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 Fitzgeralds Community Christmas Bus is making the rounds from Berwyn to Riverside, 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, Fitzgeralds club owner.
The concept started early April with Truck Concerts when all was shut down due to COVID-19, including the Berwyn nightclub at 6615 Roosevelt Road. The music venue asks residents to sign up for a Truck Concert visit to their block when the vehicle is slated to be in their neighborhood.
Based on the number of signups, a route is planned and those blocks with the most interest are paid a visit. In return, Fitzgeralds asks for a donation to support musicians and nightclub employees.
While Fitzgeralds was able to reopen its premises to 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 musicians from the winter chill. Enter Donnie Biggins, Fitzgeralds’ head of music, who suggested they work with the nonprofit Opportunity Knocks, which owns a bus that is not in use due to the pandemic.
According to Duncan, Fitzgeralds 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 switching to a holiday theme for December refreshed the concept.
“As far as energy, the response is spectacular,” he said. “People were so cheered up.”
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.
Demand was high in Riverside, where the bus has made two appearances – the most recent on Dec. 12 — drawing 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 – at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Besides booking the musicians, handling correspondence with neighbors, plotting the route, and even putting on the Santa suit, Biggins drives the bus.
“He puts so much thought and effort into this and is committed to this project,” Duncan said. As Santa, Biggins poses for photos with the kids en route, too.
January will likely see more concerts, with a winterized bus making the 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 the traveling concerts, which include private events, to continue because they represent a new revenue stream for Fitzgeralds, are still in demand and are so much fun.
See where future buses are scheduled to tour and sign up for a Community Christmas Concert on your block at fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.