It may be dashing through the snow into your neighborhood, decked out with holiday décor, a real-live Santa and a band playing holiday tunes. The FitzGerald’s Community Christmas Bus is making the rounds from Berwyn to Riverside, all ends of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, too. It could even venture elsewhere if demand is there.
While people “can’t have the same kind of family plans and holiday travel, we have something silly like this bus rolling down their street,” said Will Duncan, FitzGerald’s owner.
The concept started in early April with Truck Concerts when all was shut down due to COVID-19, including the Berwyn nightclub. The music venue asked residents to sign up for a Truck Concert visit to their block when the vehicle was slated to be in their neighborhood. Based on the number of signups, the route was planned and those blocks with the most interest were paid a visit. In return, FitzGerald’s asked for a donation to support musicians and nightclub employees.
While FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., was able to reopen its premises with outdoor entertainment for a while, Duncan feels that is no longer safe to do. The Truck Concerts were so popular, that throughout the pandemic, they have continued every Saturday night. But, for December, a new twist was introduced.
It was time to trade up from their mobile pick-up truck stage to a bus to protect from the winter chill. Enter Donnie Biggins, FitzGeralds head of music, who suggested they work with Opportunity Knocks, the River Forest non-profit which owns a bus that is not in use due to the pandemic. According to Duncan, FitzGerald’s has a “mutually beneficial partnership” with the nonprofit since he took ownership of the nightclub in March. Opportunity Knocks supports teens and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they pursue educational, occupational and social interests within the community.
Now a portion of proceeds from donations for the Community Christmas Bus visits go to Opportunity Knocks.
“The support has been heartwarming,” Duncan said. “The money raised is outstanding. And people want to see their local music venue survive.”
The Bus is also bringing some much-needed holiday cheer.
Duncan said that reactions have been refreshing; switching to a holiday theme felt like when they first started the Truck Concerts. “As far as energy, the response is spectacular. People were so cheered up,” he said.
Demand has also been “staggering,” according to Duncan, with 350 houses requesting a visit in North Oak Park alone early in the month. They typically visit 10 to 12 blocks in one evening.
While some dates are planned, such as a Dec. 18 ride through River Forest and Forest Park with Mama Roux, the New Orleans style Jazz duo of Cole DeGenova and Quin Kirchner, others are still being booked. The bus will again be in North Oak Park on December 17 – an added show because demand was so high earlier this month – and South Oak Park on December 23. Demand was high in Riverside; a second date was added there, too. Duncan said they collected onlookers as the bus wound around the curving streets.
He said there is potential to add shows the week of Christmas based on demand, including making a first ever appearance in Brookfield. LaGrange is a possibility too. All they need are enough emails. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Besides booking the musicians, handling correspondence with neighbors, plotting the route, and even putting on the Santa suit and driving the bus is Biggins. “He puts so much thought and effort into this,” Duncan said, “and is committed to this project.” As Santa, Biggins poses for photos with the kids en route too.
January will likely see more concerts, with a winterized bus making its rounds. Instead of a holiday theme, it may be artist driven, such as featuring “great original song writers.”
“We’d like to keep doing something even if we’re going to have a tough winter,” Duncan said. “We want to bring joy to people. As long as we’re not losing money, we’ll keep doing it.”
Once COVID restrictions are lifted, Duncan expects these traveling concerts, which include a version for private events, to continue because they are a new revenue source FitzGerald’s would not have had, they are still in demand and are so much fun.
Sign up for a Community Christmas Concert on your block: fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.