ITHACA, N.Y. — Mid-morning on a Tuesday in March, a small camera crew and I woke up the sleeping members of Massachusetts rock band Potty Mouth.
The previous night, they’d headlined a successful set at Ithaca’s Chanti-loft for an attentive all-ages crowd. A couple weeks later, they’d go on to open two shows in Chicago for critically-acclaimed Scottish synthpop band Chvrches.
But that Tuesday, we stuck cameras in their faces as they shuffled around the living room of an off-campus Ithaca College student apartment, happily munching on Cheerios while lamenting how bored they’ve become with the virtual cat-feeding app Neko Atsume.
The reason we woke them was to film The Ithaca Voice’s debut episode of the Bedhead Sessions: a video series of intimate performances by local musicians who call Ithaca their home, and nationally-renowned artists who are increasingly making Ithaca a popular stop on their tours.
Partnering with us to present this series is Ithaca Underground, a local volunteer-run not-for-profit who’ve been fostering an inclusive DIY music scene in Ithaca for nearly a decade. Regularly hosting over 40 shows a year, Ithaca Underground’s largest events (including Big Day In, an all-day rock showcase, and Naked Noise, a collaborative experimental music event) have drawn crowds of over 300 attendees.
“At first I hadn’t really heard of shows happening in Ithaca,” Ally Einbinder, Potty Mouth’s bassist tells me. “When I was asking where we should play, someone told me to contact Ithaca Underground. So I googled ‘Ithaca Underground’ and literally just used the booking form on the website, and then Bubba Crumrine [IU’s President of the Board] got back to me.”
When asked if the band had come across any other organizations like IU, Einbinder tells me the closest point of comparison is a volunteer-run community art space called Flywheel in Easthampton, Massachusetts—but there’s a caveat.
“It’s not as much as a cohesive organization as Ithaca Underground,” she clarifies. “I really like the way Ithaca Underground is modeled in the sense that it’s an organization of people who’ve really connected with each other, and they all seem like they have a hand in putting on these events. And it has the same sort of self-empowerment element that Flywheel has. You’re learning a lot of skills: you’re learning how to run sound, you’re learning about running a live show.”
Along with Einbinder, guitarist Abby Weems and drummer Victoria Mandanas both grew up going to rock shows, but never participated in their local scenes by putting on shows or playing in bands themselves (Weems, who began playing when she was 17, maintains that Potty Mouth has been her “first and only real serious band.”)
Slowly gathering a following since they formed in 2011, Potty Mouth has now successfully embarked on a full U.S. tour, and is plotting a move to Los Angeles. Einbinder feels fortunate to have finally discovered Ithaca.
“It’s really cool to be at a point in our band’s livelihood where we can play such a wide array of shows, big and small. Especially places like Ithaca. It’s so clear Ithaca Underground is a cool organization. They’re all so organized and helpful. That definitely adds to the positivity of the experience.”
While Ithaca Underground continues to attract popular indie rock bands to Ithaca (Boston scene heavy-hitters Pile and Palehound are set to play The Haunt on April 30), the organization has also played a significant part in nurturing the talents of rising hometown stars like the emotionally powerful rapper Sammus, and charming rocker Izzy True—both of whom recently performed at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas (and both of whom will soon appear in the Bedhead Sessions in the coming months).
Sponsoring this initial installment of the Bedhead Sessions is McNeil Music of Ithaca, a music store and community institution that’s been supporting the local music scene since it was established in 1951.