According to Zeleke Gessesse, even the best things in the world can use some improvement. That's why the owner and founder of the Wild Hare
completely revamped his celebrated reggae club by adding a larger stage, an upgraded sound system, expanded seating and dance floor, a gift shop and even a recording studio. And that's just the first phase; Gessesse (he answers to "Zack") has plans for a rooftop deck and, eventually, a second club outside of Wrigleyville.
It's business as usual for a guy who has been juggling club ownership with his own life as a performer and family man for the past 21 years. Over that time, the Wild Hare has hosted plenty of emerging local artists, giving them the support and knowledge that the bassist lacked early in his own career (which has included years of collaboration with Ziggy Marley's Melody Makers). The club's increased capacity and presence will help to further that purpose, but Gessesse is also thinking bigger…much, much bigger.
Some say dogs begin to look like their owners; others say owners start to look like their dogs. Which is true for you?
It's really the music, I would say. You know the audiovisual effects that are synonymous with the big concerts, the big stages? I went and saw a Rolling Stones concert at the United Center, and I saw the stage and I said, "I need that curtain." And I got it. I've won a Grammy and produced platinum albums, and I have seen how the whole production aspect is, and I think that's what drives the image of the club more than me. The music, man.
Who's on your I-want-them-to-play-here wish list?
We want to do more ska, more R&B, more cultured hip-hop…clean hip-hop, I will call it. I would like to book all the bands that play downtown at the big theaters because we believe we can produce them even better. The booking is gonna be the big change in regards to more international and national bands.
What's the best/worst thing about your job?
The good part is the diversity of people you see. It is the most beautiful thing. The world comes to the Wild Hare every night. Every kind of passport, every kind of identification, you see. The bad part is, of course, the liability issue. All the things you hear of, fights, gunshots, what has been happening, not at the Wild Hare but at other places…The business part. I'm an artist, so I'm driven by the art.
What are you listening to?
Oh, everything. Everything from rock to hip-hop, African, jungle, Zulu…I studied music in college, so I'm pretty wide open. But I write reggae.
Music aside, the best night to visit your club is:
It all depends on your taste. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays are live roots reggae. Wednesday is more of a hip-hop reggae. Fridays and Saturdays are more national reggae nights. Every day is a good day.
A little-known fact about your club is:
You will always remember that you were at the Wild Hare (laughs). And, everybody's been to the Wild Hare…there's nobody who hasn't been at the club in this city.
Besides yours, what's your favorite Chicago music club?
I like the Park West as a venue.
The Wild Hare's "rejuvenation celebration" on March 9 will feature Luciano, Anthem and Zeleke. Tickets are $40, and a portion of the proceeds will go towards the One Love Foundation to help establish schools in sub-Saharan Africa. For more information, visit http://www.wildharereggae.com.