By MIKE SOSNICK
Ithaca’s thriving music scene is driven in large part by Ithaca Underground, a nonprofit organization. Bubba Crumrine is the person at the group’s helm, and The Sun got the opportunity to speak with him about it.
The Sun: What did the all-ages and DIY scenes in Ithaca look like before Ithaca Underground?
Bubba Crumrine: Ithaca Underground came to be in 2007, when there was a bit of a lull in the DIY and overall music scene. There were cool bands (Fairway, Elston Gunn, The Berettas) but there wasn’t a centralized movement. The Haunt wasn’t as packed as it is now (and had been in the past). Dan Smalls Presents hadn’t been founded as an independent entity.
The Ithaca Show Syndicate had come before (which members of some current local I.U. bands were a part of), but had passed on. Popcorn Youth was on the rise, bringing hip noise, folk and indie acts through on occasion. Ithaca Experimental, while briefly lived, brought through regional experimental acts that had a big impact on me directly.
I.U. humbly began in a time where a new, centralized, all-ages movement was needed, when MySpace booking and forums were the name of the game. Around the same time, No Radio Records was founded by Bob Proehl (now where The Shop resides), as a space for DIY, all-ages shows to happen on occasion, and for underground music C.D.s and vinyl to be approachable and acquired. Phillip Price (BATISTA, Crime Wave, etc.), in Ithaca, from Binghamton, was bringing acts through No Radio as well, such as Kayo Dot and Joe Lalley.
Those three forces lit a spark that we carry through today. We’re just a handful of people who cared more about art and community than commerce, and [they] came together to do it themselves and do it together, rather than wait for someone else to.
Sun: What inspired you to start Ithaca Underground?
I.U. was founded by our now webmaster, Jayme Peck. He arrived in Ithaca for school via Plattsburgh, hearing great things about the Ithaca punk scene, but had missed it by that much. So he decided to do something about it.
I joined I.U. in 2008, shortly after my first Ithaca band, Bazaar of Guillemots, bit the dust. We’d joked in the band that Ithaca had no scene (I was still new to the area, albeit). It was suddenly in my hands to do something about that. I’d been immersing myself in the deepest depths of mutant music and all of the anarcho and socialist ideals that come with, and knew that quality over fame and inclusiveness over profit had to be at the core of wherever we were headed.
B.B.: What steps were taken in the genesis and creation of the organization?
I.U. remained a hobby for several years, with my partner and I running door [and] sound, making flyers, lodging bands and opening our own home up to shows, but early on it became very apparent that other people believed in what we were doing and wanted to help. Volunteer photographers and videographers popped up and dedicated time as they could. High schoolers flyered relentlessly for us. Young artists started designing our posters. College students wanted to document what we were doing. We realized the only way to grow I.U. and stay committed to our ethics was to make it a community effort.
I formed the board (George Johann of Angry Mom, Eric Laine of McNeil Music and Ryan Clover, then of Silent City Distro, now of the Durland Alternatives Library) and we rallied and organized to apply for 501©(3) nonprofit status and to bring the organization into a permanent fixture for the future, regardless of who was at the helm.
In 2014, we received our 501©(3) status and elected Carrie Cooper (Dark Matter Coffee co-owner), who drove our volunteer initiative, to the board, bringing over 50 dedicated individuals into the fold for every task from day of show to social media and fundraiser.
Sun: What do you see as I.U.’s ideal place in the community?
B.B.: We aim to be the catalyst for creative, all-ages, inclusive culture — the step between the house show and the stage. [We aim to be] strong enough to support a solid new local band’s first public appearance and the next underground band about to break — sometimes in the same event, all while empowering young people [to learn] what it takes to run and promote a well-organized show.
Sun: How do you think Ithaca has changed as a result of I.U.?
B.B.: Within a year of heading I.U., the diversity of underground bands exploded from a few rock, punk and indie bands to all sorts of fringe instrumental metal, noise punk, folk punk and progressively-minded acts.
We showed that Ithaca was interested in fringe music [and] that all ages shows could be successful — even at the biggest club in town, The Haunt.
We brought the importance of making creative, challenging music accessible to the youth to the forefront, and show its direct relationship to the quality and diversity of the local underground music pool.
We’ve also helped local individuals [with] cutting their teeth in bands, running sound, building their photo, video and art portfolios and written letters of recommendation for their impact to I.U.
We’ve humbly brought the bands too aggressive, too loud, too weird or “not big enough” to play the traditional club scene.
Sun: What’s next for I.U. going forward?
B.B.: We aim to continue to increase our volunteer presence and increase our yearly show capacity in doing so. We aim to be the best show a band has on tour — not fully reliant on max turnout, but providing them an engaged audience, a safe space, quality documentation and a smooth overall experience. We aim to empower our volunteers and provide them with skill sets that will benefit them in and out of I.U. We aim to increase the diversity of the bands we book — race, gender, orientation — and use our experience and status to ensure a safe space for all — not safe from volume, challenging ideas and creativity, but from the discrimination, bigotry, misogyny and hate of the world around us.
I.U. is here to stay. The board and I are strategically planning to grow and enhance all of what we do, with the ultimate goal of our own physical space. In the meantime, we’re taking over the DIY Resource Center in the Tompkins County Workers Center as Ithaca Underground H.Q. for volunteer meetings and more.