LEAP OF FAITH: Dan O’Conor, whose dives into Lake Michigan have raised money for indie venues, is often accompanied by Chicago musicians, including Bruce Lamont on sax. (Derick Smith / Courtesy Dan O’Conor)

How the Great Lake Jumper jumped to benefit Chicago venues

By Dan O’Conor

I started in June 2020 taking a daily jump into Lake Michigan to momentarily escape the unrest, divisiveness and pandemic-related stress (as well as a hangover from my son’s high school graduation the night before). Little did I know it would turn into more than 365 consecutive days, through the Chicago winds, rains, snow and ice (which had to be cracked with a shovel) and eventually come to raise money for independent venues. 

WAVES OF SUPPORT: Johnny Russo (with guitar) and Tim and Katie Tuten of the Hideout and the Chicago Independent Venue League with O’Conor. (Derick Smith / Courtesy Dan O’Conor)

I am a live music fan and have seen more than 6,800 shows in my time on this earth. From Schubas and the Metro to the Mercury Lounge to Stubbs and far beyond, I know firsthand the importance of small independent clubs in the American touring ecosystem. 

It is from these small stages where bands can learn their craft and grow to attract bigger crowds. These small businesses are the proving ground for a multibillion-dollar business. Unfortunately, they were also the first to close and last to reopen during this pandemic. 

I started having musicians play at the Chicago Lakefront in January and teamed up with CIVLChicago.com, which is affiliated with the National Independent Venue Association, to raise awa

reness and money for local Chicago venues. I’ve had over 90 artists perform with my jumps, including such Windy City royalty as Jon Langford, Jeff Tweedy and even Steve Albini. In the process we have raised over $10,000 and counting for venues.

If my small feat of jumping in the lake has raised awareness for these creative outlets and moved the needle, then I am happy to be part of this evolving story. I’ve witnessed the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Cage the Elephant, My Morning Jacket, Foo Fighters and many more at these general admission clubs. And it is a thrill to see them climb to great heights and worldwide stages. This, of course, would not be possible without the small independent club system in America.  

Dan O’Conor is founder of DtoxDesigns, which makes stenciled rock merch and can be found posting @TheRealDtox on Instagram. T-shirt purchases to benefit the Chicago Independent Venue League can be made at www.DtoxDesigns.com.