Skylark is a rare bird in the humming aviary that’s the Quad Cities’ arts and entertainment scene.

Established in a beautiful old church at 4401 7th Ave., Rock Island, two months before COVID closed the world, the combination recording studio/live music venue/event space is primed to soar.

A view of the Skylark interior (a former church built in 1892), 4401 7th Ave., Rock Island (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Recording engineer and sound designer Justin Farley opened in January 2020 (the place was originally dedicated in 1892 as Grace Lutheran Church), after operating Skylark recording studio at Five Points in west Davenport from 2007 to 2019. Farley just started doing events in the current building again this past February.

A Bettendorf High alum, he was the primary sound technician for Davenport’s Redstone Room several years, building up his studio, and doing sound for other events.

“After 12, 15 years of doing events for other people, I was like, you know what? Let’s get my own event space. I know how to do the job,” Farley said this week. He also recently added Suzon Robbins of Bettendorf as new event coordinator, for the 200-capacity venue.

“The beauty of this room is its variety,” Robbins said. “You could easily have an orchestra. What I want to do is experiences. What I’m thinking of doing is having a ‘Bridgerton’ ball, different things. I could do fundraising. This room is so diverse.”

Skylark hosts birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries, and quinceañeras. He’s had one comedy show, and wants to do more. They have a Vino Van Gogh painting party coming up.

Skylark as set up for a wedding.

“It doesn’t have to be music — I’m a music guy, but I’m open to all of it,” Farley said. “I don’t want to get pigeon-holed as just a punk club or something.”

He met Robbins when he was a Bettendorf High student (“back when I was cool,” she snarked). Farley is a product of the Bettendorf school music program, from 4th-12th grades, including piano, drum line, saxophone, and played in rock bands until his early 20s.

Farley worked in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2005, with a band. That last year, he interned at a video studio and recording studio.

From church to speakeasy to club

The former QC church (which retains its colorful stained-glass windows) was a speakeasy during Prohibition and it was a private club for Farmall employees and families. Farley looked all over the area for a new Skylark building, before settling on the gray structure on the border of Moline and Rock Island.

Atmospheric lighting at the Rock Island venue.

“I walked in here, and it was magic,” Farley said. “It’s the perfect spot — it’s not too big; I can afford it; I can cool it. I just knew it was right.”

The hard part in buying the old church (the last prior congregation was Baptist, called the Dedicated View) was converting it to a non-religious use, convincing the former pastor, he said.

“I wasn’t going to do anything weird in here, with goat heads or anything,” Farley said. “He trusted me with it and I’m caring for this place for the next 30 years and pass on to someone else.”

“They had a Christmas service, then locked the doors and I was in in January 2020,” he said, noting Skylark had a blues program, an electronic dance music event, and punk rock show before the March 2020 shutdowns. They didn’t return to live public events until February 2022.

Broadening types of events

River City Collective and promoter Sam Koester have been bringing a lot of shows to Skylark, including a Big 4 heavy metal tribute show in August, and an expected sold-out William Elliott Whitmore on July 30.

A standing-room only concert at Skylark.

“We’ve had 15 concerts this year and another 12 on the books,” Farley said. He did a lot of recording during the pandemic, with bands and solo acts.

For events, Skylark has been open to a wide variety, like Redstone Room has been. “It’s not just a rock club; it’s not just a jazz club,” Farley said. “That helped me with my studio. A lot of studios have come and gone since I opened — they’re usually specialists. ‘I just do metal, I just do hip-hop.’ I think the market’s too small for that. And that’s the same vision I had for events.”

Robbins said she was on the original Stage Two board, a teen club, and she wants to do similar dances for kids (between 11-14) with mock cocktails.

“Those were the type of places when I was young, our bands used to play at,” Farley said. “Now, where do these high school bands play?”

Skylark doesn’t have a liquor license (and doesn’t want one), so it’s perfect for all-ages shows, Robbins said. She wants to do a Stage Two reunion with QC disc jockey Shane Brown.

“Kids haven’t been here since 2020,” Farley said. “This fall is gonna be the first time we can hit the Augie kids.”

Since February, Skylark has averaged about two or three private non-music events per month, Farley said.

“We’ve had retirement parties; I’ve had a couple graduation parties,” he said. “Lots of little kid birthday parties that are disguise parties for the adults to get drunk and dance all night.”

“The local Hispanic community that I’m in came knocking on my door and said, we need to have some events. We need a place, and that’s turned into a pretty good chunk of the business now,” Farley said. “That gives me a good reason to meet my neighbors, talk to them. We’re trying to set up a salsa dance this fall.”

River Music Experience has reached out to him about sponsoring shows at Skylark, as well as the nearby Mercado on Fifth.

