The wide wooden door to the Haunt swings open. Loud overtones of punk rock music and the wafting aroma of RazorBack BBQ slap the senses. People make their way in to purchase a wristband. It is an all-age, all-day, biannual music event in Ithaca, featuring some of the best underground music flowing through Upstate New York. This is Big Day In.
“It’s tough to get things like this together regularly, and this is the seventh one,” says John Barrington, bassist for the Ithaca-based band BATISTA. “It’s nice to have something that’s kind of a consistent, independent, fairly local thing.”
Ithaca Underground (IU) is an independent organization that books and promotes shows, focusing on a range of genres, specifically supporting independent musicians and artists. It is a music scene that strongly encourages everyone to be involved in any way, shape or form. It engages music and art outside mainstream media and strongly embraces do-it-yourself (DIY) ethics.
Originally founded by Jayme Peck, IU began its evolution in 2007. Peck moved to Ithaca from Plattsburgh, coming from a solid DIY punk scene. He started booking punk shows with Phil Price (current IU web director) and Bob Proehl, owner of No Radio Records. By the summer of 2008 an individual known as Bubba Crumrine asked Peck to book his band. Soon after, Peck approached Crumrine about taking over the responsibilities of IU. Crumrine began to lead the organization that summer, booking his first show in August. He continued to book 11 additional shows that year, leading him to expand its possibilities by 2009.
“Ithaca Underground has done a lot to build up the idea of do-it-yourself, DIY, punk ethic,” says Mike Amadeo, former Ithaca College student and guitarist for We Are Whaleshark. “[Bubba] takes a lot of weight on his shoulders, him and Mel [Casano]. They’ve done a lot and it’s important for people to come to these things and get inspired. Its affect is definitely having a place to gather to hear music that you wouldn’t normally hear in the Ithaca area. I think it’s a good way to expose people to lots of different kinds of music.”
The first Big Day In (BDI) took place in December 2009. Crumrine explains that he booked it on a two-month notice. He had been talking with the booking agent for the Haunt, Chris Mazer, about the success of shows they had been doing at that particular venue. Crumrine suggested a day festival that would focus on regional bands and bigger acts. He wanted to close out the year with a celebration for his first full year of booking. It was scheduled the first weekend in December. The headlining band was Lemuria and included other groups such as I Object and Sakes Alive!!.
“It was sort of on a whim just to see if we could do it and it would work out,” Crumrine says. “You know, it was the biggest show we’d ever done and it went really well and the bands really enjoyed it. Everybody wanted to do more of them, so [we] came up with the idea of having one in December and one in May. Doing it twice a year and having each one being a little different. And they’ve been the most successful events that we do independently.”
Since then, BDI has become a lot more involved. Crumrine begins putting it together about six months in advance. The first BDI had a few sponsors such as McNeil Music and Angry Mom Records. This December’s BDI kept those sponsors but attracted a significant amount of others as well, including: Ithaca Guitar Works, The Enchanted Badger, The Haunt, Model Citizen Tattoo, Cornell University Durland Alternatives Library, The WordPro, Don Giovanni Records, Finger Lakes ReUse Center and Hex Records.
“It’s really expanded into the community,” Crumrine says. “Letting them know this is more than just a show, it’s a celebration of the DIY community in Ithaca here. It’s a way for us all to show our strengths as independent organizations that want to see Ithaca stay independent. There’s a lot of grassroots emphasis and a way for us all to get together in a celebratory event.”
It is a primary goal to keep BDI open to all ages. From this, it has achieved support from a range of diverse organizations.
“I’m trying to build an event that puts at least a regional light on the local Ithaca community here and what we do for DIY music,” Crumrine explains.
IU strives to put more of a spotlight on local musicians. Crumrine wishes to continue booking bigger names and national acts as headliners for BDI, but at the same time, hiring at least five or six Ithaca-based bands for the opening roster. He wants to keep a strong regional presence as well as pursuing a larger focus.
