The first trick is just trying to find the place. No bright marquee calls attention to the location of Boulder’s Astroland; rather, a single dim light hangs outside the darkened, tucked-away North Boulder warehouse.
Astroland opened January 1, 2010, but the concept of a space dedicated to local arts has long been in the works.
“Last summer we had the idea to start throwing shows at our house with bands that consisted explicitly of our friends,” explains co-founder Zack Roif. “From there it kind of snowballed. The house became notably more packed. The community was loving it.”
Eventually the crowd outgrew capacity and Roif began searching for a warehouse to better suit the size of the shows.
“We all acknowledged this huge void in Boulder in terms of the music that gets booked in Boulder and the venues in Boulder, which is pretty one-dimensional. You have the Fox and Boulder Theater, which are booking the bigger acts and there are all these smaller acts that have no place to play in the community.”
On this night, July 17, the members of Astroland are truly put to the test. Some volunteers are late, leaving the staff short-handed, and headlining act Young Coyotes canceled at the last minute. As the crew scrambles around with final preparations it almost seems the undertaking of a DIY art space is too immense for a group of students, but one’s doubts are silenced as Roif jumps up to hit one of the stage lighting fixtures into place and exasperatingly jokes, “Clearly we’re run by a bunch of professionals.”
At the first sound of music, the crowd slowly migrates into the warehouse. People find a seat on the floor, on the couch, or against the wall. The audience is remarkably respectful and attentive, placing full focus on the performance.
Cloud Lantern’s set begins with a slow, eerie static that escalates and cascades into an avalanche of noise driven by a storm of instruments: a cello, violin, ukulele, keyboard/synthesizer, two classical guitars and two percussionists. The tight orchestration of the strings over the rhythmic guitars and percussion creates a haunting landscape of sound, and successfully fuses classical and indie-folk elements. Vocalist Jordan Bodhaine releases waves of melodic ambience through a microphone flooded with reverb.
“I enjoy making music to create an atmosphere for people,” says Bodhaine while outside smoking a cigarette after the show — Astroland boasts the unique opportunity to converse directly with the artists who perform that night.
From the outset, Louisiana-based Gashcat’s sound explodes with an awakened energy. The transitions are seamless, alternating between quiet guitar/vocal confessions and powerful, all-out jams. Gashcat is very reminiscent of bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel and Bright Eyes, but the emotion singer/songwriter Kyle Craft puts into the delivery of each word is something that cannot be fabricated. Although this is the last show of Gashcat’s first tour, he shows no signs of fatigue. Craft heard about Astroland through word of mouth, which is the main source of promotion for Astroland.
“By far this looked like the best place to play in Boulder. There are intimate shows and there are bar shows, and we really like the intimate ones like this,” Craft says. “It almost feels like it should be more intimidating, but its not, because the audience is there with you.”
As the hot July evening neared midnight, the crowd at Astroland rallied and rose to its feet for the final band, New Jersey’s Slow Animal. The three-piece lo-fi garage band, deeply rooted in both pop and punk, turned their amps all the way up for the finale. The vocals sounded like muddled echoes lost in the blown-out fuzz of over-amplified distortion, but the honest energy of the music kept the crowd dancing till the very end.
With the satisfaction of a successful show, the members of Astroland wearily begin cleaning the silent, empty warehouse. Although tonight’s event is over, there is still much work to be done for the future of Astroland. However, its survival depends on the community to sustain and support a collective art space. To do this, Astroland asks a donation of $5 to $10 for each show and offers private rentals and parties.
“Astroland doesn’t belong to anyone,” says Erica Dixon, a co-founder of Astroland. “It’s open for people to make happen whatever they want to happen there.”
Such regular events include the Black Market Reading Series, a themed, monthly reading; an open mic night called The Drunk Poet Society; and the Court Cinema Series, which screens a variety of student and experimental films. Located at 4115 North Broadway on the cross streets of Broadway and Violet, Astroland is easily accessible by the SKIP route, and is always all ages.
A complete schedule of events can be found at www.myspace.com/astrolandd.