nights; on Tuesdays there are acoustic performances; Wednesdays are reserved for karaoke, which may soon become live band karaoke; Thursdays are Indie nights; and there is usually a DJ that spins on Saturdays.

If there is a “good enough band,” the DJ’s set will usually be cancelled, according to bartender Nate Morris.

On Fridays and Saturdays anything goes as far as the type of band that might be booked. Both Mathey and Creedon referenced the recent performance of New Orleans-based Sick Like Sinatra as an example of the unique acts that are now becoming commonplace at Murphy’s.

Sick Like Sinatra is a theatrical dance/rock group that prerecords original music, then plays the recording during their performance, while lip synching and dancing.

Mathey chuckled over the performance. Creedon referred to it as being an honest Britney Spears performance.

Mathey and his employees have noted an increase in business since incorporating the concept of a bar/music venue. In addition, the patrons and the musicians alike are quick to praise the bar and its new feel.

Friday night duel:
Performers from Chicago Dueling Pianos liven the atmosphere at Doc Ryan’s. The company was hired by owner Brian Sullivan after he and staff members saw similar shows in the city. FRANK PINC/Staff Photographer

“I came from Sugar Grove for the band,” Shauna Kennedy said, in reference to Boxcar Billy, an experimental country-rock group that played Murphy’s on a recent Friday.

“It really comes down to who comes out to support you,” Boxcar Billy guitarist/vocalist Bill Benson said. “I feel thankful for the people who come out to see us … especially in this economy.”

Murphy’s is not the only place trying to offer a better quality of entertainment. Down the street at Doc Ryan’s, bar-hoppers can catch a fast-paced, traditional dueling pianos performance every two weeks on Friday nights.

“They are fabulous,” said Carol Oats, who, with her husband, Dan, attended a recent show. “Great ability to pick up on things and adapt. The improvisation is incredible and they really got the crowd together.”

Doc Ryan’s owner Brian Sullivan decided on including dueling pianos after a “field trip” with his employees to the Red Head Piano Bar and Howl at the Moon in Chicago.

“We went downtown and we fell in love with it,” Sullivan said.

He then did some research and contacted Dave Roberts, a part-owner of Chicago Dueling Pianos. The agency is a Chicago-based dueling pianos showcase that has been contracted for shows nationally and internationally.

Doc Ryan’s and Chicago Dueling Pianos have partnered for two shows thus far.

“They’re not only musicians they’re entertainers … they react to the crowd,” Sullivan said. “There’s not a lot of guys out there that can do that.”

Murphy’s on Madison is located at 7414 Madison, and Doc Ryan’s is at 7432 Madison.