Chrisisms: Justin Milnes uses drive, passion

By Chris Wachowiak

While going to Rock Valley College, Justin Milnes, now 28, realized between school and playing football he needed to make a little money. So, he became a host at Cheddar’s Casual Café, then a barback, and then soon, a bartender.

Justin began to gain connections in the restaurant industry, and kind of stumbled upon the music scene when some buddies in a band wanted to start playing in some bars. He realized he knew some of the right people, and that with a couple of phone calls, he could connect with the decision-makers to put a deal together.

The next day, Justin was booking and beginning to manage a band. He took on a perspective of looking at the end result, and then working his way backward. He would see something and ask himself how could he put the pieces together, and if he didn’t know, he was never afraid to seek out and ask someone who might have known.

As Justin started making connections for bands with venues, he was realizing he was also making strong connections with some venues, and began to work at a large banquet hall/restaurant as a bartender. It was during his bartending days and working with bands that one of his co-workers mentioned to their boss that Justin might be able to help with their shows. The venue was Giovanni’s and the band was Mike & Joe.

Justin claimed he could book Mike & Joe, even though he’d never met the band, booked for a venue before or run an event like this. He told Giovanni’s owner Joe Castrogiovanni he could do it, and he was right. He saw himself in the right place at the right time, seized the opportunity before him, and had his first successful show.

Justin wasn’t afraid of failure, but he was afraid of not trying. Making mistakes when trying to figure things out is part of the process, but by adjusting and correcting, improvements were always being made. Justin also had the foresight to ask himself how he could do bigger and better.

As Justin began to book bands at venues and for venues, he paid close attention to what made shows either successes or failures. He paid attention to marketing programs from the standpoint of the promoter, the venue and the salesman. He also realized the relationship made all the difference in every part of all these equations. Relationships is what Justin began to focus on for business.

Justin didn’t finish Rock Valley, but his education surely didn’t stop. Justin puts in typically 10-hour days, six days a week with a minimum of two hours a day researching for projects, goals or curiosities that intrigue him. It is with his zest for music, bands and events that he began to grow his bases. He has carved out his niche now with The District Bar and Grill (205 W. State St.), booking their bands.

You want to know who’s been bringing these big names to the smaller stage? Justin, with support from The District owners Andy and Denny, has been bringing some big-name national acts to our community. He recently had a surreal moment booking and hanging out with one of his favorite childhood bands, Candelbox.

Justin has also been a driving force behind two of Rockford’s best-known original acts of recent, The Pimps and Miles Nielsen. Justin helped get both of these bands their Pandora accounts and their own phone apps. He has booked and managed more shows than anyone else I know at his age, and he is certainly carving out his path in this market.

Justin has drive, passion and an ethical approach to his business. He lays his heart, and his brains, into everything he touches, and looks at the big picture of how it can affect all involved. Next time you hear of some big show about to hit Rockford, my money is that Justin had a role in making it happen.

Chris Wachowiak is owner of Kryptonite Bar, 308 W. State St., No. 110, Rockford. Read his blog at Do you know a 20-something who is doing something unique and should be recognized? E-mail Chris at and tell him who, why and how to contact them.

From the Feb. 27-March 5, 2013, issue

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