“It’s definitely making a name for itself,” says Jon Sorber, guitarist for Black Throat Wind. “They put out a DVD two years ago, which Oak & Bone was on and Like Wolves and Soul Control. So that was pretty cool. I’ve never been on a DVD before.”
Crumrine says that it gives people a chance to meet each other and network. Bands can connect and trade shows or coordinate tours together. Seeing each other perform is like getting a preview. It is an excellent way for bands to find each other and connect with similar minded, yet diverse individuals.
“I think it’s at a good middle ground right now, where you can have local punk bands playing with larger, more nationally-known bands,” Amadeo says. “It is able to give them more encouragement and momentum, and to see that punk is about this community. And no matter how big someone [may] get, we’re all going to support each other and come together.”
As for local business, those who sponsor BDI show that they are interested in the arts. They support IU’s interests and know that this single event has the potential of bringing a couple hundred people into town. This can expand profits for restaurants, gas stations, and even benefit tourism. BDI has evolved as a natural progression over the years and strengthens relationships.
“There’s always such a success and hit with people that come out,” Crumrine admits. “The vibe is just friendly. Everyone who had a great time is going to bring a few friends. It’s been a very organic growth and our audience really drives a lot of the bands that we get.”
He explains that this is an opportunity to bring in musical acts, financially, that they could not accomplish otherwise. Yet, as for any local promoter, his responsibilities come with many struggles. Crumrine says it is difficult balancing it with his day job and maintaining two bands. Predicting what people may want can be challenging as well.
This December’s BDI brought about a few obstacles, including the headlining band Screaming Females, dropping off the bill due to health issues. Crumrine contacted Brandon Musa of Summer People, inquiring additional acts. After a few offers were turned down, Musa suggested his renowned band Fire When Ready play a reunion show as a special appearance for BDI. Ithaca had been a mainstay for them since 2002 and even after they broke up almost seven years ago.
“[Bubba] knows how to stack a line-up just right, so everybody gets what they want,” Musa says. “It’s just Bubba’s way. He’s a good promoter. He’s a good dude too.”
As IU has progressed over the years and BDI has achieved great success, Crumrine gained inspiration from a few organizations across the country that focus on underground music that are non-profit organizations. He wanted to benefit from this idea as well and began at the state level. IU received state recognition as a non-profit organization this November. It was a lengthy process with many delays.
“I really saw Ithaca Underground as really having a niche of not having a specific home,” Crumrine says. “We use whatever community spaces are available. In the long term, I want Ithaca Underground to continue on forever, indefinitely.”
He explains how he inherited IU and someday someone will inherit it from him. It took him a long time to figure out how to book bands, how to coordinate venues, contracts and getting their name out to the public.
“I want to make sure there’s an incredibly strong back bone to the organization, so if I need to stop booking, somebody else can jump in to just do that and don’t have to do everything,” Crumrine says.
He doesn’t want there to be delays in their scene. He wants it to be consistent and sustainable. Having this organization become non-profit creates a board of members from the community to make sure at all times they are serving the community, and not just supporting the interests of whoever is booking the shows.
The other purpose is to now file for a 501(c) (3) status with the federal government. This will enable IU to apply for grants. Crumrine says it is important in getting some money upfront to ensure certain static costs are covered such as paying touring bands. It is easier to be more supportive and ambitious in this sense.
“It’s tough to be a band right now, financially. If we can help them, that’s what we’re here for,” Crumrine says.
The next BDI will be in May. Along with Crumrine, essential supporters that make this possible include owner of the Haunt, J. Harman, and booking agent Chris Mazer. Crumrine is looking forward to collaborating with other independent organizations that have emerged such as Fanclub Collective and Odyssey Booking. He says they are not competing but benefit in the privilege of working together. IU’s newsletter will keep people updated on new venues and upcoming shows.
“I think it will keep flourishing,” Sorber says. “As long as Bubba keeps bringing good bands in and keeps people interested and entertained.”
For exstensive live video, check out Ithaca Underground’s blog