JOLIET — The Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on U.S. Route 66 in Joliet isn’t cheap stuff — even if it’s rooted in one.
“The idea kind of crept in over time,” said Ron Romero, the museum’s founder and executive director. “I had been to Cleveland a few times, Nashville a few times. … One of the things that pushed me further was Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen had exposure in Rockford,” which is the hometown by Cheap Trick.
People came from abroad to Rockford to see the exhibit.
“It’s just one band,” Romero said, noting that it made him wonder what the answer would be if a museum were dedicated to all of Illinois music. “Although the name is ‘rock and roll’, we honor and preserve all genres of music.”
Romero and others got together and in 2019 bought a building on Cass Street in Joliet.
“Since then, we have been renovating the building,” he says. “We all know what happened in 2020; It slowed us down a bit. We are not a development society, we are not millionaires. All of this is basic.
The effort received “really good community support” in Joliet, Romero said, with contractors frequently volunteering their time to work on the building.
“The building was built in 1930,” he said. “It’s as solid as it gets, all cement. It is classified as a fireproof building. But even though it’s built like a tank, we need to replace the elevator” and make other improvements.
The current effort is to complete and open the first floor of the 25,000 square foot building, after which they will finish the second and third floors, Romero said.
When exactly that will happen remains unclear.
Opening in “2020 would have been nice,” Romero said. “…We would like to be open with this as soon as possible. We’ll shoot for this year and see how we do, depending on the funding.
Funding is also local, with “700 founding members from 30 states and three countries now,” Romero said. “Memberships keep us afloat. We have donors who give monthly. … We have an online store where we sell shirts, all kinds of things. We are able to pay the mortgage, electricity and gas and keep moving forward. We also had many in-kind donations.
As they work on an opening, Romero and his board are also working on the details.
“We have designers on our board,” he said. “The first floor is based on the blues. We had to have a place to start this story. I chose the blues because… the blues is where it all kind of started with rock music.
The plan is for the second floor to host the majority of their other exhibits, with the third floor being dedicated to an Illinois music hall of fame.
“Because we’re opening the first floor and the lower level first, there will be a bit of everything,” Romero said. “As we complete the second and third floors, we will move everything to the appropriate places.”
That’s not a bad thing, he said.
“We want to do this because we want people not to come once and say ‘I’ve been here’, but to (want to come back). We want it to be dynamic and changing.
The plan also includes music lessons and music business courses. There is a small performance stage on the lower level which will allow for small concerts as part of these educational offerings.
“Part of our mission here goes beyond the historical part,” Romero said. “We want to honor and preserve history, but it’s also an educational museum. We’re building a facility for teaching, not just music but…music publishing (and other aspects of the industry, like lighting and sound). There’s a lot of money to be made in this industry, and not necessarily as a rock star.
Classes last six, 10 or 12 weeks, with a performance at the end, he said.
“Our teachers are people who have real-world experience, who have toured, played with bands,” Romero said. “They are not just teaching instruments. They have a good experience in performance.
While organizers wait for the building to be completed, they aren’t waiting to establish an Illinois Music Hall of Fame. They inducted their inaugural class – which was supposed to have been the class of 2020 but didn’t happen until 2021.
This first class included Chicago, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon formed by Champaign, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.
The recently announced class of 2022 includes Styx, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, former University of Illinois student Dan Fogelberg and New Colony Six.