The collaborators started documenting the live music venues when they began to shutter in March due to the spread of COVID-19. The plan was to take photos and interview important figures at each location from owners to bartenders. As co-founders Amber Mundinger, Tamara Deike and Kevin W. Condon reached out to photographers and friends to help with the project, it swiftly grew.
"It quickly exploded in a good way," Mundinger tells Billboard. "It's literally 60 plus collaborators of friends and colleagues or people that we admired across the country that all just came together to say, 'We care about these really cool places and let's do something about it.'"
The 400-page book captures images of famous and little known venues that have brought joy and art to their communities for years and are currently battling against extinction. According to a study conducted by the National Independent Venue Association, 90% of its nearly 1,300 members are expected to close their doors permanently without significant financial support from the government.
"It's deeply impacted me to walk into these empty venues (particularly here in Austin) during the pandemic, and also, to hear the first-person stories of the passion that drives and motivates the people who work in these spaces," says Deike. "I've created new friendships and connection despite the difficulties of this past year, and am so grateful, to now have a deeper connection to my own music community here in Austin. We hope our readers feel the same about their own city's venues."
Mundinger says the project, which will expand into podcasts and a documentary in 2021, was not started with the intention of memorializing the venues. It was launched from a position of hope and a way to see behind the curtain of live music.
"There's this place that we shot in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It's called Ground Zero [Blues Club] and it's called Ground Zero because it's where blues started," says Mundinger, who adds that the little known club is partially owned by actor Morgan Freeman. "My hope is that we document all these places, we put them forth to showcase their stories, but then people can go and experience them in the near future and have a new appreciation and understanding for all of these places."
Artists including Alice Cooper, Dehd, Native Sun, The Black Angels, Shakey Graves, Jesse Malin, Hollis Brown and more sat for interviews about their favorite venues. The book will feature venues including Stubb’s, Baby’s All Right, Tipitinas, The Empty Bottle, The Fillmore, 9:30 Club and many more. It also features images and stories of around 10 venues that have been forced to close during the pandemic including the recently shuttered Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia.
"What I've learned, after listening to hours of conversations with so many incredible humans is this: music is a force of energy, and come hell or high water, it will sustain," says Deike. "The music industry ecosystem is fractured (sidenote: it was before the pandemic), that's for certain, but music is culture. And without culture, our communities are empty, void of connection. And if we've learned anything these past few months as a society, the connection is what unties us at our most human level. Music is a vehicle for that."
A portion of the proceeds will directly benefit the NIVA, as well as support over 60 creatives who helped make this project a reality, many of whom were directly impacted by the pandemic. Murals to celebrate the book launch will begin appearing in cities in early 2021. Tito’s Handmade Vodka and YETI also teamed up with BMH to produce and market this first of its kind publication.
The hardback book can be pre-ordered here for $75 today, with projected shipping in January.