When Alison Ward hopped off a plane in Austin, Texas, and walked through the airy corridors of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, she was wowed by more than the wafting smell of barbeque. Inside the terminal, the city had set up a stage where local bands played to welcome SXSW festival attendees. As Ward and her band Hillfolk Noir navigated Austin's music-jammed streets during the festival--guitar notes pouring out of every storefront and back alley--they came to a conclusion: the Boise music scene could use some serious unity.
"We've got all these talented people who love where we live, love the businesses that we work with and want to make music here, but there's something slightly anemic about our attitude," says Ward.
Galvanized by the support she witnessed among musicians and city leaders in the Austin community, Ward started talking with Boise go-getters about ways to unite our local music scene. With the help of industry folks like Joy Hart, marketing director at The Record Exchange, and Allen Ireland, owner of Neurolux and co-owner of Pengilly's, Ward and her husband Travis started the non profit Go Listen Boise. An umbrella organization under which musicians of all ages and genres can huddle, GLB hopes to unite the Boise music community and help expose the non-bar crowd to local bands. By creating a comprehensive online database of local musicians and venues, they want to alleviate some of the pressure local bands face when booking gigs and promoting their shows. So far, GLB has kicked off a semi-monthly Live and Local Series, which features both an all-ages show and a 21-and-up event. Recently, they've partnered with the Downtown Boise Association and the city's Department of Arts and History to add local opening acts onto the 2009 Alive After Five lineup.
"Overall, our goal has been to create a music collective that can connect our music community," says Alison Ward. "The Alive After Five opportunity landed in our laps a little bit unexpectedly, or maybe faster than any of us would've thought ... but it's really kind of kicked our butts into communicating with everybody and telling them what our project is, what are our goals, who we are."
Though it's only been three years since Alive After Five eliminated local acts from its lineup, many area musicians have been clamoring to get back into the Grove groove. Go Listen Boise's partnership with AAF, along with financial backing from the Department of Arts and History, is helping to assuage the agitation many bands felt after they were excluded from downtown's long-running annual summer tradition.
"I always thought that it was so funny when I went to Alive After Five and I would hear a band, in a set, play four, five, six covers," says local singer-songwriter and inaugural AAF opening act Dan Costello. "It's not really that particular band that they wanted, it just seemed like they wanted somebody from out of town. That got really frustrating because their excuse for it was, 'You can go see [local] bands anytime.' Well, most of the people that hang out at Alive After Five don't go out to the bar scene. That's one of the reasons it's so popular."
While the DBA acknowledges that they purposefully made the decision to cut local bands from the AAF lineup in 2005, they insist it was not at all a comment on the talent of area acts. Rather, they decided that bringing in out-of-state bands was a way to distinguish AAF from other local summer concert series.
"What we had found was our music roster was very similar in nature to everybody else's," explains Geoff Hundt, operations and events director at the DBA. "Even though there were great artists and Alive After Five is a great setting, some of the feedback we were getting was, 'I love those guys. They're great. But I just saw them last night.' So we took a step back and said, 'Well, how do we branch out and start finding music in and around the Northwest ... and try and introduce Boise to some different music that they may not see every weekend?"
And while Hundt admits that this strategy has increased attendance at AAF, he says he's also amped to get local bands back into the mix. Even if it means they'll be playing shorter, drum-less sets.
"We said 'no drums' mainly for the reason that our stage isn't big enough to have two complete drum sets up there," says Hundt. "This is the first year, so it will be a trial and error period, if you will. If it works out well and everything runs smoothly, then we'll sit back down and look at 'Well, how hard would it be to bring in a full band to open?'"
Though the no drum stipulation did deter some of Boise's more boisterous bands from applying to open at this year's Alive After Five, GLB member Stephanie Coyle and the selection panel still had to sift through more than 60 applications for only 18 coveted slots. A few groups, including Ward's Hillfolk Noir, decided to alter their sound and cut out their drum parts to meet the event's requirements. Another band, Finn Riggins, will also adapt their high-energy, drum-laden indie pop sound for AAF. Opening for the California country act Mother Hips on Aug. 26, the band still has time to hammer out how, exactly, they'll go about replacing their integral drum kit.
"We were thinking we have some mellower stuff, maybe we'll just approach it by playing mellower songs," explained Finn Riggins' synth player Eric Gilbert. "Who knows? Maybe we'll just bring a bunch of cardboard boxes."
But whether bands are forced to wield cardboard drums or toy tom toms, Go Listen Boise views its partnership with Alive After Five as worth the percussion concessions. Besides exposing a weekly audience of 3,000 to 4,000 people to local music, the GLB/AAF union has furthered the GLB mission in another, less obvious way. By requiring each of the bands applying for a spot at AAF to create an online profile at golistenboise.com, the application process, itself, has helped strengthen the GLB community.
"The best part is that we've established communication with 60 different bands, and for all these other events that we're putting together, we can communicate with them and include them and discuss their needs and desires," explains Ward.
In addition to local openers at AAF and more all-ages shows, Go Listen Boise is concocting another project geared toward helping local music transcend the late-night bar scene. In collaboration with the City of Boise, GLB is assembling the Hold It! Local! program, which will loop reels of local music on the city's phone system. Though hold music will hardly rocket Boise bands to superstardom, it's part of a long process of more effectively integrating local music into our everyday lives. Watch out Boise Airport terminal: Local bands have their eyes on you next.