For the past 15 months, many of us have felt starved by the absence of live music from our lives — as if our bodies have been deprived of an essential nutrient and we’re suffering from some existential scurvy. And if we feel that way as fans, just imagine what it’s been like for the people who run the venues all across the country — who host music not only because they love it, but because they can’t not be close to it and don’t want to do anything else.
In a monumental labor of love, Amber Mundinger, Tamara Deike and Kevin Condon have assembled an enormous team of people to create “Bring Music Home,” a sprawling project launched last year to keep the lights on (metaphorically speaking) for the venues all across the country that have been mostly shuttered since last March. Over the past few months there have been beautiful illustrated posters inspired by various cities and their music scenes and other efforts — but it’s all culminated in this nearly 500-page coffee table book, which includes gorgeous pictures by A-list music photographers of more than 200 venues in 30 U.S. cities and the people who run them, their neighborhoods, the aforementioned posters, and quotes and text about all of the above, taken over the past year.
The end result is exponentially greater than any description could be: these photos of mostly empty venues and small groups of people capture, yes, the fear and desolation of past year, but much more than that, the hope for the future and the certainty that we’ll come through all this and be in a room packed with people sharing the irreplaceable, inimitable experience of a concert. Every single show is unique, and no matter how many janky YouTube videos or hi-res livestreams you can watch, no matter how many bootlegs you blast through your headphones, they don’t come close to being there — the music moving your molecules and vibrating across your skin, the “Isn’t this amazing?” smile of the stranger standing next to you — and never will.
Every venue, no matter where it’s located or how big its capacity, gets a two-page spread in the book. They’re mostly nightclubs and theaters ranging from a couple hundred to a few thousand capacity and while not all are technically independent, they’re places that you know are for real the minute you walk inside. While there are plenty of well-known venues in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Austin and other major music cities, there’s also Baltimore, Charlotte, San Antonio, Denver, Tulsa, and more.
Collected at the end are several venues not in metropolises, like places on the Jersey Shore and the Ground Zero Blues Club in Mississippi, that are vital cogs in this sprawling ecosystem. And in a way, the book is like a geographical rendering of of that ecosystem.
In another telling symptom of the times, several of the featured venues have since closed for good.
The list of people who made this project and this book happen is so long that a dozen-odd pages at the end are filled with their photos and brief bios, but the involvement of the National Independent Venue Association — which has been on its own crusade to keep these venues alive for the past year — the Yeti music collective and Tito’s Vodka was particularly key. More than 60 independent photographers, producers, designers and collaborators donated their time to showcase these local venues; artists including Alice Cooper, Dehd, the Black Angels Jesse Malin, Khruangbin and more were interviewed for the book.
“Bring Music Home” costs $75 per book and can be ordered here; a portion of the proceeds will directly benefit the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), as well as support over 60 people who worked on the book.
If this book somehow had arrived in the middle of last year it would be a wrenching experience, and in many ways it is — but as we cautiously, optimistically hope that we’re on the cusp of live music returning, “Bring Music Home” makes us appreciate and anticipate it all the more.