New York’s legendary punk-rock venue CBGB used to bill itself as the “Home of Underground Rock since 1973.” But while the Lower East Side club served as the launching pad for numerous underground bands, the venue itself was, like most venues, located at street level.
By contrast, the setting for Jason Edelstein’s “Songs From the Pond” is truly underground, in both the figurative and literal senses of the word. The Colorado College graduate, who moved up to Denver back in October 2018, has transformed his basement into the setting for a series of online live performances that made their debut last month.
“We record the sessions in our basement,” says Edelstein. “We call it the pond because, when we first moved into the house last June, we were having a lot of flooding down there from various hot water heaters and the like. So it was a very wet place at the beginning. Hopefully that doesn’t happen ever again.”
The idea for the monthly series came after Edelstein read about the New York music scene in Talking Heads leader David Byrne’s book How Music Works.
“There’s one chapter that really caught my attention,” he says, “about how they built a scene on New York’s Lower East Side and how the artists in that scene were really pulling each other up. It reached the point where fans from England all knew what was going on at CBGB and the Lower East Side. And I feel like today, that kind of thing doesn’t happen quite as much.”
But Edelstein, who played guitar in the indie band Progg during his Colorado Springs years, was still convinced that the music scene in Denver had that kind of potential.
“Since living in Colorado, I’ve noticed so much great music,” he says. “And I think part of that is because there are so many people from all over the country moving here, so you have all those different influences. And it’s also a music scene that’s kind of still in its infancy as far as national recognition goes, so people are very welcoming and collaborative here.”
Edelstein saw that same vitality reflected in the city’s club scene. “I remember my first summer living here, going to the Underground Music Showcase. It felt like the entire South Broadway had all these venues within walking distance of each other. They all opened up for it, and there were just so many bands playing.”
Granted, few Denver bands, apart from The Lumineers and DeVotchKa, have received widespread recognition outside of Colorado. And with the pandemic shutting down music venues, the opportunities for bands to perform live in front of an audience are virtually nonexistent.
So Edelstein and his friends are trying to help out, in their own small way, with their series of half-hour live performances featuring Denver and Colorado Springs musicians. Songs from the Pond kicked off last month with Immigrant’s Child, a female-fronted Denver band whose self-titled EP came out just as the episode was going up online. January’s installment features Colorado Springs expats Mad Wallace, a progressive jam band that Edelstein used to see play three- to four-hour sets at house shows during his freshman year.
Edelstein acknowledges that the future of the local live music scene may not be what he imagined.
“There were some music venues where you could go and see live music,” he says of the period between the pandemic’s first and second waves. “I went to one and you had to stay in your seat the whole time. You couldn’t dance, you couldn’t stand up. And when we were seated in the venue, we couldn’t even see the stage from where we were at.”
All of which brings up another point Edelstein learned from Byrne’s book, which is the degree to which the recording industry depends on live music.
“If you’re a small, independent artist who just put two or three years and all your savings into recording an album, you’re not going to release that album when you can’t play shows to promote it,” he says. “And then at the other end of the spectrum, there are artists on major labels who get $200,000 advances to record their album, and are now unable to go out on tour. So I’ve definitely noticed a decrease in the amount of recorded music that’s been coming out this year. You’re not going to be able to pay off that debt with Spotify.”