Applying her experience

It was natural to connect with Robbins, since she has the experience.

“She’s done this before and I ran into her,” Farley said. “I know she’ll see some angles that I’m not seeing.”

Suzon Robbins and Justin Farley are both from Bettendorf (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Robbins used to book for the Davenport punk rock club Uncle Roscoe’s, and before she had her son, she was a nationwide booking agent for Full Blown Booking in Chicago; she was a talent buyers for Thurstons in Chicago, and has worked for many labels including Fuse Records, Cleopatra Records and Red Decibel/ Metalblade Records.

“I’ve been in the house for two and a half years, trying to avoid COVID,” Robbins said. “I don’t know how to do anything else. I literally have no other skills. I have to support myself some way.”

She has been working the door at Skylark events, before coming on as event coordinator.

“I was seeing things I wanted to help with,” Robbins said. “This guy’s a good guy. I really want to help. I definitely don’t want to do the stuff that River City is doing. I want to help facilitate the space, in ways that will make him money, it’ll be good for the space. Just the ideas I have — my doctor wants to do an all-girls dance party, slumber party one night. Like a church lock-in.”

“Just the feeling, when I first walked in here, I knew I wanted to do something here,” she said. “I’m just waiting for the universe to unfold.”

“Music is always going to be the core of it, but I see it more as an event center,” Farley said. “Concerts are a type, but I don’t just want to be a concert hall.”

Skylark as set up for a birthday party.

Robbins wants to start a teen board of area students (separate groups for 11-14 and 15-18) and seek their input on the kind of events Skylark should host. She plans on putting in a photo booth area.

“They can run around, they can dance, and feel like life is not gonna end on them,” Robbins said. “We’ve thought about doing art programs. There are a lot of artists who’ve said they’d be willing to volunteer. We can do community programs here for art in the basement. There’s a whole basement area here, so we wouldn’t have to worry about the beautiful floors.”

Farley said providing events for students is a great untapped market, and Robbins wants to connect with the LGBTQ population.

“We’re like Switzerland”

“We’re like Switzerland here; we want to love everybody,” Robbins said. She admires The Village Theatre in the Village of East Davenport, for its similar variety of events. She’s done flea markets there, and wants to do one at Skylark in the fall.

Farley is not interested in getting a liquor license, partly for the cost, and because he doesn’t want to be a bar.

“I don’t want to have to be open every day to afford the liquor license and dram shop insurance. I don’t really want that crowd around,” he said. “We end at 11 and I love that. People come for our stuff, and you can go out and drink after. After working at bars 15 years, I think we have a cool enough event space, people will come for the event.”

Bent River and other local breweries cater Skylark events. “I don’t want to be in the bar business,” Farley said.

Integrity recently played a River City show, and that was big, Robbins said. “That was an older crowd, and people are coming here from Des Moines, Chicago,” she said.

“People call me a day in advance to see if we can hold a ticket, and I ask where they’re coming from,” Farley said of one person from Minneapolis. “Really? I think what’s exciting is, we’re finally getting a little awareness.”

“People are finally starting to hear of us and call us with ideas on things to do,” he said. “We’re a place you can have your event.”

People from out of the area find out about Skylark by word of mouth or they’re fans of the bands. Farley also is becoming better known in the Hispanic community.

“So much so, that I have a translator across the street that I am funneling a lot of those calls to, and she’s doing really good,” he said. “There’s more networks to get into.”

Farley already has a wedding booked for June 2023. Robbins joked she’s looking for someone to marry (at Skylark, of course). Rentals come with tables, chairs, sound system and lights.

Skylark’s space functioned as a church through most of its history, until Justin Farley bought it in January 2020 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The recording studio has been steady, he said. “It’s always gonna do its thing, I really got into this space for concerts and events, to add on top of that. I’ve gotten a few more bands this year, because they’ve come to the concerts and seen the space. They see, ‘you record in here too?’ It starts to feed itself. Clients come back for the other service we offer.”

Some artists Farley has recorded, he also tries to get to do live shows. Skylark will get Metronet infrastructure to be able to livestream shows starting this fall.

Upcoming concerts include:

  • July 19 — City of the Weak, The Almas, Monica Austin and Been There Done That.
  • July 30 — William Elliott Whitmore and Dave Hause.
  • July 31 — Bumsy and the Moochers, The Pivots and Zed
  • Aug. 17 — Enterprise Earth, Within Destruction, Sentinels and Great American Ghost
  • Aug. 20 — Thrash of the Titans (tribute to Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax

For more information on Skylark, call 563-505-0866, email skylarkqc@gmail.com or visit skylarkqc.com.