418 South Illinois Avenue, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, United States

(618) 457-5353

A historic visual and performing arts venue in downtown Carbondale, IL.


SI Music Fest Reception & Concert

New Arts Jazztet: Jimmy Beers, Dick Kelley, Phil Brown, Bob Allison, Isaac Lausell.

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24
$25 (Includes concert and hors d'oeuvres
Varsity Bar open for purchases


The 15th annual Southern Illinois Music Festival opens May 24, and The Varsity is hosting the first event of the annual celebration created and directed by Edward Benyas, professor and conductor of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra at Southern Illinois University.

Tickets for the Friday evening opening reception include a concert by the New Arts Jazztet and hors d’oeuvres. The Varsity Bar will be selling beer, wine, cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Tickets are $25.

The New Arts Jazztet has long been regarded as Southern Illinois' premier jazz group. The NAJ is in residence at Southern Illinois University, where all but one of its members are School of Music faculty. Its current line-up is Dick Kelley, reeds; Bob Allison, trumpet/flugelhorn; Isaac Lausell, guitars; Phil Brown, bass; and Jimmy Beers, drums/percussion.

Through June 9, the artists and directors of the Southern Illinois Music Festival will present three dozen performances in venues from Carbondale to Cairo, Murphysboro to Herrin and points in between. SIFest 2019 features two fully staged operas, three orchestral concerts, multiple chamber music performances, Klassics for Kids and Jive with Jazz. For more details, go to www.sifest.com.

The Varsity also will host one of multiple Klassics for Kids events. The free admission program is at 10 a.m. June 5. Klassics for Kids is an interactive concert designed to expose children to the joys of live classical music. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to help youngsters develop skills appropriate for a live performance in an informal atmosphere.

Tickets for the opening reception and all other 2019 festival performances are available at the SIU Ticket Office, online at www.sifest.com/buy-tickets, and at the door of each performance. Patrons may also purchase a non-transferable SIFest pass, through the SIU ticket office for $100. 


The Hooten Hallers, Hugh DeNeal


7 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Doors and Varsity Bar at 6

The Hooten Hallers, a high-energy, blues-rock band known for hard-traveling and wild live shows, will be making a national tour stop at The Varsity on Saturday, May 25. The People vs. Hugh DeNeal will open.

As the band’s website says, “When The Hooten Hallers come to town, it’s going to be a party.” John Randall’s demonically-tinged vocals and manic guitar, coupled with Andy Rehm's screaming falsetto vocals and steady, pounding drum beats, create the band’s unique blend of deep blues and country punk. Kellie Everett brings the power with the deep rumble of her baritone and bass saxophones.

Their music incorporates elements of rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll, honky tonk, jazz, soul and punk with a thematic penchant for the strange and the unexplained. Their live shows take the listener on a seamless ride from unapologetically raucous blues on the lap steel and bass sax, to a sweet three-part harmony country ballad, to a romping dance number.

Their latest album, “Live in Missouri,” was recorded at The Blue Note in Colombia, the trio’s hometown. The recording captures the intensive energy of the group in concert. Check them out at www.thehootenhallers.com.

Hugh DeNeal is known mostly as a singer and songwriter for the Trashcan Americana band Woodbox Gang, and as the subject of a documentary film, “Confidence Man: The Hugh DeNeal Story.” He now leads the group The People vs Hugh DeNeal, which has finished its debut album, “Gas Station Sandwiches.” The songs run in a dark but humorous vein, finding the absurd and the humanity in the strangest of places. The album was recorded over the course of two years at Misunderstudio in Murphysboro, with Woodbox Gang engineer Mike Lescelius at the controls.

Musicians in the band are DeNeal on guitar and vocals, Evan Sims on ukulele, Nathan Graham on upright bass, Dakota Holden on electric guitar and pedal steel, and Greg Edwards on percussion. The band – whose members come from Whistle Pigs, Hobo Knife, Dakota Holden Trio, and Jenny and the Johnsons – create high-impact and haunting sounds against the strange tales inhabiting “Gas Station Sandwiches.”

Advance tickets are not available in advance at the venue, but will go on sale the night of the show when doors and the Varsity Bar open 


Sarah Shook & the Disarmers

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers is a country band with a sneer, a bite and no apologies.

7 p.m. Saturday, June 8
$15 adv / $18 nos
Doors and Varsity Bar at 6

“Honest to a fault and as foul-mouthed as a drunken sailor, Sarah is a nonconforming spitfire who is proud of not fitting in with mainstream country music.” – Rolling Stone

Fresh off a successful appearance at SXSW and in the midst of their current U.S. tour, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are making a stop at The Varsity. The show is presented by The Varsity and Black Acre Productions.

Always passionate – and at times profane – Sarah walks the line between vulnerable and menacing, and you can hear in her voice what she’s seen and the lessons she’s learned, singing with conviction and a hard honesty.

“This North Carolina honky-tonk punk strikes a defiant onstage posture with a voice that goes right for the throat, a feral switchblade snarl that sometimes eases and glides but never softens,” reports Rolling Stone.

Writing with a blunt urgency that’s refreshing these days, Sarah’s lyrics are smart, funny, mean and, above all, uncompromising. Inspired by artists such as the Sex Pistols, Elliott Smith and Hank Williams, Sarah sings with confidence and control, and The Disarmers match her on every track. This is a country band with a sneer, a bite and no apologies. 

Tickets are $15 in advance at The Varsity’s ticketing partner Plaza Records, 816 E. Main St., Carbondale, and at the link below. Tickets are $18 at the door on the night of the show when doors open; they are not available in advance at the venue.